William Shatner is one of those personalities who is so ubiquitous that their reputation precedes and obfuscates their actual contributions to art and pop culture. Shatner is so famous as Captain Kirk and the the king of unironic and self-evidently ridiculous camp that his iconic public persona dwarfs and overshadows his entire creative body of work. One of the reasons why I focus so heavily on Shatner in my overview of this period of Star Trek history (if not the primary one) is that his status as an omnipresent and immediately recognisable part of pop culture has ironically made it difficult to discern any reasonable erudition about the kind of actor he is, the style of performance he delivers and what the positionality he draws it all from really is. That’s not to say Leonard Nimoy, James Doohan, DeForest Kelley, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols and Walter Koenig aren’t equally as iconic and memorable in their roles, they are, but everyone knows they’re brilliant and, more to the point, everyone largely knows why they’re brilliant. That’s not really the case with with William Shatner.
All of which is to say that in 1968 William Shatner released an album of spoken-word poetry.
This is, it should probably go without saying, manifestly not the sort of thing anybody expected of William Shatner at the time, two thirds of the way through the original run of Star Trek. It is also probably fairly safe to say it is still not the sort of thing people expect of William Shatner today, because despite his subsequent musical performances becoming part of his camp reputation, the sort of bemused detachment this part of his oeuvre attracts from would-be fans and critics is rather telling. But the existence of The Transformed Man is in fact a very revealing look at not only the approach to Soda Pop Art in the late-1960s but also Shatner’s own worldview and how his presence helped re-shape what Star Trek came to represent. So with that said, what the heck even *is* The Transformed Man?
It may actually be beneficial to begin with an overview of what The Transformed Man *isn’t*, as this is the source of the overwhelming majority of confusion and bafflement this record attracts. In this regard it’s worth comparing it, if for no other reason then the comparison is unavoidable, with Leonard Nimoy’s musical catalog. In 1967, just as Star Trek was starting to gain a significant following, Dot Records released an album called Mr. Spock’s Songs from Space, which was pretty much exactly what it sounds like: A collection of fluffy novelty songs Nimoy recorded in full-on Spock-the-logician mode to abjectly hilarious results. Literally the only reason this album exists is because Spock was the show’s breakout character, and in the 1960s releasing an album of novelty music to tie in to a popular TV show was just sort of the thing you did, no matter how nonsensical it might sound if you think too hard about it (see also “Snoopy’s Christmas” by The Royal Guardians).…