William Shatner reflects on space flight in Ben Folds’ ‘Declassified’ at Kennedy Center

Hear our full conversation on my podcast “Beyond the Fame.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews William Shatner & Ben Folds at Kennedy Center (Part 1)

Captain Kirk is about to transform the Kennedy Center into the final frontier.

The “Star Trek” icon unites with musician Ben Folds and the National Symphony Orchestra for “NSO DECLASSIFIED: Ben Folds Presents With William Shatner” on Friday, April 29.

“You don’t even want to know what it costs to put on something like this,” Folds told WTOP. “It’s doable because it’s the Kennedy Center, whose job is to lead the nation in this kind of programming. It’s the kind of thing you’ll see once. This kind of thing never happens. I think you’re messing up if you live in the D.C. area and you don’t get yourself out to this.”

Folds and Shatner have collaborated on music together for nearly two decades.

“Ben and I have known each other for a long time,” Shatner told WTOP. “One of the great performing moments of my life was making an album with him. We called it ‘Has Been’ and it was very successful because this magnificent magician brought his musical imagination.”

The 2004 album was recorded in Nashville where Folds was living at the time, marking the first musical album that Shatner had recorded since “The Transformed Man” in 1968.

“He said to me, ‘Nashville, like Hollywood, has at its beck-and-call all these musicians,'” Shatner said. “If you need a drummer, ‘Hey, Paul, come on down!’ Then a world-famous guitarist lives three blocks down. That’s what Ben was doing, calling these virtuosos to come help us with this album. It’d be an hour, they’d do a lick and they’d go!”

This time, Shatner recites lyrics that he co-wrote with a friend.

“I push back on ‘spoken word’ because that’s poetry; this has a vast element of music,” Shatner said, to which Folds added, “Bill is somewhere between singing and speaking. He has a rhythmic sense. … I don’t know what we’re going to call it, but it’s symphonic music. The closest thing that I can compare it to is ‘Lincoln Portrait’ by Aaron Copland.”

Shatner lyrically reflects on his Blue Origin space flight last October.

“People have asked me a great deal about this journey I took into space and the emotions it caused,” Shatner said. “It’s very difficult if not impossible to sum up the complexity of what I felt when I landed, but … I worked out what I felt and we’ve put it to music called ‘So Fragile, So Blue.’ It’s the key song, the monumental song among the six that I’ll be doing.”

The first of the six songs kicks off with the lyric, “Music is everywhere.”

“That’s the opening sentence of my performance, then I go out to illustrate how music is everywhere,” Shatner said. “These 70 instruments, they’re weird bassoons, they’re weird, man! … Who made that brass? … Where did these musical instruments come from? … They’re all these weird shapes! … Who ever thought of a French horn with all its circles?”

Folds agrees that the mystery of music is part of its magic.

“To extend that miracle, the fact that it has evolved, the fact that the symphony orchestra can come together,” Folds said. “Imagine organizing 90 people in a rock band to bring them into a garage to play. I always liken the symphony orchestra as the greatest symbol of civilization … because it organizes people to be something greater than all of the parts.”

Indeed, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews William Shatner & Ben Folds at Kennedy Center (Part 2)

Hear our full conversation on my podcast “Beyond the Fame.”

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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