Y Marks the Spot: Leaving the Cult




There are a few of my codes of conduct that come into play during this tale of liberation from greasy, incompetent drudgery.  The first: never stick your foot in a bear trap.  There are a lot of bad situations which can be avoided if one simply shuts the hell up and refuses to be masochistically polite.  The second: fight like a pussy.  When faced with a blustering moron with delusions of power, just smile, nod your head, and proceed about your day as though that person didn’t exist.  Or sharpen your knives.

Bravery has its time and place, but subverting and manipulating the stage from behind the scenes works in ways that loudly standing up to the assholes doesn’t.  For one, assholes are chronically unable to realize that they’re the problem, not everyone else.  For two, by standing up for yourself, you become the asshole because you’re the one rocking the boat.  Don’t believe me?  Ask an Occupy cop’s can of pepper spray.

I say all of this because very few people who work at my now former shitty burger job had any clue that I hated that job with every ounce of my being from day one.  Almost no one at Burger World knew that the place was the source for a lot of my recent rage and exhaustion, that the place wore both my mental and physical well-being down to the bone.

All my moronic and micromanaging bosses saw was my blank face.  All they heard was my monotone work voice, and in those rare moments when I didn’t want to flip over my work table and walk out, a few jokes.  Of course, they mistook my silence for assent, as tends to happen.  The kings of Burger World thought I was a real laid-back dude, and thus they attempted to wring out every drop of sweat from me while paying me as little as possible for my trouble.

If working at Burger World felt more like honest work and less like a pyramid scheme, I may not be so hateful toward the place.  But it was a hellhole.  As a person, my immediate boss is a pretty good guy, and we got along pretty well.  The problem was that his bosses are the sorts of tightasses who swallow coal in hopes of shitting diamonds.  I feel bad for what my boss has to go through, because every moment of his job entails cutting every expendable second of labor, which wears him out and turns him scummy.  My favorite example is when he paid me twenty bucks to not clock in for my prep shift because he was so piss scared about labor costs.  He’s going to have a nervous breakdown at some point, or a heart attack.

Yet sympathy does not equal acceptance.  There was a long stretch of time in which I came home every day from work, boiling with a new tale of infuriating managerial stupidity.  I should have been more irritated about repeatedly being scheduled eight hour shifts and working only five – while simultaneously not being allowed to go home.  By that point, however, I was so burnt out on the job that I limply accepted the cuts in hours and sat in the corner, reading and playing video games.

I know there are worse jobs out there, but all that knowledge does is make me feel super smart for not working at those places.

I also feel good about never forgetting the plan to leave.  Having just moved into a place of my own, I needed the job, and I’m grateful for the money.  But I was never complacent.  I always watched for the way out.  Appropriately enough, it was on the day when I dodged out of the first step towards becoming a Burger World supervisor – a promotion that would have surely spelled my end as a freethinking, sentient creature – when I was offered a new job on the ground floor of a far superior food place in town.  I’m much, much happier there.

However, there were two problems.  The first was that the new job didn’t start me with enough hours to allow me to quit Burger World outright.  The second is that Burger World is kind of run like a cult, and my victimized boss has thus become a sad panda who perpetuates the weasely web-spinning that traps people there.  What this meant for me was that I didn’t feel like I could tell him that I was working at another food job.  He’d have just said that I already work at a food job, so I should just tell them thanks but no thanks.  (In fact, he did try to edge out the other job anyway, but I shut that down.)

I had to invent a lie, and using my magical powers of improv I created a pretty convincing alternate reality that I’ve continued to stick to.  It wasn’t all false; I did apply to work at my local library, though I didn’t get the job.  But my story to Sad Panda was that I was now a librarian, that it was my main field of work, and that Burger World had officially become secondary.  He whined and bitched and played Stockholm Syndrome on me, but he finally got the hint and backed off.  Still, the scarce days I continued working at Burger World remained the asshole of my week.  It wouldn’t do to reduce its hold on me; the burger cult had to be completely eradicated from my life.

But the end has finally come.  On Black Friday, my bosses at my new job gave me the news that my hours were going to be increased.  I could finally quit Burger World.  I sent my old boss a text saying that the library had monopolized my holiday availability.  I have no intention of returning.  It was far more farewell than Burger World deserved.

It was the best Black Friday ever.  Escape feels epic.

Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Corky Romano


Film: Corky Romano (2001)

Director: Rob Pritts

Starring: Chris Kattan, Peter Falk, Chris Penn

Written by: David Garrett, Jason Ward


I’ve come to develop a theory that Chris Kattan is the closest thing the latest generation has come to replicating Don Knotts.  This is in no way meant to be an insult.  The world needs more spastic, bug-eyed man-children busting out sweet karate moves and tripping over everything in sight!

Kattan carries on this fine cinematic tradition as Corky Romano, the grinning idiot exile son of an ailing mobster who bumbles his way into infiltrating the FBI on his dad’s behalf.  His brothers, a rage-filled illiterate and a rage-filled closet case (the latter played by the always wonderful Chris Penn) roundly abuse and belittle their returned sibling to his breaking point.  There’s a great moment at the beginning in which Corky moves to shake his reading-impaired brother’s hand and the scholar instead fills his hand with a fart.  It’s played very highbrow.  Pops Romano, squintily portrayed by Peter Falk, spends most of the film laid up in bed, passively condoning the abuse before a halfhearted good guy turnaround at the end.  Of course, there’s a girl in the Bureau, a couple of treacherous bastards on both sides of the law, and everyone improbably gets behind Corky as the story progresses.

The story may be typical, but I think Chris Kattan is hilarious as the false Agent Pissant (pronounced Pees-ahnt, because, you know, it’s French!).  He’s clearly game for any ridiculous thing the script asks of him, whether it’s dressing up as a girl scout or a skinhead, badly firing an assault rifle, giving CPR to a dog, or delivering a coked-out speech about crimefighting to a room of kids.  Perhaps the film’s best line has Corky suddenly screaming to the kids: “I should buy a boat!”

No offense intended toward the Great Chris Penn, but this film would have been pretty dull without Kattan jittering around at the helm.  I really like this man’s work, and I’d like to see a lot more keyed-up awesomeness from him.  Make it happen, Hollywood!


Y Marks the Spot: Drink to Win and the Ponderous Punches


I have this weird mental game that I’ve played since I was a little kid.  Odds are that if you’ve ever been around me, I may have played it with you.

It goes like this: while sitting around with someone, I sometimes wonder how my relationship with that person would change if I suddenly threw a punch.

Sounds like the musings of a psychopath, no?  Well, it was created during my childhood, a time in my life when I was swirling in a Lord of the Flies-like maelstrom of violence, locked in combat with my fellow child-savages.  The game certainly comes from a place of anger.  Still, the game which I’ve just now named The Ponderous Punches isn’t about running around and smacking people in the face.  It’s not about transferring my questions on the fragility of human relationships into any bruising reality.  In any event, I’ve never played it to that point.

But I may have recently come close.

The Friday before last, a group of my various friends congregated at a house in the mountains at the edge of town.  Our goals, beyond the basic one of being around each other for the first time in weeks, were to play board games and watch bad movies.  Along with the awesome He-Man movie, I came armed with an especially heavy screwdriver, and I proceeded upon the path to an additional, time-honored goal: to Drink to Win.

I woke up in my bed the next morning, feeling bright and vibrant and ready to go to work.  There was some confusion as I stumbled around, checking my things and making sure that everything taken to the gathering had returned with me.  Besides a jacket I’d later reclaim, everything had made it.  I remembered little beyond the point in the night when three of us had put on tutus and pranced about like idiots; the only flash of consciousness to follow happened as I sat in my backseat and had friends drive my car home and drop me off, after which I pranced through my doorway and grinned like a physicist.  But I’ve long known that, even while balls to the wall blacked out, I’m kind of brilliant.

Work was not the usual desperate hangover fare in which desperate guarantees of good behavior are made to distant deities in exchange for metaphysical aspirin.  It went fine.  I wasn’t thrilled about walking through the rain to my friends’ house to pick up my car, but I made the trip well enough.

After my friends handed me my keys, I asked them if I had done anything too embarrassing over the course of the evening.  Embarrassing, yes, they answered, but nothing too horrible.  It was good enough for me.  I drove home, wondering why I was such a joyful drunk.

It was a few days later when I logged onto the internet and found the first indications that this sense of joy might not have been entirely accurate.  Entering the Facebook group page of the film group which encompasses most of the people at Friday’s party, I saw a cryptic, rambling, freaked out message from one of the members.  It said that he wasn’t quitting, but that he didn’t want to hang out with us while we were drinking anymore.  He also invited us to shut the hell up if we had any questions.

Almost at the same time, I sent a text to the party’s hostess asking what had happened and posted a comment on the page hoping that the poster was okay.  Almost at the same time, I got responses from both targets.  The hostess said that the poster had accidentally been elbowed in the face.  In the five seconds between reading that answer and being instant messaged by the poster, I had a sinking certainty that I was responsible for whatever had happened.

The poster’s IM confirmed this.  It also said that the hit was a punch, and that it hadn’t been an accident.  My initial reaction was disbelief; the closest I’ve ever come to drunken violence before had been Three Stooges-style slapstick fighting with my friends.  But as the story was told to me, I had gotten pissed and laid the poster out.

Apparently the more sober people among us had made the mistake of playing Jenga in a house full of raving barbarian drunkards.  As I’ve heard it, my reaction to this architectural audacity was to rush over and knock them over at any opportunity.  The poster, who doesn’t drink, was assigned the dubious honor of keeping us savages away from the playing field.  After my last attempt at destroying the tower, he lured me away with false promises of seeing something amazing.

When he showed me a passed-out friend not doing anything amazing at all, my bullshit detector flashed on.  Yes, I have a bullshit detector, even while blacked out.

“You don’t have anything to show me,” I said.  The poster nodded.  Without another word, I punched him in the face.

Standing over him, I apparently said: “That’ll teach you to lie.”

Nobody else witnessed this bizarrely principled explosion.  When I asked about it, everyone – my victim included – said that the rest of the night was awesome, but nobody else saw me throwing a punch.  The recipient told me that he went into meltdown, refusing to leave his apartment for days, but we talked it out, I apologized, and we are back to normal, I think.

Oddly enough, I proposed a get-together last Friday night, an affair with the goal of Drink to Achieve a Modest Moral Victory.  The recipient of my blackout punch, who said he didn’t want to hang around us when we drank, showed up with a gigantic duffel bag full of liquor.  I’m not sure what that means.

I didn’t throw a Ponderous Punch, but maybe I played the game, all the same.

The Designer’s Drugs: Florence and the Machine – Ceremonials


Medium: Album

Stimulus: Florence and the Machine – Ceremonials (Deluxe)

Anno: 2011


The thought that ran through my head as I listened to this amazing album was that this is the sort of music that wins Grammys and deserves them.  Ceremonials is a mixture of the ambition of an orchestra, the aggression of rock, the hooks of pop, and the pipes of Florence Welch, a vocalist who could sing the phone book and make it sound like an erotic awakening.  The total product is easily the best album I’ve heard this year.

In fact, it may also have the year’s best track.  “What the Water Gave Me” starts as a steady pace of gloom and pieces of harp, pushing through the introductions before dropping into a hook of subterranean organs, shards of guitars, and a swelling choir that gathers its strength as the song progresses and soon explodes everything.  The song’s titanic conclusion isn’t the usual bitchy distorted guitar angst that typically characterizes rock, but it’s about as powerfully rock as anything I’ve ever heard.

And still, it’s only one song in a great series.  “Shake It Out” is a beaming sadjoy pop tune which carries the right sort of pretentious messianic overtones.  “No Light, No Light” is run by an organ and a smashing drum pulse operating alongside words which might not have been as catching if they weren’t delivered in Welch’s towering wails.  “Heartlines” is in the same percussive orchestral vein, though it has more of an esoteric beat and Welch is even more impressive at the helm.  The electronic R&B of “Spectrum” swings from the subdued intensity of the verses to blasts of voice and harp.  “Bedroom Hymns” closes the album with a frenzied swing rush of drums and piano while Welch does a little bit of the old erotic religion dirty talk.

There’s absolutely nothing on Ceremonials that comes within a light year of bad.  The very worst thing I could say about it is that there’s a song called “Never Let Me Go” that comes off as a slow, minimalist love ballad from the 80s, which isn’t my style.  If you’re into slow, minimalist love ballads from the 80s, however, this thing will spin your wheels.  There are shortcomings to be found throughout the album, to be sure, but the orchestration is so tightly woven in each and every song that any weakness is compensated for with a dozen strengths.

So yeah.  I severely doubt that I’m going to hear anything as good as this for a long, long while.


Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Stephen King’s The Shining


Film: Stephen King’s The Shining (1997)

Director: Mick Garris

Starring: Rebecca De Mornay, Steven Weber

Written by: Stephen King


I’ve made it no secret that I really dislike Stanley Kubrick’s version of The Shining.  By the time I watched it all its horror moments had become cliché, but after reading Stephen King’s much better source material I’ve come to hate it pretty thoroughly.  What was supposed to be a story about a family trying to keep itself together and a father trying to overcome alcoholism and pull his life together became in Kubrick’s hands an artsy horror shitshow featuring Jack Nicholson as Wolfman Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall as a mousy, goggle-eyed fashion atrocity.  If Nicholson’s Joker and Duvall’s Olive Oyl were swapped in for their characters in The Shining, no one would be the wiser.  Sure, it’s fun to watch Nicholson go nuts and abuse his family, but he’s not exactly my go-to actor for sympathetic characters, which was what his role should have been.

I’m not the only one who thought that Kubrick crapped all over Stephen King’s book.  King himself had a lot of hate for the film.  Years later, this culminated in his creation of a better, fuller miniseries version.  The miniseries form, usually about three or four times as long as a feature film, has usually been better suited for adapting King’s better-known books, and this version of The Shining maintains that trend.

Still, casting, not length, makes this version superior.  The decidedly not wolfish Steven Weber makes for a great Jack Torrance, and watching him descend from flawed but well-meaning dad to grinning, bloody monster (appropriately enough, he’d have made an awesome Joker) is more gripping than Nicholson playing Nicholson.  Rebecca De Mornay plays Wendy Torrance as she was written: a young, good-looking mother whose default setting wasn’t as her husband’s emotional punching bag.  Their psychic son is still played by a creepy kid, in this case a chubby, bowl-cutted kid who seems incapable of closing his mouth (I ended up referring to him as Cheeks).  Still, I’ll take this kid over the shaggy creep from the original who talked through his finger and had all the acting chops of a stroke victim.

I also really liked the horror elements in this version.  In addition to actually explaining why the Overlook Hotel was a hellish purgatory (instead of Kubrick’s waving his dick around and cramming random spooky shots together), the ghosts in the place are both restrained and horrifying when allowed to break loose.  The rotting chick in the forbidden room is actually kind of terrifying, as opposed to the old hag who tricks Nicholson into making out with her and laughing at him afterwards (it was pretty funny).  The head ghoul is an awesome shade of Dracula who owns any scene he’s in and is genuinely menacing.  I’m also really glad that the evil hedge animals made the cut, instead of being replaced by a lame hedge maze in which Nicholson gets tricked (again!) and freezes to death.  Oh yeah, the ending is a little better, too, which is to say that it actually has one (even if it is pretty sappy).

Suck it, Kubrick.


Y Marks the Spot: Sans

How I Deal with These Things


The main consolation of my hectic meltdown in the last week in October was that my final grandparent barely suffered at all.  In fact, my grandmother lived on her own right up until she had the stroke which sent her to the hospital for the last few days of her life.  Until then, she could drive, and walk, and take care of herself.  Even after that point of no return, she remained more or less herself until she fell asleep on a Sunday afternoon and died shortly afterwards.  She was 87.  I can’t imagine many better ways for an 87 year old to die.

Before that finality, I hovered at the edge of the country, waiting to find out where things were headed before I made any concrete plans to return to the Midwest.  I got word of the end while in a grocery store, holding onto a box of Wheat Thins with one hand while trying to cram my phone into my ear with the other so I could decipher the sobbing voicemail that was nonetheless crystal clear.

After taking a moment in checkout to adjust to the thought of someone important permanently vanishing, my on switch flipped.  I don’t think that, over the course of the next week, it ever flipped back.

The first order of business was to let my jobs know that I was vanishing.  I’ve heard tales of the management of my crappy burger cult job being unbelievable assholes to people wanting to attend funerals, so I did my usual cult-fighting tactic and sent my boss a text, leaving no room for negotiation.  The other job was much more supportive, even if that well-meaning boss waxed the usual sympathies.  From there I got completely fleeced on a flight ticket and spent the following day wearing myself out from the hurry up and wait that comes with automated travel across the country.

It was on the midnight drive between the Minneapolis airport and La Crosse when I learned that my grandmother’s death wasn’t the only catastrophe to happen to my family that week.  I will give absolutely no details as to what happened but to say that it was something horrible, and it made a terrible week so much worse.

Further piling on the week’s mountain of blues was the shadow of my Crazy Bitch Aunt, who tried to return from family exile to insinuate herself into and take over the funeral proceedings.  The condescending shrew’s classiest sociopath tactic involved phoning my mom over and over and telling her – the person who stayed with their mother from stroke to death – to act like a grownup.  Luckily, Crazy Bitch Aunt didn’t show, but the threat of her prancing in and wreaking entitled havoc sparked apprehension in all of us at a moment when none of us needed it.

The proceedings went about as well as such things can go.  I avoided my grandma’s corpse at the wake because its makeup and smoothed face made the body look alien.  I almost disrupted the funeral when I had to fight back a violent seizure of laughter at the expense of the pastor who kept staring at the ceiling instead of at the crowd.  I’m glad my friends were sitting on each side of me to cover it up.

On the upside, I met a cousin’s brainy kids at the wake and got to dispense writerly advice to them.  I also came up with the idea for an amazing Dadcore band called The A Little Goddamn Respects at the lunch following the funeral.

But what I didn’t do much of in that hectic week was think about my grandmother.  In all the rushing around to get to all those regimented ceremonies of remembering the dead, the person being remembered kind of got lost in the shuffle.  Sure, I had a twinge of horror and revulsion at the wake, and I spent the week living in her house filled with her artifacts.  But I’m not sure if I’ve been able to be affected by the death of this person who had known me all my life.

I don’t think I do death, if that makes sense.  Though I’ve become absolutely horrified at the thought of me no longer existing, I also have this detached view in which I view the death of a person with the same sense of pain as I’d feel from the loss of all the data on a computer that hadn’t been backed up.  (When my grandpa died, I was the first person to see his corpse, and all I did was take its picture, as seen above.)  In this mindset, death is wasteful, illogical, but not agonizing, void-creating.  It’s certainly a safe rationalization.

I definitely don’t do funerals.  I don’t do outpourings of grief, and I don’t react well at all to multiple people coming up to me and feeding me the exact same clichéd lines of sympathy.  The only reason I showed up to this one was for my mom’s sake, and while I’m glad I was here for her it did nothing for me.

So here’s my memorial of my grandmother, weeks later, all cold text and white paper.

She may have been the smartest person in my family – she certainly was the most refined – but I still got her to call me a retard once.  She didn’t mean it to be funny at all, which made it incredibly funny.

She was also responsible for my incredibly vulgar Halloween costume three years ago: the bloodsucking feminine product known as the Tampire.  I’m a lazy Halloween participant, but when I described this old joke and flippantly said I could dress up as one of these creatures, she looked at me, calm as space, and said, “I think you should do that.”  After that, I had to.

The last time I saw her alive was last Christmas, a time in my life when I had no job, no money, and was sleeping on a mattress in a flea-infested dining room.  I had Frequent Fliered my way back into town and hoboed around destitute, but when the family gathering happened, my grandma kept handing me envelopes containing fifty dollar bills which kept me afloat for a few months.  My final memory of my grandma is of her helping me out when I really needed help.  There are far worse final memories of a person that one could have.


After and before and between the ceremonies that marked the end of my grandmother, I was left to spend Halloween week wandering around a town that no longer felt like home.

La Crosse has become different.

I’m willing to admit that much of the weirdness and alienation and oddness of wandering around my hometown that week might have come from sleeping poorly, feeling rushed from one event to another, typical Autumnal depression, and of course the fact that I was there for a funeral.  It’s true that La Crosse will certainly be different without my grandma’s house serving as the family’s home base.

But it’s more than that.  I spent a lot of time wandering around old streets, smoking my grandmother’s final pack of cigarettes – artifacts which certainly contributed to how she died.  What I noticed most in these trips were the things that had disappeared, after which I noticed the things which had altered, and then the things that were new.  The bars which had closed up were the obvious signifiers that time had passed since I had left, though I’d say that balance was secured with the reopening (and far overdue repolishing) of the Casino.  I’m really, really glad that the Casino is back.

The most startling change I noticed in my time back hit me as I walked past the Second Supper office on Main Street.  Planning on dropping in and saying hello, I instead saw a For Rent sign on the front door.  I had picked up a tiny copy of the paper while walking downtown, so I had evidence (beyond my sporadic contributions) that the Supper still existed, but it wasn’t as it was.  Combined with the fact that the Supper’s website no longer reprints its issues, that gave me a feeling of dread.

My friends who still remain in La Crosse were as they always were, and that was about as much comfort as I could wring from the week.  When I wasn’t on the job in the mourning parade or sitting around my grandmother’s empty house attempting to level myself out with video games, I got to roll around town with my gang of ne’erdowells, drinking cheaply and watching beautifully awful cinema.  We went to the Ed Gein shindig that was more performance art piece than haunted house, and I rambled through the rooms loudly wondering why they weren’t playing Killdozer’s epic musical tribute to the Butcher of Plainsfield.  We lurked around the Casino, drinking Colors of the Bar and being generally glad the place had returned to the land of the living.

Still, Halloween weekend was kind of a bust.  Reverting to my usual Halloween laziness, I donned a cheap skull mask purchased in readiness for a time when the world would need a man dressed as Skeletor.  I put on the shirt and tie I wore to my grandma’s funeral and stuck a giant duct taped M on my back and a smaller one on my chest.  With a new pair of crappy skeleton gloves, a plastic sword I’d almost immediately lose, and drunkenly grabbing some of my grandmother’s old respiratory equipment, I hit the streets as a horrible pun – the Rasputin-praising German disco band, Boney M.  Har har har.

I committed no acts of drunken awesomeness, just huddled over my screwdrivers and tried to drink through a breathing tube and a mask.  My friend, more awesomely dressed as Robin, the Boy Wonder, accompanied me through Saturday’s overcrowded boredom.  We played the traditional Halloween game of “Would She Be Hot If She Wasn’t Dressed like a Stripper?” while we hid from the crowds as well as old assholes and sociopaths from our pasts.  I suppose I did learn the liberating power of wearing a mask, if anything.

I’d spend Halloween proper flying home on no sleep, raging through plane delays and long shuttle bus rides, and unloading my tweaked-out aggression on my Vegas cop friend via internet.  It was a hateful, lost little day.

I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation for what happened the night before Halloween.  That reasonable explanation would probably contain the lack of sleep and subsequent stress that I gained through the week’s funeral proceedings.  I’m sure that I just went crazy, but the problem is that there’s this chronic doubter in me that can’t dismiss the possibility of anything, no matter how fantastic or terrifying.

I swore I was going to get some sleep that night, and my nodding off at a friend’s house seemed to confirm this hope.  But once I got back to my grandma’s house, where I planned to collapse on her unoccupied bed, I was on like a wide-eyed light.  I went between channel-surfing the internet to watching crap TV to playing video games to getting really frustrated with my life.  Soon I downloaded some really amazing albums and wandered around the pitch black neighborhood soaring to these epics.  Almost immediately after returning from this journey, I walked right back out the door and over to my friend’s house in the dead of night, where I got a copy of the delightful Fred Schneider album which I’ve always meant to get from him.  Finally I returned to the house, where I laid down in my grandma’s bed and hoped to get a few hours’ unconsciousness.

The only problem was that, every time I felt myself fading out, something would poke me.

Like I said, I’m sure there’s probably a perfectly reasonable explanation – but at the time, I was all out of reason.  At first I turned on the light and stared at the ceiling, but after a few attempts at sleep that all ended with the same pulsating poking I got the hell out of my grandma’s room.  I paced around her hallways with flickers at the edge of my vision, attempting and failing to dull the encroaching madness with entertainment.  When my mom woke up in the morning and saw me sunken and beaten in my grandma’s recliner, she knew something had gone wrong.

I spent the next week back here, recovering in a foreign land and trying to get normal again.  I’m much happier here, and I’ve been able to sleep, at least – but I rarely feel very rested.

The Designer’s Drugs: William Shatner – Seeking Major Tom


Medium: Album

Stimulus: William Shatner – Seeking Major Tom

Anno: 2011


God bless William Shatner for having a music career – okay, a spoken-word career set to music.  Following up on his artistic and awesome collaboration with Ben Folds in Has Been, Shatner’s enunciations have returned to the grin-worthy.  At last, his aural body of work has arrived at its logical, Captain Kirk conclusion: a covers concept album about space.  If it’s a famous song that in any way references the heavens, Seeking Major Tom takes it on, swirls it together alongside NASA audio clips, and places it among the coherent whole.  He dusts off his classic rendition of Elton John’s “Rocket Man,” does the expected gloom of Bowie’s “Space Odyssey,” rambles around like a drunk uncle in “Space Truckin’,” rocks it wild on “The Twilight Zone,” and synths up his voice to ba-baba a sweet cover of Duran Duran’s “Planet Earth.”  Most of this is entirely predictable, and all of it is wonderful.

The only exception to this goodness is “Mrs. Major Tom,” a cover entirely devoid of Shatner’s presence and full of Sheryl Crow’s.  It’s an okay track, but in the context of the greater album the lack of hyperacted vocals is jarring.  There’s definitely a Where the Hell is Shatner vibe to it.

But let’s get to the mind-blowing parts.  First off, Shatner covers “Iron Man.”  It’s pretty goddamn amazing, though the focus is much more on Zakk Wylde’s guitar playing than on our hero’s sweet crooning.  Yet looming even more titanic in the category of it must be heard to be believed is William Shatner, covering “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

Holy shit (or Shat), this is amazing.  Shatner completely warps and perverts this song, throwing out Freddie Mercury’s rock opera vocals and replacing them with groans and wails and gnashing teeth.  The song becomes less tragedy and much more farce, with the lyrics under Shatner’s stewardship becoming the tale of a paranoid schizophrenic with a splitting headache.  It’s beautiful.

If you can, check out Shatner’s video for “Bohemian Rhapsody.”  Not content with warping only one classic beyond recognition, his music video is by all appearances a dissection of the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight, Tonight,” in which the starry, disembodied head of Shatner sings in space and occasionally plagues the Earth with meteors.  It’s splendid.

It’s not half as respectable as Has Been (or even those songs in which Shatner howls out Shakespeare monologues), but Seeking Major Tom is the album of a man who knows his place in pop culture and isn’t afraid to ham it up to the fullest.  Now if only Adam West will make a cover album about bats.