Bruce Willis was my future ex-husband when I was in 8th grade. My sister and I watched Moonlighting religiously, and my best friend Vilma and I used to dissect it in school every Wednesday after a new episode aired. Oh, how Vilma and I would create these intricate fantasies about my relationship with Bruce! We’d write notes back and forth in Mr. McConnell’s math class, analyzing how hot he looked on the show the night before. David Addison was a lovable bad boy, and I was all about that in 8th grade. He was hilarious and talented and sexy. I didn’t need anything else!
And he quickly became a huge star, so naturally, he decided to record an album on Motown. Don Johnson had released an album the year before, and Jack Wagner had been recording music for a few years himself. So why shouldn’t every male TV star make a record?
And there was the HBO mockumentary, Bruce Willis: The Return of Bruno, to go along with it. Oh Lord, how much did I love to hear him sing! He loved the same music I did, so I knew we were meant to be.
I bought The Return of Bruno album and listened to it every day. Like, seriously, every day. I felt like I was being serenaded, seduced by this exciting, talented, interesting man. I took pride in knowing that most of the songs were old, and though I have never been much of a fan of covers, I was totally in love with his versions of “Young Blood,” “Under the Boardwalk,” and “Respect Yourself.” But my favorite was—and is—“Jackpot (Bruno’s Bop).” It’s ridiculously catchy and fun, and Bruce wrote it!
Grampa always gave me good advice
A fine-lookin’ woman is like a pair of dice
When she flashes her snake eyes
You gotta pay the price
See what he did there with the “pair of dice” line? It’s like “paradise.” I mean, come on! What a brilliant lyricist!
“Respect Yourself” had a video where Bruce was a bartender who fantasizes about singing like The Staple Singers. He ends up dancing around the bar having a sing-off with June Pointer. How can we not love this video?
The most 80s song on this album is the one that closes it. “Flirting with Disaster” is a big old mess of cheesy guitar solos and Bruce and some backup singers giving it their totally awesome dramatic best. The song warns of the perils of messing around with a dangerous woman—it’s like playing with fire.
Flirting with disaster—playing with fire
She’s more than I can master
‘Cause I’m a slave to desire
Shouldn’t go no faster
I’m tempting fate I know
Flirting with disaster
What a way to go, way to go, way to go
Why wasn’t there a video for this song? This song was perfectly crafted to be immortalized in a music video that would have blown MTV audiences away.
“Comin’ Right Up” is another great song that would have made an amazing video in 1987. Bruce was at the peak of his powers back then, so instead of doing the MTV thing he made this awesome HBO special where he played Bruno Radolini, his alter ego who was an influential rock singer in the 60s. Of course, I watched this special the night it originally aired and every time HBO re-aired it, and then I bought the VHS when it was released. It was pretty much all I cared about.
But one thing about it really bothered me. The chronology is not accurate. I have always been a music historian, so when historical events are misrepresented it really bugs the shit out of me. Especially when those things are so easy to get right, like when they talked about Bruno performing at Woodstock in 1969, and then basically creating the psychedelic era after that. Um, no. The psychedelic era came first. There’s a scene where Ringo Starr and Joan Baez talk about a film Bruno made after Woodstock, a trippy movie à la The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour called No One Home. I get that it’s a mockumentary and they’re trying to make it look like there would be no Beatles without Bruno (Ringo says as much in the film), but my God, they should have had Bruno do this movie as his comeback, and then ride the psychedelic wave for the next two years until he winds up stealing the show at Woodstock!
Also, when Bruno tries to keep up with the times in 1976 and had this band called Bruno’s Basement, the fashion and musical style is early 80s new wave. Wrong!
This has bothered me since 1987.
Anyway, I love the movie. Michael J. Fox appears as the world most prominent Brunophile, proudly showcasing his Brunobilia which includes a rare video recording of a more recent Bruno concert. This is where we get to see Bruce—er, Bruno work his shit 1987 style. He wears this ridiculous, douchey long-billed baseball cap and trench coat while singing “Down in Hollywood.”
But he’s still hot.
And for “Jackpot (Bruno’s Bop),” it’s scrubs, a white doctor’s coat, and those bizarre pinhole glasses people wore in the 80s when they thought they were too hip to actually need to see what the fuck they were doing.
My favorite outfit is what he wears on the cover, just a dark T-shirt, tight blue jeans, and untied white sneakers (which I also used to rock!). Just simple and manly and sexy. And that’s what I loved about him, his complete lack of self-consciousness, his confidence and that slightly cocky smirk he always had. And he could sing and blow that harp! He was the perfect man.
He had a powerful effect on me as a teenager. He wasn’t the first or last celebrity I lusted after, but he was very important to me. And having this record in my collection between The Who and Stevie Wonder for all these years means that his music was pretty influential as well. Not in the big picture of the history of music, of course, but in my personal history as a fan of the blues and soul music, and in the way his musicianship informed what I conceived of as my ideal man. Whether he’s a singer or not, any man who wants to spend time with me better be a huge music fan. Bruce is such a man. A super hot man.