In 2004’s Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, Chuck Klosterman made the case for Billy Joel. “Unlike 99 percent of pop artists,” wrote Klosterman, “there is absolutely no relationship between Joel’s greatness and Joel’s coolness.” Klosterman went on to compare Billy Joel to an interesting senior citizen or historical event, and stressed that certain forms of pop entertainment can be excellent, even though they're divorced from the types of coolness that we implicitly expect most culture to buy into. I happen to think that Billy Joel is about as useful to our overall culture as the Olive Garden, and I often find Klosterman to be a bit too shrill and contrarian, but I was thinking a lot about that essay on Saturday night at the Roseland. I was at a Brent Spiner show. Seeing Lieutenant Commander Data tell stories and sing showtunes was, most assuredly, not cool. It was, however, great. Really, weirdly great.
More after the jump.
Spiner actually has a pretty good singing voice. He was a Broadway actor before Star Trek, and he was able to do justice to the songs he was singing, most notably If Ever I Would Leave You, a huge, booming number made famous by Robert Goulet. Spiner’s show was not at all like that one time when Sid Vicious tried to sing My Way or when Eddie Murphy told us to party all the time. A show like this lives in the shadow of countless celebrities who have embarrassed themselves by trying to sing, and much to my surprise it got out from under it. The show was much more “Brent Spiner, Broadway actor who was on Star Trek” than “Hey guys! Data sings!”
Throughout the concert, I couldn’t help but think about whether or not Spiner actually wanted to be there. I wondered if he disliked always having to be Data in some form or another, or, alternately, still wished he was playing Data. The entire evening was defined by nostalgia, and that’s a very tricky emotion to get right. Done wrong, nostalgia feels desperate and even resentful of the present, like an old man complaining about Kids These Days. Good nostalgia, though, brings a bit of that past back into the present and makes it alive again. Spiner’s show, honestly, was a little bit of both (he did a bit about being less successful than Patrick Stewart) but it was thankfully more nostalgia of the enlivening variety than the resentful kind, if that makes any sense. For a little while, I and a theater full of people felt a little bit of that TNG magic come back.
Again, I can’t overemphasize how amazingly uncool the event was. However, upon leaving the Roseland my girlfriend and I were both filled with strong, positive emotions. Various people around us bore all the outward marks of being really, really happy. Brent Spiner and his band had made a theater full of people feel pretty damn good, and, arguably, that’s the whole point of any kind of live show or concert. After a certain point, it doesn’t matter that you’re not cool.
Oh yeah, and Michael Dorn showed up. That was neat.