The Return of Bruno

tn_returnofbrunoBruceMy new review collection YIPPEE-KY YAY MOVIEGOER comes out at the end of this month, and since it’s named after Bruce Willis I figured I should celebrate by digging out some of the Bruce movies I’ve never seen or don’t remember much and write reviews of them. And what better place to start than his hour long 1987 HBO music special THE RETURN OF BRUNO? Well, I’m sure there are better places. But this is one possible place.

I believe in something called Karaoke Syndrome. It’s something that many famous actors suffer from. Everybody dreams of being a rock star, even if they’re already a movie star, so they try to use their projects as excuses to get on stage and fuck around with a guitar or microphone. One famous victim of KS is Mike Meyers, whose characters in WAYNE’S WORLD, AUSTIN POWERS and THE LOVE GURU all had to be in bands. Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi also suffered from KS (did the Blues Brothers and bee people things on SNL even count as comedy?) but luckily they channeled it into one of the best comedies of all time.

mp_returnofbrunoBruce did not channel his into the best anything, but it looks like he was having fun at least. I know that’s faint praise, but that’s the best you can really do with this thing. Even the cover of the video has a quote that says, “It gives hope to every kid with a broom handle for a mic and a full length mirror in his bedroom.” I hope that was meant as a compliment, but I’d have to see the context.

THE RETURN OF BRUNO special is an extension of the liner notes for the album, which pretend “Bruno” is a major figure in the history of American music. The special is hosted by Dick Clark in the form of a “Rock Legends” show focusing on the story of Bruno Radolini (Bruce), the most legendary singer of legendary singers who inspired every celebrity that they could get to do a fake interview for the special. So Wolfman Jack claims Bruno gave him his nickname, Grace Slick says he had the best set at Woodstock, Ringo Starr says he turned the Beatles psychedelic, etc. etc. You got Paul Stanley, Brian Wilson, the Gibb brothers, others. Some guy on the IMDb says it’s “The rock parody Spinal Tap wishes it were,” but unfortunately there’s nothing that comes across as jokes exactly, just a fake alternate history. I guess it’s kind of funny to see Bruce in fake Woodstock footage. Kind of.

Supposedly Bruno was real rebellious and eccentric and created various trends in popular music. You know the drill. They got Dick Clark there so they do a fake American Bandstand appearance, then they got Don Cornelius doing a show (not Soul Train) where he performs “Under the Boardwalk” with the Temptations. They talk about some incredible album he recorded but then the masters were destroyed in a fire. Same thing happened to all my best books.

But after a chunk of this fakumentary stuff it cuts to modern day Bruce in blue jeans, black t-shirt and white tennis shoes jumping around on stage at a House of Blues type club, playing harmonica and singing and doing his best Mick Jagger moves. He’s pretty good at harmonica and the band is very slick and professional, but let’s just say this is not the sort of music I would ever want to listen to. This is the type of music made by white people who are worshipful of old blues singers and shit but don’t have an ounce of soul in their bodies. I mean even back then you couldn’t get a horn section to sound much whiter than these guys.

I was happy when Bruce changed into the white pants, labcoat and sunglasses. Then it seemed like he was trying to put on a show more than just hanging out. To be fair, he’s not just standing motionless on stage, he’s trying to keep people interested. And it’s true, Bruce does kind of look like a kid singing into a broom handle. He’s not a great singer but he sure knows how to run around and jump and stuff. And there were many people in the front happy to get a high five from the guy from Moonlighting.

I guess the best part is the end credits, when Bruce is hanging out backstage riffing about how and why he created Gumby and Pokey. When you see him talking at this point you realize it’s the only part where he got to really act, the rest of the time he was just singing and posing in different period costumes.

THE RETURN OF BRUNO is from the director of DOUBLE DRAGON and Michael Jackson’s “Liberian Girl” video and the writer of NEIL DIAMOND: HELLO AGAIN. Mysteriously it has a logo at the end for “Hudson Hawk Productions,” even though this was 4 years before that movie. I guess while he was doing this little in-joke pet project he must’ve already been cooking up the next one.


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49 Responses to “The Return of Bruno”

  1. At least he channeled his goofy daydreams into something fun and lighthearted. There are way worse vanity projects floating around out there.

  2. they should have titled it “WHAT YOU SINGIN’ BOUT WILLIS?” instead

  3. I’m gonna say it right now: I like The Return of Bruno album. If you can’t get excited for “Funtime,” I recommend calling an ambulance immediately because you have a stick in your ass that could prove detrimental to the health of your digestive system.

    Best line: “I got a few jingles jangling in my pocket / And I got a couple that don’t make my noise.”

    Then the backup chicks sing “Do you reallyreallyreally wanna have some fun YEAH!” And that’s when you realize, holy shit, is it funtime already? I thought it was only quarter of funtime. I’ve got some catching up to do.

  4. It was supposed to be *no” noise. Not *my* noise. I can’t believe I fucked up Bruce’s songwriting wizardry like that,

  5. Russell Crowe, Keanu Reeves, Don Johnson…whats with these guys and their rock n roll dreams on the side? Though I suppose I can give Reeves some credit for resisting his ego and not do his band’s vocals.

    Plus nothing beats the W-T-F living down like Eddie Murphy’s “Party All the Time” with Rick James. Despite sucking the lint off my dick, the fact that it went #2 on the charts is a testament to how big Murphy was in the 80s.

    I was going to include pro wrestler Chris Jericho’s Fozzy up there with the others, but they’re surprisingly pretty decent heavy metal/rap rock (whatever the fuck that shit has mutated into now) act. Because most such music acts/bands proped by actors usually don’t have a reason for anyone to give a rat’s ass about them except said star…so good for Fozzy.

    And good for Mr. Y2J.

  6. Vern – Oh and I forgot: You better review HUDSON HAWK very soon.

    I think almost everyone will concur with this sentiment.

  7. I wonder if Bruce was sad that Gorillaz only asked him to appear in one of their videos, not actually collaborate with them on a song. The Sin City dvd (possibly just the extended version) has footage too of Bruce and his band performing at a bar for the cast and crew.

  8. Jareth Cutestory

    April 2nd, 2010 at 9:01 pm

    RRA: Michael J. Fox did the rock star thing too. Juliette Lewis seems to have dumped acting altogether to be a singer. And I know it has its fans, but that Mila Jovovich record might be the worst thing I’ve ever heard.


    Scarlett Johansson
    Minnie Driver
    Zoe Deschanel
    Jada Pinkett-Smith
    David Hasselhoff

  9. I forgot to mention that Michael J. Fox is actually in this video, playing himself as an obsessed Bruno fan.

    I got a buddy who’s into all the ’80s heavy metal and all that shit, and he swears that Juliette and the Licks is one of the best shows he’s ever seen. All I know is she’s on an album by “the Prodigy” and she’s better than the reverse mohawk guy they used to have.

  10. I like Zoe Deschenel’s voice so I like She and Him.

  11. Last year I picked up both Milla and Scarlett’s albums and really liked them. That sort of got me interested in this topic of music made by actors. There’s something I really like about hearing a voice familiar from movies in a musical format. I may be one of the few people who really wish Joaquin Phoenix’s rap album would turn out to not be a hoax, though that seems pretty unlikely.

    Anyone know of any more good ones? Or even ones you think aren’t good since for all we know my taste in music is terrible. That is entirely possible. Jareth might even suggest it has already been confirmed given my love of Milla’s album.

    I’m also a big fan of Charlotte Gainsbourg’s music. And Meiko Kaji and several other Pinky Violence actresses put out some great stuff. Pam Grier’s “Long Time Woman” is also great. I wish she had recorded an album. Same with Clint. I could do with a whole album like his part of the Gran Torino theme.

    There is also the Bacon Brothers, though I’ve only heard a couple songs from them. And obviously I need to pick up some of Seagal’s stuff.

    Any others I should check out?

  12. Jake – Maybe you could check out the original TV/movie star / would-be rock muscian in Ricky Nelson.

    Though that isn’t fair I suppose, since he was pretty successful at it. And shit, Rolling Stone even put him on their Top 100 “Artists” of All-Time list. I shit you not.

  13. Gretchen Mol sings lead vocals on a track for Ferrara’s ‘The Blackout.’ It’s called “2 To Tango.” Might be in your wheelhouse.

  14. Man… I actually had this on cassette (is that how you spell it?) back in the late 80’s. It’s only cause I watched Moonlighting all the time. Also a Columbia House subscription.

    Hey! Why did Columbia have a club and still you couldn’t order the Pink Floyd albums? Their album were released on Columbia’s label in the US. Whatever. The 99 cent sales were cool and I sure looked forward to that cardboard brick of music showing up every month or so! Hey, I lived in the MidWest at the time and radio was pathetic.

    Rock on Verninites!

  15. Interesting, RRA. I had always thought Ricky Nelson was originally a singer. I didn’t know he started out acting. I really like his song in RIO BRAVO so I’ll have to check out his other stuff. Good call.

    The Giggler – Thanks for the heads-up. I’d not heard of THE BLACKOUT before but I plan on checking it out now.

  16. “Juliette (Lewis) & The Licks” are a surprisingly good band. Not sure if I would praise their show that much, but it’s clearly to see and hear that it’s not a cute vanity project for her and she really takes it serious.

  17. Jake – Really? I’m surprised.

    He was the oldest kid of that “Ozzie & Harriet”, you know one of those bullshit 1950s family sitcoms promoting unrealistic conservative values*. A teen idol, he got into rock music which was raging out the gate, and well his handlers wanting to turn a quick buck.

    Started out with covers of standards in a Pat Boone vein, but then he actually got serious with the shit and started writing his own stuff. Respected enough he’s the Rock Hall of Fame. Which I don’t know if that’s necessarily a honor or not, but there you go.

    Oh and he did RIO BRAVO too.

    *=Or to make a point, look at poor Nelson. He was an adulterer, had several illegitimate kids on the side, was a poor parent, had drug problems (was using coke when he was killed in that plane crash), and other not so kind things.

  18. Joaquin Phoenix has the karaoke bug pretty bad too. Or he’s making a documentary with Casey Afflec, I really can’t tell which.

    Vern have you ever reviewed the Whole 9/10 yards movies? They have some Bruce.

    And is this new book just old Bruce movie reviews from the site or all new shit?

  19. I’m reminded of an SNL Skit too which was a spoof commercial for an album called “Now That’s What Actors Call Singing” with the Bacon Brothers, Kevin Spacey singing “Celebration” and James Gandolfini leading a boy band.

  20. I don’t know if Robert Rodriguez counts but Chingon is really good in my opinion. John Carpenter makes some damned fine music as well. DVDAs songs are always awesome from America Fuck Yeah to every song form Cannibal: The Musical. Also, I believe Paul Thomas Anderson wrote Feel My Heat from Boogie Nights although he didn’t perform it. Perhaps director musicians shouldn’t count.

    For the record (and I might get beat up for this) I love that Don Johnson song Heartbeat but I also dig sappy 80’s songs such as that, Waiting For A Star To Fall, We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off, and any other lame song you might hear on Delilah or Casey Kasem’s American Top 40.

  21. Oh! I forgot. That song that Ed Harris sings at the end of Appaloosa is awesome. But again, that probably falls under the director musician thing.

  22. Yeah Heartbeat has one of the most unintentionally hilarious bad long form music videos ever.

  23. hamslime – Totally agree on the Ed Harris song. Like Gran Torino I left Appaloosa hoping the director/star would cut an album.

    I just checked out “Heartbeat” on youtube. Good stuff. I like where he flings the kid over the wall one-handed while carrying his camera in the other. That is a war correspondent I can respect. A guy who is compassionate enough to discus throw a small child over a retaining wall when the need arises, yet still has the presence of mind to save his camera since the story MUST BE TOLD!! I think I need to hear the whole album.

    Another one I forgot is Telly Savalas. I listened to one of his albums recently (the appropriately titled “Telly Savalas”) and liked it a lot. It has a real good cover of “Sunday Morning Coming Down.”

  24. Dieselboy – it’s not just Bruce reviews, it’s a collection of all kinds of reviews from over the years.

  25. Jake, check out Julie Delphy. Pretty french girl with a pretty voice. What she sings is soft, but she really can deliver some emotions. If you check her before sunset, before sunrise films, welll she plays her own songs.

    Vern, I play the (harp) -harmonica-. Mr. Willis is not by any means an “accomplished” player, but at least there are hundreds that are worse, so he can stand his own, well, sort of.

  26. Shawnee Smith is in a country band with another actress named Missi Pyle, who I only recognized as the alien chick from Galaxy Quest. They’re called Smith and Pyle: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smith_%26_Pyle

    I haven’t heard their music but my pop-culture psyche appreciates this band on general principle.

  27. Lawrence – if you like She & Him, you should check out the Yes Man soundtrack – Zooey does a few new wave songs under “Munchausen by Proxy” (kind of like how Neko Case does new wave with The New Pornographers when she’s not doing alt-country). I’m hoping it’s not too late for a full-length MbP album.

  28. Why is that musicians work so much better as actors than actors do as musicians? Tom Waits, Bowie, Dwight Yoakam, Tunde Adibimpe, Iggy Pop, not to mention the legions of acting rappers. To be fair though, The Game was pretty shitty in Belly 2.

    Dennis Hopper has a cool spoken word song on the second Gorrilaz album. Has he done anything else? I’d imagine cocaine fueled Waterworld/Super Mario Bros era Hopper recorded about 30000 songs, but I wonder if he released any?

    Surprised nobody’s mentioned 30 Seconds to Mars. I saw them for about half a song at a festival once, and I gotta say, I can now only enjoy Jared Leto’s acting if his character gets murdered with an axe.

    And dear god, what are we to do with Drake?

  29. Jareth Cutestory

    April 3rd, 2010 at 5:53 pm

    Similar to the Ed Harris song that hamsline mentioned, Harry Dean Stanton does a nice job on that sad song on the PARIS, TEXAS soundtrack.

    Jake: That Mila Jovovich album has a pretty good critical reputation. Some consider it brilliant. Personally, I can’t stand it, but I certainly didn’t mean to imply that anyone who likes it has bad taste.

    The worst actor-turned-singer I ever heard was Richard Chamberlain. His shit was so bad that the Golden Throats guys didn’t want to lower the quality of their compilations by including him. And these are guys that championed the singing voices of Shatner and Jim Nabors. There’s something hammy, cloying and entirely anonymous about Chamberlain.

    Buddy Ebsen, Lorne Greene, Jack Palance and Goldie Hawn all made records too. And of course in Asia it’s very common for actors to moonlight as singers.

    Also, everyone should hear Andy Griffith singing “House of the Rising Son” (he sounds like a white Ray Charles) and
    Phyllis Diller singing “Satisfaction” (she sounds like she’s having a stroke).

  30. Camilo – Thanks for the Julie Delpy mention. I love her as an actress but didn’t know she had put out any music. My only complaint from the tracks I just sampled would be that you can barely hear her accent when she sings. Accents almost always make music better, in my opinion.

    Jareth – Yeah, I knew you weren’t disparaging anyone’s taste. And thank you for the mention of the Golden Throats series. That looks like the motherlode for the type of music I’m looking for! I’ve long enjoyed Shatner’s stuff, (You heard Has Been? That album is fantastic.) so I’m gonna have to get this series immediately.

  31. What Scarlett did to Tom Waits…brutal. Just brutal.

  32. There are two good things for ScarJo’s mouth. Her acting, and….

    well, the other isn’t singing. :)

  33. Jareth Cutestory

    April 3rd, 2010 at 8:52 pm

    Jake: Minnie Driver is another actor-turned-singer, but, not being a fan of the kind of music she makes, I can’t in good conscience recommend her. Katey Sagal from MARRIED WITH CHILDREN and FUTURAMA is another. And though not as big as her MOONLIGHTING co-star, Cybill Shepherd put out a record too. I’ll leave it to braver souls than me to dig that one up.

    If you like the French accent, you hear more of it on Catherine Deneuve’s record.

    I’d count Charlotte Gainsbourg as a singer-turned-actor because her first song – “Lemon Incest,” a creepy duet with her dad – came out when she was 12 or 13 years old.

    Anyone remember that album Tony Danza put out? Man that was dire.

    Some I’ve never heard: Edward Furlong, Crispen Glover, Tina “FAMILY TIES” Yothers, Blair from THE FACTS OF LIFE, Scott Bakula, Scott Baio and the guy who played Data on STAR TREK.

  34. Jareth – What, no honorary mention for Hulk Hogan and “Macho Man” Randy Savage?

    And worse, Savage put out a RAP album. Apparently the whole thing is a rap attack on Hogan. Total dissing from one steroid-freak senior citizen to another.

  35. this many comments and no mention yet of SHATNER and NIMOY??? nerds, you disappoint me…

  36. Jareth Cutestory

    April 3rd, 2010 at 10:24 pm

    Jesus, RAA, I had no idea that those wrestlers made records. It’s nice to know that there is finally something to make Rodney Dangerfield’s “Rappin’ Rodney” song sound good.

    Virgin Gary: In an earlier post I tried to come to terms with what Shat had accomplished in his chosen fields, but ended up erasing it. Words to describe his version of “Convoy” completely failed me.

  37. Jareth – i first discovered shatner’s album “The Transformed Man” back around ’94, when i was a freshman in college, and few things i have encountered in life have given me as much joy as his version of Mr. Tambourine Man. Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds was good, too. also, his more recent version of Common People is surprisingly good, though the shat’s music loses some of it’s power when you know he is in on the joke.

    while it is great, i wouldn’t necessarily call what he does singing. nimoy, on the other hand, fully goes for it, melodically-speaking. Highly Illogical is good for a laugh. i assume everyone has seen the Bilbo Baggins video on youtube or wherever.

  38. Jareth Cutestory

    April 3rd, 2010 at 11:39 pm

    Nimoy’s version of “Proud Mary” might be the most uncomfortable thing I’ve ever heard.

    And the only thing I’ve ever heard that rivaled Shat was Sebastian Cabot singing “It Ain’t Me, Babe.”

  39. Jareth – Yeah, I thought about “Lemon Incest”, though according to this interview (http://www.avclub.com/articles/charlotte-gainsbourg,34886/) she was doing her first movie at the same time. Also she says doesn’t consider herself a singer, so who am I to argue.

    Another good call on Deneuve. I need to get some of her music. That reminded me that Jeanne Moreau has also put out some real good music.

  40. jeanne morreau singing that song she sings in JULES ET JIM is a moment of pure cinematic bliss.

  41. Mr. Cutestory: Crispin Glover’s foray into music is pretty much exactly like you’d imagine it to be. I love his particular brand of strange, and his most famous track “Clowny Clown Clown” does not disappoint in that regard. If I were you, I’d watch it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rH6b_lSQst0

    In case you appreciate Hunter S. Thompson’s work, the closest thing he’s done to music (as far as I know) is this collaboration with trance producer Paul Oakenfold. At least two things to take from it: 1. He knew that being famous is not enough reason to sing. (“Let me just read this.”) 2. I don’t think anybody disagrees, but Johnny Depp’s performance in F&LiLV was absolutely spot-on, fuckin’ impeccable. Here’s the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VM6nuaBazo8 (and the lyrics – a nice, quick read – are here: http://www.justsomelyrics.com/326589/Paul-Oakenfold-Nixon's-Spirit-Lyrics)

  42. Jareth Cutestory

    April 4th, 2010 at 5:29 pm

    Virgin Gary: Truffaut would agree with you. He considered Moreau’s performance of “Tourbillon de la Vie” an embodiment of the “spirit” of his film.

  43. Not much to add other than I always thought that it was Woody Harrelson that sang the “Cheers” theme song. It would appear I was wrong however. And of course I think we are all forgetting that our favourite Seagal likes to rock the mic.

  44. phoebe cates and allysa milano both have had carrers in pop music. but only in japan.

  45. they also had careers.

  46. When badass juxtaposition goes wrong: I give you … Stallone.


  47. Russel Crowe’s band did a residency near me a few years back… it was like $20 to see him in a small club, and I was going to go, but paying that much for what everyone agreeed was a horrible sounding joke band seemed like bullshit
    i kinda regret not going

  48. Oh man, how did I miss this discussion? Peter Wyngarde all day.

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