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The Guy Who's Been Such A Hit Finally Hits

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He's managed to do what's almost impossible in the entertainment industry. He's worked with all kinds of people, including many of the most demanding types, and he's remained on great terms with all of them. In fact, he's been described as the most popular guy in the business - Elton John, k.d. lang, Cindy Crawford, Cher, and Shirley Ritts are among his friend - which is maybe why he knows so much about popular music. Instead of resenting being a background force for so long, he's had a ball. Now, the spotlight's about to fall on him, and the predictions are hot, hot, hot

The music business loves singer-songwriter Bruce Roberts, and many of Its finest ambassadors showed up to sing on Roberts's new album, Intimacy (Atlantic). Elton John, k.d. lang, All-4-One, and Luther Vandross, among others, lent their voices to the project, but the emergent star here is the phenomenally gifted Roberts himself. His Hollywood Hills house is decorated with the gold records he's written for the likes of the Pointer Sisters, Barbra Streisand, and Patti LaBelle. But on Intimacy, Roberts at last stands front and center. Expect to see the video of the first single, "When the Money's Gone," everywhere soon and to enjoy a lot of fall dinners with these ten beautifully written songs - ranging from soulful music to country-inflected ballads - as accompaniment.

BRENDAN LEMON: How long did you work on this album?

BRUCE ROBERTS: I started a while back. One song, "All Through the Night," I wrote with Donna Summer a long time ago. I met her when I started out, having just written a song for her and [Barbra] Streisand called "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)." The other songs on Intimacy are new.

BL: Were they written within the last year?

BR: Actually, mostly over the last two years. I wanted to be the one this time who sang the songs that I wrote. This record is about music for the sake of music, and it is something that celebrates song-writing. A lot of records now are not based on real, authentic discovery of a song; instead they fall back on drum loops, riffs, and packaged words.

BL: I know one of your concerns is that the songwriter not be neglected in the process of creating a hit record.

BR: Neglected? Songwriters are almost always neglected. A lot of the time they are not even given credit on CDs or any of the other products that their work went into. People usually think artists write their own songs, but that's generally not the case.

BL: How did you break into showbiz?

BR: I was singing in hotels in Miami Beach with a Latin band when I was eight; I didn't even speak Spanish. I was working for the Mob, and I had no idea.

BL: How did you get into that?

BR: I performed at a talent night in a hotel, and this guy saw me sing and approached me. I was with my parents. The next week I was singing at the Fountainebleau, wearing these sharkskin suits that my new "mentors" had made for me. Then I went to this dancing school in New York. I was dreadful, an elephant in tap shoes. But I was a really good singer and did jingles for products on New York radio. I was the kid singer because I had great pitch at that point. Then I did the Catskills and television shows and stuff. This was all before I was ten.

BL: Did you think of yourself as a child star?

BR: No, I didn't feel that. I see pictures now, and I look like one of the Blues Brothers.

BL: When did your career as a child performer stop?

BR: I was in a Broadway show. In the middle of a rehearsal, my voice changed, and I was fired. So I stopped and just went to school.

BL: When did you move to L.A.?

BR: The first trip to California was when I went out to be the voice of Danny Partridge.

BL: Was this when The Partridge Family was about to air?

BR: The TV series was on, full-time. Danny Bonaduce [who played Danny Partridge] had a solo album, and I went in to sing all of Danny's parts, layering five vocals onto his vocals. I stayed out there for a while, and eventually I had my own album out on Elektra. It feels like a hundred and five years ago.

BL: What was the album called?

BR: Bruce Roberts [1980]. How novel.

BL: Do you think that being able to record an album in your bedroom or your basement has changed the quality of music?

BR: I think it's made the process much more relaxed, more intimate. Music is a really emotional thing. You can't get totally technical about it. I had a tiny budget on the new record. It cost, like, four dollars.

BL: What do you think about all the celebrities who want to become recording artists?

BR: Like the ones I've worked with, who shall remain nameless?

BL: Why nameless? What about your work on Naomi Campbell's album?

BR: I love Naomi, and she really can sing. It's always difficult with a first record. What a person has to learn is how involved they need to be in each aspect of the recording process.

BL: You can't just phone the songs in. . . .

BR: No, even if you wish you could. In fact, I wish I could be a model or an actor. Wait a minute, I am an actor. I'm in Batman Forever. I have a scene with Nicole Kidman.

BL: A party scene.

BR: Yes. I play a reporter who annoys everybody.

BL: Bruce, a lot of reporters would like to know what you know.

BR: But I'd never talk. My motto is: Never kiss and tell, and don't fuck anybody.

BL: You mean, don't fuck anybody over?

BR: [laughs] Well, yeah, you can fuck people safely, but don't fuck them over. If I could do needlepoint, that would be my pillow. That's a lot of letters - "D. O. N. . . ."

BL: I understand that you have been known to do a little needlepoint in your time.

BR: I try to do lots of things. I tried to ski, and I fractured some fibs. I tried to water-ski, and I almost drowned. I tried to play tennis with a friend, Edgar [Bronfman, Jr., new boss of MCA and cowriter with Roberts of Intimacy's title track], and he humiliated me so badly that I would never go back and play it again. I can't do anything. I can float. [laughs]

BL: You can also write great sexy songs.

BR: The whole focus of the record was to be sensual. My voice happens to be really high. I sing in falsetto, and that's where I love to sing. I sing like a man and a woman in one, like a Christine Jorgensen.

BL: Who is the ideal audience for this album?

BR: I think it's for an audience that enjoys contemporary pop singers. It's not for anybody who loves Megadeth. They ain't gonna get it. Or, "I only love Heavy D." It's amazing that I have just been around a lot of tappers because of a very strange set of coincidences. My more was in the hospital recently, and in the next bed was Eazy-E, when he was dying. I befriended a couple of guys there, and they got into some of my stuff.

BL: Have you ever done television?

BR: I was a recurring character in drag on Richard Simmons's exercise show. I based the character on photographer Herb Ritts's mother, Shirley. And this character became Nielie Marcus, or whatever we called her. So I've helped make Shirley famous, or do I mean infamous? Not that she needed any help from me. She's like a second mother. She's truly a personality. She will say what she thinks to anybody, no matter who they are, and the scary thing is that she's usually right.

BL: Have you ever wanted to be normal?

BR: Sometimes - when I was in school, I think. Now, I really don't care. If I had a life that I didn't enjoy, I would tend to be more normal and quiet, but I have a great time and I'm not normal, whatever normal is. I'm known for being eccentric. But I've gotten much calmer.

BL: Do you think so?

BR: Yeah. I was wild when I lived in New York. For years, I only wore red tennis shoes. I had fifty pairs.

BL: What color tennis shoes would you buy now if we were shopping?

BR: [pauses] Red. But I don't wear tennis shoes anymore. I got into hiking boots.

BL: Nobody ever knows how old you are, because you always look as good as you looked the last time anybody saw you.

BR: I'm amazed, frankly. I've been through a lot of shit, and I think I look O.K. I think I am O.K.

(Interview by Brendan Lemon - September 1995)