Home / Bootleg Country: William Shatner 1977

Bootleg Country: William Shatner 1977

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William Shatner
Hofstra University
Hempstead, NY

I first learned of bootleg trading through the now defunct Grateful Dead usenet group rec.music.gdead. It is no surprise then when I say the majority of the music I saw available was the Dead and Dead related bands. Once in awhile I would find a list with something a little more unusual, say Pink Floyd or Lynard Skynard on a list, but it was usually just one show from such a band and it was an unusual sight.

Whenever I would see these “odd” shows I would scramble to trade for them. Partially because I thought they were so rare and would make good trade bait, and partially because I was interested to hear what these other bands sounded like.

It wasn’t until years later, with the availability of broadband internet and the usability of bit torrent that I realized that these oddities were much more available than I thought. Moving out of jam band circles enlightened me to another world.

By far the oddest bootleg in my collection is this 1977 recording of a William Shatner performance. It is part stand up, part dramatic performance, part audience participation, and completely weird.

The performance is some 8 years after the original Star Trek television series was cancelled and a couple of years before the first movie came out, yet it is obvious that Shatner is performing before a group of Trekkers.

The show begins with Shatner reading a poem entitled “Earthbound” about a fanciful young man who is abducted by aliens for a time. It is very theatrical with spacey sound effects and Shatner reciting in his best Shakespearean voice.

Throughout the show he reads poetry, essays and theatrical monologues to illustrate points he’s trying to make in his spoken word performance. In his verbal essay he points towards man’s yearning to travel, explore and learn throughout time.

Shatner appears very well versed in history and philosophical matters, at least for the purpose of this performance.

Scattered throughout the theatrics, he answers questions from the audience which mostly deal with the series and rumors of the upcoming movie. It is particularly interesting to hear this information as the film is still in the very early stages of development (Leonard Nimoy has yet to even sign on, though Shatner says it is simply a dispute over contracts.)

In these segments Shatner also sound nervous and unsure of himself. It is quite often he tosses of a quick line and follows it with a high pitched giggle making him sound like a school boy asking a girl to the prom. It seems peculiar that a well worn actor of stage and screen would get nervous around an audience, but that may be the difference between performance and simply talking in front of a lot of people. In fact the nervousness goes completely away when he recites his theatrical lines.

I would never be able to consider myself one of the Trek fold. I remember watching the original series as a boy in afternoon reruns. I was enthralled with the drama, the action and the ladies legs in those little skirts. On the school bus me and a friend would often draw the different versions of the Enterprise in the condensations forming on the window.

However when the Next Generation came out I watched some episodes with enthusiasm, but often I was distracted by other things and paid it no mind whatsoever. I’ve watched all of the movies, but have paid no mind to subsequent series. So while I would consider myself a fan, I am always humble when I say such a thing for I know my fandom goes only so far.

Which may be why when I listen to William Shatner wax poetic about mankind’s deepest desires to explore the unknown I have a mysterious smirk on my face instead of a mystified look of reverence.

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About Mat Brewster