Now that some time has passed since Leonard Nimoy’s death and we’ve all had time to process, can we discuss the infamous “Ballad of Bilbo Baggins” that he recorded? I mean, it’s been featured on everything from Entertainment Tonight to Brother Wease’s shows as Exhibit A of celebrity awkwardness. But have we ever taken an honest look at it?
The truth of the matter is this: people hate nerds. And before the Internet, nerds had no particular recourse. We all had to just sit and take it while popular culture beat up on everything science fiction and fantasy that lacked the necessary gravitas. Even Star Trek TOS, which for the most part received popular respect, remains the go-to nerd semaphore.
Meanwhile, the Ballad of Bilbo Baggins is an actual ballad in the classical sense. Everything about it, including Nimoy’s baritone voice, is authentic to the genre. It is a storytelling song with a simple melody and repeated chorus. It uses minimal harmony and focuses instead on the basic melody and simple rhythm. It is, in short, everything that modern American music is not. The whole genre is an open target for nerd jokes.
So, put Spock together with a classical ballad and it is practically an anti-nerd singularity. A perfect storm of geek that combines both science fiction and fantasy with a healthy scoop of awkwardly-uncool music. Of course, everybody laughs at it.
On the other hand, this video does not help one bit. Who the hell choreographed it? And had they ever heard of either a Hobbit or J.R.R Tolkien before preparing for the show? I doubt it. Because Bilbo is not, as the choreography suggests, a flaming-gay Keebler elf on Molly. Not that there’s anything wrong with that: some of my best friends are gay Keebler elves with a taste for Molly.
If this video seems awkward and silly to you now, just imagine what popular culture would have done with it in the homophobic 60’s? It just seems to confirm and amplify the unmanliness of geek culture. Even if he got to spend several hours in the company of comely lady dancers, I suspect even Nimoy himself knew this wasn’t the way his imagined hero was supposed to have been portrayed. Even as he spent who-knows-how-many hours filming this god-awful segment for some long-gone variety show.
Personally, I think Spock got robbed. I think he recorded a perfectly good song about J.R.R. Tolkien’s diminutive hero that he spent a lifetime having to defend as “just good fun,” whenever some jackass reporter wanted to poke geek culture in the eye. I think that more than any other hero of the sci-fi genre, Leonard Nimoy took a heaping helping of shit to defend not simply his artistic vision, but an entire culture that wouldn’t get it’s chance to speak for another forty years.
I’m not suggesting that we declare The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins as the geek national anthem. But after more than forty years, I think we can give ol’ Spock a break on this one. He wrote a decent song. It was never going to top the charts. Let it go.