Leg Warmers. Reaganomics. Trickle Down Theories. Daisy Duke Shorts. Big Hairdos that prompted Prince to ask “Is anybody living there?” The Pop Culture factory of the Go-Go-Go Early Eighties served up all of this with side dishes of Quaaludes, Leveraged Buyouts, Secret Arms Deals to Iran, and the TV version of the modern MGM musical “Fame.” It’s hard to think of “Fame” without visualizing all sorts of life, music, and dance busting out at you. Most of us in the cast were New York City transplants, ripped from our tiny Manhattan apartments and dragged kicking and screaming to the tropical desert on the other coast. This was Los Angeles before the riots, the drive-by shootings, and the all day traffic jams. This was the L.A. depicted in Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall.” People were basically safe here, (as long as they didn’t sell drugs, make pornos, or sell drugs to porno stars). We showed up at M.G.M. in October of 1981, the noisiest bunch on the lot, with our boom boxes blaring and our attitudes intact. We were mad as hell, and we weren’t going to take it anymore! Mad at what, I don’t know. We just knew we weren’t going to take it.
Some of us didn’t own cars. A vehicle in Manhattan is an Achilles heel. You have to park the Blessed thing, and that is easier said. Navigating the suburban sprawl of Los Angeles, though, required wheels. The credit-card challenged among us were relegated to the selection of badly beaten-up pieces of rolling garbage at the local cash-friendly Rent-A-Wreck. If you happened to be driving the streets of L.A. in the early eighties, and you spotted a dead Buick, Volkswagen, Pacer or Ford in the middle of the road, blocking traffic, it was probably a regular bloke from “Fame.”
Albert Hague, Gene Anthony Ray, Debbie Allen and I hailed from the original cast of the movie. In real estate zoning terms, we were “grandfathered in,” more of an element in the vision of a renegade British director than an 8” by 10” in the drawer of a Hollywood casting agency. Seniority didn’t buy us much, however. The cast of “Friends” could use our salary to buy lunch and come up a bit short. None of us complained, though. We just wanted access to the executive golf carts parked on the lot with the keys ever-so-trustingly left in the ignition, so we could race at will. What do you mean they weren’t supposed to be used as bumper cars?
The hour-long episodes of “Fame” were shot in seven days, with the last day being the big production number. All of the dancers, the background talent, the side musicians, the cast and crew were on the set at once. With over 120 people in the room, there was a sort of organized chaos that the director and the crew usually dealt with with much grace. For me, this day was the most fun - a musical party that we got paid to attend. Usually, there was also a second, smaller musical number that would take place earlier in the show. It may have been a song that Erika Gimpel would sing, or a Cello piece that Lori Singer would play, or maybe a Bruno song, or a dance cue. All of the musical numbers were “pre-records,” tracks that were recorded a few days in advance. We would lipsync to our own voices, mime to our own instrument tracks, and hope that we got close enough in the on-screen performance to look “live.” For me, the worst thing of all was being a little off in my own sync, so it would seem like I wasn’t really playing or singing what I had played and sung a few days earlier! Much less harrowing for me than lipsyncing was playing the piano or synth live on the set. It wasn’t something that the directors were comfortable with, mostly because of the inherent problems changing angles on one performance with one camera. But with a little coaxing and a little more whining, and some expert seat-of-the-pants engineering by the sound mixer, John Oliver, we were able to shoot some live piano playing - and some live cello playing by Lori, too! That was great fun, and it was nearly always in sync!
The very first musical request I had from the producers was to compose a song poking fun at my music teacher, Mr. Shorofsky. In real life, the Albert Hague was every bit the mentor to me that he was onscreen. Having written hit Broadway musicals, and songs such as, “Young and Foolish,” and, “Did I Ever Really Live,” I realized I was lucky enough to be working next to a great composer (and an even better teacher). I would usually take my songs to Albert before bringing them to the producers, just to make sure I hadn’t written complete tripe. Probably the one song I got his complete blessing on was my favorite, “Could We Be Magic Like You.”
“Murphy Blues” was a result of a request by the show’s executive producer/head writer, William Blinn. Always a straightforward man with an impeccable writing style, Blinn came to me on the set one day and said, “Would you please do me a favor, and quickly? I’m short on this show. Can you give me a Bruno song? I need two and a half minutes.” “No sweat,” I replied. “When do you need it?” “Tomorrow.” Yes, sweat, I thought.
Within hours, “Murphy Blues” was roughed out, and in another few hours, recorded on my Tascam 1/2” 8 track recorder, using a Linn Drum, an Oberheim OB-xA and a Fender Rhodes.
These records have some of the best L.A. studio musicians playing their hearts out. Players like Neil Stubenhaus, Dean Parks, Jai Winding, Mike Landau, David Garfield - these are the cats! I’m going to enjoy this CD, because my vinyl records are hopelessly worn out, and there’s previously unreleased stuff! I hope you can find your leg warmers.