Le Mouche discotheque is down on E 26th street, home of solid brick, garages, haulage yards, scrap metal, coupla blocks of flats, railway arches. Le Mouche can be located if you turn in at the small grubby marquee that protrudes from the nondescript doorway.
Inside a five-by-five porch, you trail down a list of companies and locate the den on the fourth. As I go in, there’s an old grubby tramp figure munching on what is probably a small pie. He catches my eye as I wait for the lift and just keeps nodding with the corners of his mouth turned down and his eyebrows raised.
As he turns away he just says “sure”, even though I hadn’t asked anything, and walks back out into New York.
Exiting on the fourth, it’s hard to believe I’m in the same warehouse as the outside suggested. And to make things more unreal, when the lift closes behind me it’s impossible to tell there’s a door there at all. Everywhere there are mirrors. The carpet is lush underfoot and, although it’s only two o’clock on a Thursday afternoon, an unseen DJ is working to an empty club.
About five copies of me begin searching for life through the dark passageways and we come across it in what appears to be the main dancefloor section, though the clubs in town are large enough to house many different halls, and many do.
Two young men in shirts and jeans, one bearded, are rucking about something. As I get closer I can tell it’s the clean-shaven one with a dark complexion who’s upset.
“Listen, now I told them special now that I could not accept the type with blue trimming. So what do I get? Blue trimming! Jeez, this is not good. I’m sorry, I’ll need the proper thing. You go tell them.” Throwing up his hands, he leaves the other guy shaking his head in resignation and packing the Indian chief headdress back into its wrapping.
A Village People photo session is a serious thing.
Phonogram press officer Barbara Salisbury, who’s accompanying me on the excursion, approaches the beard, whose name I could never remember, and introduces us. He is very friendly and commiserates with us over how our trip has been this far. (We landed an hour late in a gale that nearly trashed the plane and were delayed at John Kennedy for two and a half hours until TWA decided our luggage had gone disappearo. By the way, if you see an airport sweeper wearing red creepers, you are entitled to make a citizen’s arrest on my behalf.)
The band, we are informed, should all be here soon, “ … and that” – he waves his arm stage left – “was Felipe. He’s the Indian of the group.”
The Indian, the cowboy, the labourer, the cop, the army bloke, the leatherman. Everybody is somebody’s favourite for whatever reason. Treading the line between what is deft and what is daft, their visual onslaught could leave only the most committed hatchet face uninterested and unhumoured.
YMCA will be found on jukeboxes in Bierkellers and French cafés, in any bar from Budweiser to Bass Charington. Though Village People have less than two hours of records to boast of, after three albums and a clutch of singles, they are solid gold worldwide celebrities, growing bigger fast enough to make your head spin.
To a severed Britain, their come-on seemed quite plain. A homosexual outfit loud and proud, dressed down in trad butch imagery, bearing the handle of New York’s main gay district with enough sense and style not to giggle and get camp like a half-dozen fancy-dress Charles Hawtreys.
In the States, their biggest following is among 12- to 15-year-old kids, which could be seen as a Kiss-and-make-up shoot off, although the group feel no connection at all in that field. In fact, they see their existence as a total about-face to a science fantasy horror show that strokes the brain of young America so much, and they see some danger in the Kiss set-up that can only extend weirder and weirder.
Into Le Mouche strolls a tall, fit character in a Richie Cunningham red college zipper jacket, check shirt and jeans. We meet, and over the polite volume of the invisible DJ, I begin to try and suss the first Village Person — Randy Jones, the cowboy.
I always believe the old proverb “Don’t Fuck About”, and straightaway ask if it’s true to say that Village People, through their many sloganeering lyrics, are out to liberate gays from mental repression by means of open celebration.
After our initial chummy introduction (“Gard, I’d go crazy if that happened to my luggage”), Randy is not amused. Slapping both palms down onto his thighs he sighs with barely hidden anger and faces away, before sharply turning and …
“Look, why is it you guys are so hung up with this gay thing! Jeezez, all we ever get from you guys is this ‘Are they or aren’t they?’ crap. My Garrd … look, this band has never claimed to be a gay band. Why do you suggest we have to be? It’s not so goddamn important who I go to bed with, is it? Village People is a disco band, OK?”
I’m beginning to think somebody thinks I’ve flown 3,000 miles to say: “Tell me about your new album.”
I can understand that it must be the hundredth time the question has been put in one form or another, but surely he can’t deny the gay connection completely.
“Look, answer me this.” He begins to calm down a bit. “What possible gay overtones does a cowboy have? You gonna tell me that all those Westerns were playing up to homosexual fantasies?”
No, but Randy, you sing and dance disco routines. There weren’t too many dance numbers in He Died With His Boots On.
“So Roy Rogers? Gene Autry?”
“So I’m saying the singing cowboy is an established entertainer.”
And there lies the nub of the old, old story. What is established entertainment in Williamsville, Arkansas, and New York City is an established curiosity in Fifi’s Room, Batley. It’s like on US TV, it’s very rare outside Monty Python that drag is used by comedians, whereas there are hardly any British comics who’ve never donned the dame’s togs for some sketch or other. So although both Rogers and Autry are familiar in name, the UK has always been illusive territory for Singing Cowboys. (Now nuns and postmen … )
“Anyway, taken inside the disco framework I should have thought anything like us could be observed and interpreted as merely entertainers with something more to offer than the traditional dance bands who are very clichéd and boring. People should be able to see us as fun. I feel sorry for people who try and project what they are uptight about, maybe, onto us.”
I ask him to explain how songs like Macho Man and I Am What I Am and lines like “… hang out with all the boys” could possibly be bisexual references. At this he starts smiling and, perhaps, backs down a little.
“I’ll agree all our songs are very much open to different readings. Y’know, Macho Man and I Am What I Am are, to us, songs about – Howdy Felipe, how are ya? – are songs about strength of character. No matter what you been through, how low you find yourself, and whatever people may think of you, every one of us survives because of our reserves of strength, our macho. That’s what the word means to us and I think to America, and taken on those terms I guess a gay could find a lot to identify with.”
Yes, but Macho Man is a physical worship: “It’s too much my body / Don’t you touch my body / Have the kind of body always in demand / Go, man, go / Muscles glow …”
“Sure it’s body praise. You can’t have respect for anything if you go round like a wreck. To take pride in your body, to be fit, is not a gay trait alone, is it? But really, and people have got to appreciate this, the fact is, we are all actors playing these given roles. Everyone, except Glenn, in this band is a professional actor. We’ve all done soap operas, commercials, what have you, and now we are in this production. Each one of us portrays a certain breed of traditional, very masculine Americana – images that go back centuries in some cases – and all we’ve done is taken them on the stage and make them sing and dance.
“So if gay people want us to be gay – fine. If straight people want us to be straight – fine. We just want to reach as many people as possible, and that is the key concept of this group.”
And is Village People music Randy Jones’s music?
“Me? No, I play a lot of country and western music. I love country music. Also, I’m not what is traditionally a person living a show business life. I don’t like going to discos and parties really. I take a much quieter life. But if you’re asking, do I like Village People music, then of course, yes I do. I love our music and I don’t think it’s conceited to say I think we’re very good at our jobs. That’s why a lot of people get our image wrong. They miss our humour, which maybe is our greatest talent, and think we really are those characters we portray … that’s interesting.”
He excused himself and walked off to get changed. Felipe was by now fully changed into an Indian and flitting between mirrors, posing and preening odd bits of headdress.
At this time all the members were present, but out of uniform, they were hard to pick out from various assistants from their company, Can’t Stop Productions, which is headed by producer Jacques Morali, the man responsible for the entire Village People concept, the music/sound and the visuals.
Many feel that Morali is in fact the employer of the men, and they merely flesh out his ideas and costumes. But more of the man later.
Fully transformed in slashed shirt, torn, faded denims, waist adorned with chains, hammers and screwdrivers, and hard hat, David Hodo strolls over for a rabbit. He’s probably the best-looking band member out of costume, but chooses to hide behind shades, hat and moustache onstage. Less defensive than Jones, he nevertheless runs through much the same answers.
“No, I don’t think we are a gay band. The gay inflection is something I am very used to because I was in a long-running play out on the west coast in which every night I got raped onstage by two guys. So after that, y’know … this is playing it down, I guess. But I’m an actor and therefore paid to submerge myself in whatever guise a production calls for.
“The only drawback with this setup, really, is that when we first got together, the guys were given up to $1,000 to go get outfitted. All I got was 20 bucks and ‘go buy a hard hat’. Apart from this hardware round the waist, I guess I’m the cheapest Village Person.”
He laughs. David Hodo is also another country fan.
The photo session begins with everyone in kit. The band no longer allows unvetted photographs to be published, so the company does the business when a session is needed.
The band pose around a stepladder, and it’s lead singer Victor Willis who does most of the talking. I never get the chance to talk with him, but he comes on like a hip street hustler, singing the odd lines of songs in that voice so like the Four Tops’ Levi Stubbs.
He appears to make the forever-onstage Felipe the butt of some wise-ass asides. At any rate, he cracks the band up continually.
What sets this photo session apart from all other Village shots I’ve seen is the inclusion of two shapely female models, who drape themselves around in the group shots or cling on huskily on solo snaps. Willis keeps telling them he was expecting bikinis, and jokes as to the availability of a swimsuit for himself too.
See it as you will, but Victor Willis, the man responsible for all the “interpretive” lyrics, is also the only married Village Person, his wife being singer Phylicia Allen [later Rashād].
Any rate, the traffic cop is loudly enjoying the latest angle to be shone on the group visuals.
Barbara tells me I can meet with other band members the following day up at Can’t Stop on E 55th street, so as the photographing develops I set about the Herculean task of trying to find the lift entrance. In the end it takes three other peoples’ assistance. La Mouche at chucking out time must be a zinger …
The following day it’s up and into the same clothes I’ve been wearing since leaving Heathrow. By now my socks are strong enough to be worn without shoes and are often up and sightseeing before I am.
Can’t Stop Productions looks pretty much like most record offices, except it’s much more compact, neat and brushed in earth tones, gold records abounding. Apart from Village People, Morali has Patrick Juvet and Dennis Parker.
I’m waiting for Glenn Hughes to show when a large, large fur coat with man attached glides by. It is Jacques Morali himself. He removes the mammoth garment and begins talking about something to the man with the beard from Le Mouche.
Morali speaks with the classic French accent, wears smart-as-in-Bond Street dress – light coffee woollens – and is quite podgy. He gets shown the Cashbox chart with YMCA still at number two.
“Aaaaaah. Iss no good. Chic will not budge now, I sink. Ah well … ”
We get introduced. I believe he thinks I work for Phonogram because he begins a bit of a gripe against journalists.
“I warnt no pub-lissit-ay for myself. Ze group can say for zemselves. All ze press won’t me to say is zat Villarge People are shust like ze Monkees an’ zat I pull zer strings but zat iz not true. I won’t say it. Ze ozzer day I speak with a womarn journalist for two hours at my studio before she tell me zat she is ze press. I open ‘er bag an inside is a cars-set mashin! An all zetime in ze back-groun ze new Village People ‘as been playing, an zat is top secret, top secret … come I play you ze latest smash I do.”
We go into his office and he plays a reel-to-reel of a single by his latest project, Dennis Parker.
Morali gives Parker the phased, full sound that he gets for Juvet, and halfway through there’s a call from the office below to turn it down.
He also takes care of the revamped Ritchie Family, with whom he had a success with updating Brazil. He, too, will be in charge of Phylicia Allen and I have a lot of time for his recent work, though Brazil was a turkey.
However, later I hear him described as a “ruthless asshole” – even if the Village People and Can’t Stop employees do seem very happy with him.
Now in comes Hughes, a stocky, short, thin-faced man in a cardigan and Levi’s, a million miles from the Biker, with only that massive moustache as a giveaway. He excuses himself for a couple of minutes to recover from the bout of gruelling interviews he’s just done on a couple of radio stations.
As he is fixing himself coffee, an interesting little point shows through (that can’t be right … ). During a conversation with Beard he is challenged jokily about “ … being able to afford that with all the money you’re making.”
Glenn turns, arms held out, and a look of good-humoured astonishment.
“All WHAT money I’m making, huh … ”
It may just have been an in-joke, but it wouldn’t surprise me to find that the Village People were on a weekly salary or something.
Hughes sits down, and he turns out to be the best interviewee of all, unwilling to dismiss the large part gays have played in the band’s growing.
“Y’see, I present what is probably the most recognised sexual, and largely gay sexual, pose of any of us. The others are, like the ad says, are true red white and blue American heroes. But … the leather image is only the product of the last twenny, twenny-five years and very much wrapped up in the sexual overtones of rebellion, rock’n’roll, what have you – the hard-ass biker right from Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront through to today, where you have someone like the Fonz.
“And this particular ‘hero’ does, so much easier than an Indian or hard hat, lend itself to homosexuality because of its butchness, because of its – and I’m using the old definition – macho.
“Now, then, macho was some asshole who swaggered around with a bunch of guys and proved his power by punching his wife around until women got the whole liberation movement together and exposed this character for the asshole he was, and fought back against his bullying until we arrive into the early 70s when … and, believe me, I’m not saying the women’s battle has been won, but … but in some quarters, and particularly where men too got overinvolved, things were getting so as it was uncool to be masculine.
“And men, to an extent, were ashamed of their masculinity, in case it be interpreted as anti-women. So for a long while, the word macho was not used at all unless describing these brutish morons. Now, no one in the States today thinks of it in that context. You will hear women and children described as possessing macho just as much as a guy, whether he be muscle-bound or not.”
But isn’t it a little dangerous to risk people reading your character wrong?
“Uh-huh, and I should imagine more so in Europe, which is quite worrying. Here, though, the only direct feedback I receive, insofar as imitation is concerned, is from women, believe me. You either get a leather woman who’s gonna rip the shit outta me for everything this image meant once upon a time, or else a leather woman wanting to be beaten, and, seriously, a lot of those show up behind stage. So to a great extent I present the only truly controversial image.”
How did you arrive at it? “Well, I used to be the toll collector on the bridge out in Brooklyn for six years until I read about the auditions for this band. Hundreds applied, but usually they had the right voice and the wrong build or vice-versa. I know it’s a cliché, but I was staggered to get into the band, really. My family were throwing up their hands that I was giving up this ‘secure’ job with a pension for some hit-or-miss disco band, but now they’re pleased.
“The leather is just my act, even though I do wear it quite a lot, but that’s simply because I ride a motorbike, and if you come off that at any speed wearing anything else, and it’s your skin that gets it. This moustache took only five weeks to grow because I’m naturally very hairy. It’s good, too, because normally I have to shave three times a day. With this I can get away with it because it hides so much [laughs].”
How much did he feel the band owed to the gay community?
“Well, the gay clubs certainly are more relaxed, less rigid, if you wanna get crazy on the floor.”
Why d’you reckon that is?
“Well, if you are a guy in a straight club and you wanna dance, you 99 percent of the time have to find a girl first. Then you get into the whole mental rigmarole of, ‘Well she might say this and I’ll look silly to my friends and I’ll wait for the next slow one and is my hair OK,’ and even if you manage it before the evening’s through, you still won’t break loose of yourself, you’re continually playing at what she’ll think.
“Incidentally, you find groups of girls will dance alone, but the guys’ll pretend to be more interested in the bar or somethin’.
“Now in gay clubs, I’ve always found that people will dance alone, in pairs, in groups, no matter – they’re just there to have a time, and picking-up plays a fraction of the part it does in straight clubs.
“I guess it’s because in the clubs, gays are a society to themselves, whereas outside they can’t do what straights can – y’know, hold hands and shit – so in their own company they have much more to release.
“I remember at one of our early dates, we played the 2001 Odyssey Club, the one where they filmed Saturday Night Fever, right, and all the guys were there to be Travolta with the polyester suit and shirt collars out, one arm raised, when out walks David – we come out individually – in the hard hat, and the mutual suspicion on both sides was like ice, a barrier, wham, in between us like that.
“Soon there were maybe three groups just dancing in front of the stage, and the others saw how silly it was to be stopped from having a good time by preconceived ideas of us, and hey, these guys here are getting off so … and soon enough the place was alive. But if you’re talking of Village People as a gay group, then no, we are not.”
How about the lyrics?
“Oh yeah, you gotta be pretty dumb not to see two sides to those, but there again, and I don’t wanna sound wishy-washy, it’s entirely your choice in the end. I would now hate to play to an entirely gay audience simply because it’s a restriction, and we have no crowd restrictions.”
So what’s the point?
“Oh lots of point. I think the re-emergence of heroes is a healthy thing. Way back, heroes became real corny, which led to the weird, which gives us Kiss, and when you look at it, kids haven’t had a real hero since the Lone Ranger.
“And I mean hero, because when someone like John Wayne played a role, nobody remembered the character’s name – it was always just John Wayne, which was wrong. Someone like the Lone Ranger … well, I can’t remember the actor’s name, but I sure as hell know the Lone Ranger.
“Fantasy heroes who are based in everyday life … I think kids prefer that to space fantasy, and that’s what the younger kids see in Village People. They don’t see all these sexual overtones; they see it in perhaps the best light — six guys in suits, a soul singer backed by these humpy voices. Being nameless, too, keeps you on your toes. I guess I could be fired at any time for another leather man.”
Big time, eh?
“Well, I guess we are now a ‘success’ [his quotes], but to be totally honest, in the beginning I had my doubts. Now we’re trying to make the switch into the 10,000-seaters and, judging by the reaction received at this big open-air Woodstock-type affair we just did in Canada, we can do it – though we must look like coloured mice.
“Our success, though, is understandable on lots of levels. First, I think we are very good at what we do. Second, our particular brand of disco music is different from the norm. Disco got into a one-riff rut during the mid-70s, but now it’s really moving again. And then you got that whole area of identification. Like, a kid’ll see us and look at David the construction worker and maybe his dad is one, so the kid really roots for David … or here for all those thousands of cowboys is disco recognition! And they may laugh, but they still enjoy and identify with it all. All the Indians too. I think I may run into some problems though … [laughs].”
Later that day I walked down Christopher Street in Greenwich Village. It’s easy to see how Morali, on his first New York visit, formed the band on aspects of the area. Full leather and cowboys abound all over, and apparently have done since way before the Village People brought it all out of the “closet”.
Whatever, and whether he really is a “ruthless asshole” is another matter, I’m indebted to Morali for channelling a whole new side to the surging tide of disco. In the brief time I observed the Village People, I think only Felipe could have been a bit of a prawn, a bit of a prima donna, whereas the others seem to appreciate the lot they’ve landed with.
© Danny Baker, 1979
- Trump’s recognition of an Israeli Golan Heights draws little enthusiasm from those who live there
- Lucien Castaing-Taylor & Ilisa Barbash,
- The Laser Battle Against Blood-Sucking Parasites of the Deep
- John McAfee Fled to Belize, But He Couldn't Escape Himself
- 'Dark Side of the Moon' on List of Library of Congress Honorees
- Tribeca Film Festival Announces World Narrative and Doc Competitions, Viewpoints Lineups
- Cable is aces for Primetime Emmys
- My Favourite Albums Of 2016
- RECAPPING THE 2012 CINEMA EYE HONORS
- Summer debuts, cable programming heat up noms
- 'How to Survive a Plague' Director David France Looks Back: 'All I See Are Ghosts'
- 34 Best New Android Games From The Last 2 Weeks (8/17/11
- Meet the Carousing, Harmonica-Playing Texan Who Just Won a Nobel for his Cancer Breakthrough
- Documentary Selections Announced for the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival
- 43 Best New Android Apps And Live Wallpapers From The Last 2 Weeks (6/18/11
- Inside China's Massive Surveillance Operation
- The 2015 True/False Film Fest Lineup
- : Animation in Oil
- Small-screen wonders
- Muslim Militants Burn Alive Christian Pastor and His Family in Nigeria
Village People's Glenn Hughes: 'Here for all those thousands of cowboys is disco recognition' have 4443 words, post on www.theguardian.com at February 11, 2015. This is cached page on Europe Breaking News. If you want remove this page, please contact us.