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Playing cowboy and Indian: out musicians Filipe Rose (the Indian) and Randy Jones (the cowboy) look back on 25 years of the Village People. (The Music Issue).

Twenty-five years ago, gay pop culture gained a sextet of new icons: the Village People. "It was a wonderful, heady time in New York City and in America," remembers Randy Jones, the group's original cowboy. He compares the group to boy bands of today, chuckling, "I see `N Sync and Backstreet Boys, and I think, Dang, man, I used to do those moves. We're like the godfathers of a lot of those bands. We had a phrase back then. We said we were the first `all-guy all-girl group.'"

Jones says that what the Village People "was about from the very beginning was entertainment and good times, but at the same time, we had a little bit of a subversive tilt to us." Certainly, the group had queer beginnings--gay music producer Jacques Morali spotted young Felipe Rose dancing in an Indian costume at the Anvil, a notorious Greenwich Village gay bar, inspiring Morali to dream up an all-male disco group composed of masculine archetypes.

Morali insisted he was a producer and that he wanted to make Rose famous. "You don't really take people too seriously in an environment like that," says Rose, now living in Virginia. "I said I was already famous." He laughs. "I was a fixture in the Village. I had urban gay fame." Rose agreed to meet with Morali and his straight business partner Henri Belolo, and they showed him drawings of the proposed disco band: "There they were, these American male stereotypes. I just thought, OK, a little flash in the pan, make some quick money, and we're out of here." Although the 1977 debut Village People album featured only three of the group's later cast--Victor Willis (the cop), Alex Briley (the G.I.), and Rose--mixed with session singers, the success of the album in dance clubs led to the formation of an actual singing troupe.

Morali and Belolo placed an ad for good-looking singers and dancers who had mustaches, and the band soon had three new members--David Hodo (the construction worker), Glenn Hughes (the leatherman-biker), and Jones. Jones recalls, "I had finished working with Grace Jones and needed six weeks of work so I could go to the unemployment office and collect unemployment. I kept my fingers crossed for this job, thinking it might last six weeks."

It lasted a lot longer. Hit songs such as "Macho Man," "YMCA," and "In the Navy" sped the group to the top of the charts with three more albums. A double album and a 1980 feature film, Can't Stop the Music, followed, but by then disco music was facing a drastic downturn. Can't Stop the Music [see review, right] bombed in theaters, and although the Village People released two more albums in the United States and others overseas, the band's popularity waned.

Jones left the Village People in 1980, and though he was later responsible for the group's reunion in 1986, he exited again in the early 1990s. "I was trained as an actor," he says. "I can certainly do character roles in film and television and perform until I die." He grins and adds, "But I will not be able to squeeze into size 32 jeans for the rest of my life and shake my ass in front of people and have them pay money for it." Rose echoes the sentiment: "We're doing Dick Clark's 50th anniversary this year. Who would have though he'd still be around after 50 years? I'm not going to be around for 50 years still doing the same thing!"

Today, Village People songs are played at sporting events and weddings--both hetero and homo--and the group tours the world regularly, often performing at AIDS benefits. The band has even released a few newer singles as the Amazing Veepers. Rose explains, "We were kind of skeptical of putting out new music under the name Village People because a lot of DJs will pass them up, being that the old producer has released so many different remixes."

As to the long-unanswered question about whether the Village People is a gay group, don't look to the band as a whole to answer the question. On the official Village People Web site, hetero members trumpet their families, but gay members aren't as forthcoming. "The guys live very simple private lives," says Rose. "What we do best is when we're onstage. I don't think it was a question of no one coming out. It was like, it's tim the way it is--it isn't [gay] and it is [gay]. I think at that time--the political climate the country was in--it would have been too sassy for us to be openly out like that. We probably never would have had any success."

With a laugh, Rose notes that Morali outed him on the debut album, calling him "the Indian from the Anvil." He recalls, "My mom saw the album and she said, `Is that the Anvil that they talk about in the news, that sex club?' And I said, `Mom, it's not really a sex club, it's theater!'" Today, Rose says, "I live an openly gay life. All my friends and family and music colleagues around the world know. I have a life mate, and everything is dandy."

Still living in New York, Jones has also stayed active in the music business, alongside his partner of 18 years, author-musician Will Grega. Besides selling their music through the RandyJonesWorld Web site, the two will cohost the Outmusic Awards in New York on June 9. Jones is also readying an album of vocal jazz standards plus an "unauthorized autobiography of me" about his time in the entertainment world.

Rose also has the Tomahawk Group, his online music label and center for related music projects, through which he has released what he calls a "historical tribal dance" single. Likely to open the Native American Music Awards in Milwaukee on September 7, Rose says, "I'm really enjoying my life today. How nice to be able to work at what you love to do. To be given something that you can still hold on to and cherish and share with everybody around the world. It's been probably one of the most unbelievable rides and experiences!" Looking back on the impact of the Village People's 25 years of entertaining, Jones says the group has enjoyed enduring popularity largely because "we did it all with a wink. We let the audience know we were winking at them, and we let the audience know we were laughing at ourselves first so that they realized it was all right to laugh with us. I believe today, when people hear 'YMCA' every weekend at a bar mitzvah or a wedding or when people hear 'Macho Man' when they're working out at the gym, they smile. And as an entertainer who's been in this business more than 25 years now, there's not a greater legacy that one can have than to leave behind a body of work that leaves people smiling."
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Article Details
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Author:Mangels, Andy
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 14, 2002
Words:1159
Previous Article:Nothing iffy about him: Iffy bassist Tom Merkl talks about his Dutch boyfriend, the influence of Leif Garrett, and being asked to judge wet T-shirt...
Next Article:Disco disaster: the movie Can't Stop the Music finished off the Village People's career, and a new DVD reminds us why.
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