Alex Blaze

Queer music Friday - Village People

Filed By Alex Blaze | June 19, 2009 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment
Tags: queer music, victor Willis, Village People

First, thanks, Paige, for covering Queer music Friday last week while I was traveling!

About a week ago I was IMing with Bil and I mentioned that I thought "Go West" was one of my favorite pop songs. He called me a music snob, and I love it: the Village People are now retro enough that only music snobs can appreciate them. He's right, too, if you're under 50 know a Village People song outside of "Macho Man," "In the Navy," and "YMCA," you probably did your homework.

Watching these old videos shows just how incredibly gay the Village People were. I mean, this is about as gay as it gets: A leather daddy, a cowboy, and a half-naked femmy Indian dancing in what can only be described as a disco boy band, all while singing odes to gay shower sex, moving to San Francisco in the 70's, and being "macho."

It's enough to make a queer boy nostalgic for a time he never saw: all we have now are some ambiguous singers and a few other straight ones trying to market that ambiguity. Nothing wrong with a lack of clarity when it comes to queerness, of course, but there's nothing wrong with being so gay it punches the audience in the face, all while smiling and moving to the high school lip sync style choreography (here they have flags):

I remember dancing to "YMCA" and singing along in elementary school here in Indiana. Now I wonder if our teacher had any clue what the lyrics were actually about. Yeah, a lot of kids at school did sports at the Y, but I doubt that's one of the "many ways to have a good time" they were talking about.

And the costumes... the costumes! Who's doing those kinds of costumes anymore? Other than the Spice Girls, towards the beginning of their career, everyone wants to be fashionable instead of not-so-subtle characters. They bypassed chic and went for recognizable. They were a mix of elementary school musical and gay icon. And they adapted to the climate as well.

Victor Willis, aka the policeman, was part of the straight minority in the group and also wrote the lyrics to their hit songs. His booming voice is as much a part of these songs as the sexually unambiguous lyrics, and from what I read he lived pretty off royalties after he quit the group in 1980. I don't think I'd love "Macho Man" half as much if Willis didn't shout "big strong mustache" towards the end (about 3:00 mark). Indeed, I now understand the importance of working out one's mustache daily.

Even though the group is still performing with three of its original members today, the hits we know from them were mostly from 1976-1979. After Willis left the group, they produced two more albums, one which didn't have any hits, and the second that had "Sex Over the Phone" on it in 1985. Reagan was now president, movement conservatism was gaining speed, and they were now dancing with women and a new policeman.

So, question of the day: why don't we have any bands as cool as the Village People anymore?

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Dear Alex,
The indian was NOT femmy, to use your word.

The construction worker is appearing this week at a Fort Lauderdale bar, and Randy, the cowboy, is still a Manhattan nightlife fixture.

The indian was NOT femmy, to use your word.

Any inside info you want to share? :)

You are right, the indian Felipe Rose is not femme none of the village poeple is! I mean they are so macho, I like Felipe a lot and he is a manly as it can get!

Kathy Padilla | June 19, 2009 9:27 PM

I had to good fortune to meet Randy while he was in Philadelphia on a local TV show (In Bed With Butch). He was a sweet guy and just as good looking in person.

It's amazing how out they were back then & how accepted. Everyone sang - and performed their songs. I saw people singing along to YMCA at more weddings than I can remember.

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | June 20, 2009 7:22 AM

"It's enough to make a queer boy nostalgic for a time he never saw."

Certainly nostalgic for me, who did see it from the vantage point of my own coming out in the late 70's (and in my late 30's). It was especially fun to observe the phenomenon you describe about your teacher and "YMCA". I always felt that the Village People were rubbing a macho gay subtext into their straight listeners without the latter really having a clue of what it meant to be "in the Navy". Or did they?

Their one and only Hollywood movie, "Can't Stop The Music" was pretty hokey, but if you haven't seen it it's at least worth the all-too-short football team shower scene.

Alex, it's so funny you should post about Village People this week, because I was just thinking about them last week when I was writing about Adam Lambert. They seem like one of the greatest camp conspiracies of all time, the open secret that middle Americans just love, love, love but don't quite know why. I'll never forget when I asked my mother how come we were allowed to dance to YMCA in kindergarten when TVP were so gay. She just looked really crestfallen, like "the Village People were gay?" and changed the subject.

Last night I went to a baseball game in Round Rock, Texas, and the crowd went wild for YMCA.

Thanks for posting these other clips!

Good point, Paige. Unfortunately, I think many people find gay folks acceptable (or at least amusing) as long as we can sing (TVP) or act funny (Will & Grace). Sadly, this seems to have been (still is?) the attitude of many Americans towards various ethnic minorities, too. It's okay to be different as long as we're set up for entertainment purposes only. Urgh.

A. J. Lopp | June 20, 2009 6:39 PM

One of the reasons that TVP were so popular (and still are?) is that straights, like the rest of us, can be remarkably adept at being stupid or "playing" stupid --- even to themselves.

Part of the TVP phenomenon is that, as is apparent in the above video clip, they were allowed to use a real US Navy aircraft carrier to shoot the original In the Navy video ... and in return, legend has it that the US Navy actually wanted rights to use either the song soundtrack or clips from the video in their actual recruiting spots. Supposedly, it had to be explained repeatedly that "maybe this isn't such a great idea" before the Navy brass became convinced and dropped the notion.

Now, why don't we have bands "as cool as" TVP in today's world?

For one thing, Alex, with all due respect, you are re-writing history --- or at best, re-editting it. During their heyday, along with their popularity in some cirlces, there was also a redneck backlash against them and the disco world in general; remember, the major economic engines behind disco were gays and black divas. Very soon after the rave over the BeeGee's and Travolta's Saturday Night Fever died down, rednecks came up with the motto "Disco sucks" and placed stickers that said same under the rifles and shotguns they mounted in the rear windows of their enormous pick-up trucks.

Three decades later we can now afford to be nostalgic, but during the 80's and 90's both TVP and disco were the butt of jokes that contained the subtext, "What where we thinking?"

A. J. Lopp | June 20, 2009 6:43 PM

Typo mea culpa: Of course, I meant to write "What were we thinking?"

A. J. Lopp | June 29, 2009 10:51 PM

Well ... that, too.