When Gloria Gaynor sang that disco anthem “I Will Survive,” she could not have been thinking of the Village People. Incredibly, that seminal gay group has morphed into the Rolling Stones of dance music, and this spring celebrates its 30th anniversary in show business.
In March, the Village People toured Mexico, and next month they’re off to Germany. In fact, since the release of the hit “San Francisco” in 1977, the group that also brought us “YMCA,” “In the Navy,” “Macho Man” and the first (and only) gay-themed Hollywood musical, “Can’t Stop the Music,” has taken just one extended 18-month break, beginning in 1985.
Curiously (and what about the Village People is not curious?), producers Jacques Morali and Henri Belolo released the single “San Francisco” before they actually got around to putting together a group that could be toured and promoted as six gay icons: the cop, the construction worker, the cowboy, etc.
David Hodo, the construction worker, remembers it well. “The (casting) ad said, ‘Must have mustache.’ ”
Back in 1977, the producers envisioned a gay disco group that would be “a very dark, very heavy Marlboro Man experience,” says Hodo, who immediately took another approach. “There was absolutely no way I could do this seriously, so I started to spoof on the stuff. We realized it was more fun to have fun with it. That’s what the group is, tongue in cheek.”
Gays have usually found acceptance through humor, which is practically the definition of camp. Not that everyone got the joke. The Navy, for one, filmed a promo video in 1979 with the Village People singing “In the Navy” on the USS Reasoner. The disco group was made honorable mates of the ship, but a captain ordered all sailors within camera range to “snap your fingers, tap your toes, but if we find anybody dancing, you’re out of here!”
Only later did the Navy pull the promo when it was discovered that the Village People were “morally dubious.”
Thirty years later, as Hodo describes it, “Kindergarten kids are taught the song and arm movements to ‘YMCA’ along with ‘I’m a Little Teapot.’ “