Shatner puts the “ham” in “Hamlet,” and yet…

I assume you’re already familiar with The Transformed Man. If not (or even if so), read on.

Tonight I did something I don’t do very often… certainly, not often enough. I put my entire iTunes library on shuffle: over 13,000 songs from which the computer will select the evening’s soundtrack. After a few real dogs (seriously, don’t bother listening to the 2002 Yes shit sandwich known as Magnification), it unearthed a track I haven’t listened to in ages, William Shatner’s dramatic reading (with even more dramatic musical accompaniment) of the “To Be or Not To Be” soliloquy from Hamlet, juxtaposed with “It Was a Very Good Year.”

The reading of Hamlet is as overwrought as it gets — vintage Shatner. And yet, the truth must be told: Shakespeare’s words were never imbued with such clear and resonant meaning in my brain as they are with Captain Kirk’s over-the-top performance. I’m not well-versed in the theater, and as much as I’ve enjoyed the various Shakespeare productions I’ve seen over the years (mostly at the Guthrie back in high school and college), I find the language, while melodically poetic, often bewilderingly oblique in meaning. In other words, it sounds nice, but I just don’t get it. And this was just such a case. “To be or not to be…” etc. It never made much sense to me until I heard The Transformed Man, but suddenly I understood what it really meant. Thanks, Bill!

And now, thanks as well to the limitless wonders of YouTube, you can see a live performance of the piece from The Mike Douglas Show. How friggin’ awesome is that? Well, it could be a little more awesome — the sound is way off in this video clip, and it’s not because he’s lip-syncing. He’s not. And I think the performance on the album is much better. Still, it’s worth watching, if for no other reason than the groovy title cards and stage set, which I vaguely remember from the very earliest days of my youth.

And finally, in case you’re scratching your head over my enthusiasm here, you may want to consider my judgment in entertainment options by the fact that I also enjoy this. And for anyone who is not terrified by it within 10 seconds (in other words, you’re also a Magma fan), I have to ask: do you also think the “Da Zeuhl Wortz Mekanik” part that starts at 4:46 sounds like some of the incidental music that used to be in the Road Runner cartoons? I’ve always thought that.

Even I have limits though. This Magma-inspired Japanese band goes too far (but I do own one of their albums) and even Christian Vander himself can go too far, especially when he steps out from behind the kit.

P.S. What’s up with the collar?