Lee Curreri Gaydar Nation Interview 2004

Lee Curreri will be known to generations familiar with both the movie Fame and the hit 80’s series. His character Bruno, a student determined to be a successful composer, has almost mirrored Lee’s real life as he is a respected musician whose credits include Natalie Cole and scoring music for the likes of TV series Chicago Hope.
Recently Lee was in London promoting a new album under the aegis of Aquabox, a CD that has been described as a state of chaotic tranquillity and flow. It illustrates his rather diverse musical influences from Soul to Hop to Electronica. A single from the album Sweet Clarity will be released on March 8th.
Sweet Clarity has been No1 in the American pop charts. Can you describe it?

It would be the kind they’d play at the Gap clothing store or at a party! It’s a mixture of Drum & Bass, Jazz, R&B. I love the way all that music dips into the 70’s and Soul and I guess Clarity reflects that.
In Fame your character Bruno was a musician – it seems art is imitating life here?
I’d always been a musician. It’s what I went back to after acting. I leapt at the chance of doing Fame because it meant I could in theory get my music out. I actually didn’t care so much about the acting side of things at all.
And your music work is pretty diverse.
Yes, from Natalie Cole on Good To Be Back, scoring commercials for Nike, Microsoft and composing for movies like Dangerous Minds. I’ve also been influenced by many British bands and I love the music of Groove Armada and Towa Tei (from Dee-Lite) that actually jumps around all over the place but still have a stylistic thread. Aquabox is equally chaotic but still has at its heart a melody thru-line.
Fame seems aeons ago. Do you still see people from the TV show?
Sure, I’m great friends with Valerie Landsburg who played (frizzy haired) Doris Schwartz. She directs and writes now and her husband is a composer.
What was it like back then experiencing all that in the early 80’s?
I never believed it, it felt like a surreal joke. You’d stop and think to yourself why are these people climbing on cars to see me, screaming, trying to get glimpses of you. Insane.
Was there a craze for `Bruno` hairstyles?
‘You mean bushy and fuzzy? No!
Any bad times and regrets during that period?
Well it was bittersweet. It was fun getting all this music out but the Hollywood political jungle was a nightmare. I played a piano in the TV series and when the music people on the show found out I was getting residuals for the music I was composing they tried to stop it. They wanted the money themselves. At one point they even put felt on my keyboards to stop me playing.
If only they’d done that with Hanson!
Quite. But anyway this behaviour caused ructions. I had to get my agent involved and it was a constant battle fighting these people. Remember these are the days before artistes started defending their copyright and artistic property. In the end I had it written in my contract that I could play. After I left in the third year a really good actor who could play a guitar came in and they nipped his ambitions straight in the bud.
Fame has a lot to answer for – leg warmers, bandannas…
Yes those responsible should be hung drawn and quartered. I’m not so sure how much influence it actually had encouraging young people to take up a vocation in performing arts but I’m told stage and drama schools around the time saw a massive influx of kids wanting to join.
Why do you think it was such a hit with gay audiences?
Well it was performance and dance mixed with drama and good campy fun. Also the feature film had a strong storyline with a gay character, which unfortunately was phased out in the TV series.
Even more so in the stage version. They just make him ‘confused’
(Lee laughs) With the TV series it just reflected the prudishness of the times. You wouldn’t get that now. There’s so many shows with gay characters. But I can’t understand why the stage show has gone down that cautious avenue.
Does the series haunt you in any way?
Well I’m glad it all happened. Aquabox is faceless, it’s not as if I’m promoting it on the back of my past. So Fame and Bruno don’t get in the way. It’s interesting that a music producer said to me ‘everyday you’re away from that show, is good for you in the music industry’
As Fame tends to conjure up images of bandanna/leg warmer wearing youths with frizzy hair, prancing in the streets to Electro 80’s music, Lee’s friend probably has a point there.   
Sweet Clarity UK single is released March 8 on Xacca Sounds
Author: Richard Bevan

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