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ROBERT HILBURN

Moonlighting As A Pop Star

January 17, 1987|ROBERT HILBURN

"Blue Moon Detective Agency?," I yelled into the receiver.

"Give me Maddie and make it quick, Ms. Dipesto. I haven't got time for your silly rhymes. This is serious. "

(Pause)

"Maddie? We haven't met, but I watch the show every week, even the reruns--come to think of it the reruns are every week, but that's another story.

"Here's the problem: I'm afraid David's in trouble. . . . I don't know if it's amnesia or a strange psychological disorder, but he thinks he's a singer and, frankly, it's embarrassing.

"He's put out a record on Motown under the name Bruce Willis and it's all over the radio. Thankfully, someone had the good sense to let the female backup singers (uncredited on the single) do most of the work on the remake of 'Respect Yourself,' the Staple Sisters' old R&B/gospel hit.

"But you can hear David's voice in places on the record and it's not a pretty sound. He couldn't even make the finals of 'Star Search,' Maddie. There's no vocal character. And the worst thing is that I understand David has a whole album of this stuff coming out in a couple of weeks."

(Pause)

"Yes, I understand David realizes he's really not a singer and that he is just having fun with some of the old R&B songs that he's loved since he was a kid. But the problem is the Blues Brothers have already done it--and better.

"I think David's a victim of celebrity-itis. An old French philosopher defined it best: I am famous, therefore I can . . . (do anything)."

DON JOHNSON ON HBO: We're so suspicious of TV stars who make albums that there's been a tendency to downplay the success of Don Johnson's best-selling "Heartbeat" album. It's easy to suggest that the only people who bought it were awe-struck fans of "Miami Vice." In truth, it was a creditable work that aimed at personal statement.

It's a testimony to the quality of the album that it now serves as such an effective center for Johnson's latest step into the pop world: an hourlong "music video feature" that airs tonight at 10 on Home Box Office.

In the feature full of sensual and nostalgic scenes, Johnson plays a documentary film maker who is knocked unconscious during a helicopter raid on a small village in war-torn Central America. While in a makeshift hospital bed, he flashes back over key moments in his life . . . mainly the people who have been close to him over the years. (The program, to be repeated three times this month on HBO, won't be shown earlier than 10 p.m. because of nudity in a brief love scene.)

Rather than use dialogue to explain surrealistic scenes that leave wide gaps for viewer interpretation, Johnson and director John Nicolella employ visuals and songs. Charges of indulgence are bound to surface, but Johnson has avoided many of the trademarks of a vanity project. The emphasis is on the story--not on showcasing Johnson. There are long, affecting stretches where he doesn't appear on camera at all.

Still, it is hard to supply enough information through music alone to make us understand or fully care about his character, and that's the chief weakness of the video. Against a history of TV stars trying safe projects, the irony here is that Johnson may have been too ambitious in this $2-million attempt to fuse all the songs from an album into a concept video.

Yet there are pioneering elements in the feature--which will be released commercially in a slightly longer version next month by CBS/Fox--that signal the arrival of a new form of expression that combines artistic film and music instincts.

CD DIGEST: The big news last week from EMI Records was that the Beatles would finally be arriving Feb. 26 on CD--at least the first four British albums by the Fab Four.

Among other EMI releases over the next three months: The Band's "Music From Big Pink" and "The Band" (both February) . . . Judy Garland's "Carnegie Hall" (this month) . . . Pink Floyd's "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn," "A Saucer Full of Secrets," "Obscured by Clouds" (all three this month), "Atom Heart Mother" (February) and "Ummagumma" (March) . . . Frank Sinatra's "Songs for Swingin' Lovers," "In the Wee Small Hours," "Close to You" and "Sinatra's Swingin' Session" (all four this month, with extra tracks in the last two albums).

LIVE ACTION: Willie Nelson will be joined by Kris Kristofferson for four nights beginning March 19 at the Universal Amphitheatre. Tickets go on sale Sunday. . . . The Neville Brothers headline Feb. 13 at the Palace, while Jon Gibson is due Feb. 14 at the Beverly Theatre.

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