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"Machos y con mote": Village People, brilliance and tragedy of the group that challenged what could be sung and what could be worn

2021-07-24T02:08:03.965Z

The 'disco' music group is about to turn 50 on the road thanks to a revolutionary formula: gay cheer and cheek for all audiences, even when it was not allowed. A story of bright music, hilarious scandals and also demons



Before becoming famous as the co-founder of the band Village People, Frenchman of Moroccan descent Jacques Morali (1947-1991) sold records at Orly airport while trying to make his way as an orchestral musician in Paris.

She had had a tough childhood in Casablanca, where she had to deal not only with her homosexuality in Morocco in the 1970s, but with a mother who had always wanted a girl and had a distant relationship with her son.

Morali was already clear about his vocation for festivities in the Paris of the sixties, when he wrote music for the orchestra of the legendary Crazy Horse cabaret.

Songs like

Crazy Horse

herself

already let us see that epic orchestral and those catchy refrains that would characterize their most famous group.

In 1975, when he was 28 years old, he met producer Henri Belolo in the French capital, who suggested that he spend a season in the United States, and the moment could not be better.

Following the 1973 oil crisis, the subsequent economic recession, and the withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam, a new religion had emerged from coast to coast in the country.

Disco

music clubs

became an escape route for the society of the time.

That hobby that freed millions of people from the pressures and afflictions of the real world, of course, was also a lucrative business.

Morali embarked on an adventure.

Already from Philadelphia and together with Belolo, he created The Ritchie Family, a female vocal trio of certain success.

But they wanted more.

Shortly after they settled in New York.

Inspiration came to them in early 1977, as they walked through Greenwich Village, the gay area of ​​Manhattan.

At the door of The Anvil club they saw a 20-year-old go-go dressed as a Native American named Felipe Rose.

The scene shocked them, but when they entered the premises they understood everything: that night a costume party was being held.

The seed was planted.

Using the stereotypes of the homosexual community of that New York neighborhood - hence the name of the group, "People from the Village" -, as well as the burly characters of the Finnish erotic comic illustrator Tom of Finland, the producers began to devise their new project .

Victor Willis and David Hodo, two of the Village People, backstage during a 1979 concert in Atlanta.Rick Diamond / Getty Images

Kind fetishism

“Although it was a cliché, what they did was very revolutionary because they went around and popularized the topics of

fetish

and sadomaso

aesthetics

. They turned into something nice elements of an

underground

scene that was

absolutely forbidden, and that otherwise would have scared the general public ”, says Agustín Gómez Cascales, DJ,

disco

music expert

and, during the day, editor-in-chief of

Shangay

magazine

. Carlos Pérez de Ziriza, author of

Disco music: History, culture, artists and fundamental albums

(Ed. Ma Non Troppo), says that he has gone from finding the group simply

funny

to “appreciate a series of virtues and values ​​in his music that at the time I did not see. Beyond their garish image, there is one thing they did cleverly: design six male fantasy prototypes; one for each stratum of the gay community. They were a laboratory product, like most

disco

bands

, but that's not pejorative. They were very intelligent and were clear about what kind of audience they were targeting ”.

In the spring of 1977, as a test, they recorded four songs with studio singers.

The tape, which came into the hands of Neil Bogart, the founder of the Casablanca Records label, was released on July 11 of that same year.

To everyone's surprise, the self-titled album that served as the launch of the Village People sold more than 100,000 copies in a few weeks.

That summer, in the gay clubs of the United States,

San Francisco (You've Got Me)

,

In Hollywood (Everybody Is a Star)

sounded to exhaustion

or

Fire Island

.

The titles, precisely, made reference to places in the United States with numerous ambient scenes.

In the fall of 1977, Morali had already found the sound that was going to characterize the group - intense male choirs, choruses with short phrases that were repeated and stuck like bubble gum and an irresistible symphonic background - but he urgently needed a band of meat and bone. Mainly because, apart from releasing their records, Bogart thought that in concert they would be a gold mine. The first chosen were three of the singers who participated in the LP

Village People

: the go-go Felipe Rose (the Indian), the musician Alex Briley (the soldier) and the Broadway actor Victor Willis (the policeman).

He also recruited Randy Jones (the cowboy), a dancer who at that time shared the stage with Grace Jones.

And to find the remaining two, Morali published a short ad in a newspaper: "Looking for macho guys with mustaches."

That's how vocalist David Hodo (the bricklayer) and Glenn Hughes (the motorcyclist), a toll collector from the Brooklyn-Battery tunnel, joined the cause.

Randy Jones, the Village People cowboy (who is no longer in the band) with Boy George during a party hosted by Linda Evans in New York in 1985. Ron Galella / Ron Galella Collection via Getty

With the sextet closed, they began to work on their second feature,

Macho Man

. On February 21, 1978 they debuted in the 2001 Brooklyn Odyssey, the nightclub that John Travolta popularized in

Saturday Night Fever

. Those present - a mostly heterosexual audience, since the place was not then a nightclub - went crazy. That show of just a few minutes was the ultimate litmus test, the demonstration that the Village People were predestined to succeed beyond the gay circuit.

Macho Man

swept the summer of 1978 and became the group's first song to appear on the influential Billboard charts. And far from being recognized only among

disco

music lovers

, they managed to sneak into the televisions of millions of viewers. His performance on

The Merv Griffin Show

, decades later, continues to be a landmark of prime-time homoeroticism. The company

strippers

male Chippendales, formed in 1979, took note of that relay.

However, as the popularity of the group increased, Morali put out an increasingly less friendly face. Everything had to be perfect. He demanded more rehearsals, more tours, more sacrifices. As David Hodo confessed in a 2004 PopMatters interview: “We were exhausted. There was a time when Village People could be seen twice a week on television. We thought, 'Again?' We did not stop. I no longer had friends. Everyone I knew in New York had forgotten about me. We had no life. The glamor was only in the eyes of the public ”.

“I couldn't go on that level of rehearsals, recording, and traveling without rest.

When I look at some of the photographs that were taken of us, I don't even think about the music.

I look skinny as lightning, stubborn and dancing with bulging eyes.

I felt like I needed a break.

That's why I ended up leaving the group in 1981, ”explained Randy Jones, the cowboy, to a British television program.

The most daring song in the world

In the fall of 1978, they further consolidated their legacy when they launched the

YMCA,

which rose to number two in the United States and one in England.

Although the title of the album that included it,

Cruisin '

, could give clues as to where the lyrics were going (the

cruising

is the practice, especially but not exclusively among some gay men, of seeking anonymous sex in public places), the media analyzed the song. YMCA are the initials of the organization Young Men's Christian Association (that is, Christian Association for young men), as well as of the chain of gyms that the association has throughout the United States and where its members went to train. The chorus reads, “What fun it is to be at the YMCA! / They have everything for a man like you to have fun / You can enjoy with all the boys ”. The fact that the whole country happily sang a song that raised homosexuality within the Church, implied that there were gays in that organization and related the sacred with promiscuity is a milestone that has probably not been repeated.

Not everyone involved in this big and catchy hooliganism was gay. Henri Belolo, for example, the group's co-creator and executive producer, was not. Victor Willis married actress Clair Huxtable. Morali, to stop the controversy and not lose any market niche, ordered his protégés never to speak publicly about their sexual preferences. As happened between 1994 and 2011 with the soldiers of the United States armed forces, the

don't ask, don't tell

("Don't ask, don't tell") was established within the Village People. “We all know that a lot of pop stars who don't want to lose part of their audience hide it. But in this case it is curious. If it had been known that there were members who were not gay, precisely, many gays would have stopped following them ”, Gómez Cascales reflects on this matter. Pérez de Ziriza recalls that “in

glam

, a genre before

disco

, that also happened. David Bowie or Gary Glitter dressed in a very feminine way, but did not make blunt statements about their sexuality. In the seventies it was accepted that all this was part of

rock'n'roll

.

You could dress as a woman, but then it was not convenient for you to clearly pronounce yourself on what you were.

Village People entered into that dynamic ”.

Special mention deserves

In the Navy

, their great success of 1979. Surreal as it may seem, an advertising company responsible for the budget of the US Navy called Belolo to propose to make an advertisement with the song.

The recruitment data was going down, so they thought that that way the youngest could enlist in the army.

“I had the guts to answer him: 'I have nothing against it, but I don't want the Navy to help me.

I do not want money.

I want them to give me a loan, a battleship and 200 soldiers.

And five planes, '”he recalled in 2004.

Belolo got away with it.

In the Navy

was filmed in San Diego aboard the USS Reasoner.Of course, a few days later the critics did not wait: both

The New York Times

and

The Washington Post

accused the Navy of using taxpayer money to finance an advertisement of dubious taste.

It was never issued.

Verses like “Where can you find pleasure, search for treasures in the world, learn science, technology?

/ Where can you start to make all your dreams come true, on land or on the sea? ”, As with the

YMCA, they

gave rise to interpretations of all kinds.

From the Village to Hollywood

Morali set another goal: Hollywood. In the summer of 1979, the Village People stopped their grueling tours for a few weeks to participate in

¡Que no

para

la música!

,

with which the producer Allan Carr tried to match the success that months before had reaped with

Grease

. But the project seemed doomed from the start.

Its director, actress Nancy Walker, had no experience behind the scenes.

And the script, signed by Carr and Bronte Woodard, was pointless.

The members of the band shared shots with some fictitious couples ... female, of course.

Despite which, "when I saw her, her capacity for homoerotic suggestion amazed me," notes Cascales.

“Even with all those women appearing, there were sequences of showers and changing rooms that for me had a great sexual charge.

Obviously, they wanted to make everyone happy ”.

The Village People group, already with a new lineup in 1992, during a concert at the Palladium in New York.Steve Eichner / WireImage

In total, the film grossed two million dollars in 1980, one-tenth of its budget. Disco Demolition Night, the coven that announcer Steve Dahl organized against disco on July 12, 1979 at Chicago's Comiskey Park, was largely to blame for the box office puncture. Far from assimilating the situation, Morali stretched the gum with a tremendously risky strategy. For the

1981

album

Reinassance

, the Village People abandoned their costumes and embraced the

new romantic

aesthetic

so fashionable at the time: makeup, bangs and

glamor.

instead of a five-day beard and worker's attire.

They had no better luck with two other albums that came out in the early eighties.

In 1985, they released their last album in decades.

"This type of transformation is traumatic for most groups of this time," says Pérez de Ziriza.

"When you have a band with an image as encoded and recognizable as Village People, changing is risky: the people who followed you are going to stop doing it and you are not going to win over a new audience either."

An ending without 'disk' and with tragedy

Morali, disappointed and without any record company that wanted to release his songs, returned to Paris. Upon arrival, he was diagnosed with HIV. Her only joy was her lover, Harald Strigel, who also turned out to be HIV-positive. Depressed, the dethroned king of the dance floors devised a plan to safeguard his heritage. He didn't want to give his family a penny. Knowing that time was against him, in the winter of 1991 he married Harald's mother. He thought that this was the only way that this man, the only one who had ever loved him, could enjoy his fortune. But that same summer, Strigel committed suicide. Morali died on November 15 of that same year, at 44.

YMCA

sounded at his funeral.

. Paradoxically, an optimistic theme that speaks of being accepted and composed by someone who, only when he invented a catchy fiction to sell to the world, managed to be.

Morali's death did not spell the end of the group. During the nineties and with changes in their line-up, Village People continued to publish albums, although their true value was in nostalgia and, sometimes, in parody. They recorded songs for movies, participated in scenes of comedy shows, in galas on MTV and animated sports competitions with their classics such as the inevitable

YMCA

,

In The Navy

or

Go West

- versioned with enormous success by the Pet Shop Boys, who continued to claim the unmistakable sound of the group in songs like

New York City Boy

or

Love, etc.

-. The band is still active, with only Victor Willis (the cop) as a survivor of the original lineup: he returned in 2017 after winning a lawsuit over the group's name. They released a new album two years later and are still touring, especially intense during LGBT Pride celebrations. This summer they are doing it in the interior of the United States. Your next stop is St. Louis.

Although Village People seems (that is) an act of the past, it represents problems and demands that are still valid. "Disco music is the result of a triple uprooting," explains Pérez de Ziriza. “Sexual uprooting, because a large part of the protagonists of this gender are from the LGTBI community. Then there is the racial one: we cannot ignore that

disco

music

was a liberation catalyst also for the black community as no other genre had been until then. And the third factor is the identity or national: almost all the producers triumphed in countries that were not theirs of origin. Morali and Belolo were born in Morocco, they are French by nationality and they did not succeed until they went to New York. In Village People there are these three reasons and it is one of its powers of attraction ”.

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Source: elparis

All news articles on 2021-07-24

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