Wednesday, May 15, 2013


Sometimes it takes a village.

Or at least a group inspired by gay sightings in Greenwich Village.

During the same year Rod Stewart’s “The Killing of Georgie” hit radio, the Village People catapulted to fame. "Macho Man”, “YMCA”, “In the Navy”...the songs celebrated typically male things. Was there a gay connection? it all went over my head. To be fair, most of America was clueless as well. At first. Comedians, even Johnny Carson, eventually made gay jokes about the group—I recall a monologue in which he referred to being the Village People’s zipper repairman as an unfortunate job. Still, for awhile the gayness of the Village People did not register. Just a year-round Halloween act. How nice to honor policemen and construction workers.

The lyrics to “Macho Man” didn’t reveal much about being gay. It could easily be grouped with other self-worshipping songs like Rod Stewart’s “Do You Think I’m Sexy”, Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy” and LMFAO’s “I’m Sexy and I Know It.” Take the eye-roll inducing first verse:

Body...wanna feel my body?
Body...such a thrill my body
Body...wanna touch my body?'s too much my body.
Check it out my body, body.
Don't you doubt my body, body.
Talkin' bout my body, body,
Check it out my body.

If anything, the group may have slightly revealed its hand in a later verse:

Every man ought to be a macho, macho man,
To live a life of freedom, machos make a stand,
Have their own lifestyle and ideals,
Possess the strength and confidence, life's a steal,
You can best believe that he's a macho man
He's a special person in anybody's land.

YMCA” pushed things a little more with the sample lyrics:

Young man, there's a place you can go.
I said, young man, when you're short on your dough.
You can stay there, and I'm sure you will find
Many ways to have a good time.

It's fun to stay at the y-m-c-a.
It's fun to stay at the y-m-c-a.

They have everything for you men to enjoy,
You can hang out with all the boys ...

You could easily read it as the gay anthem it’s become, but the folks who lacked pink-colored glasses interpreted the song as a rallying cry for the downtrodden...and an opportunity for healthy exercise in the form of alphabetic jumping jacks.

The words to “In the Navy”, taken at face value also seemed to lack any gay connotation. The song simply promoted joining a particular branch of the military.

In the navy
Yes, you can sail the seven seas.
In the navy
Yes, you can put your mind at ease.
In the navy
Come on now, people, make a stand
In the navy, in the navy.
Can't you see we need a hand?
In the navy
Come on, protect the motherland
In the navy.

The Navy actually used its shout-out song for recruitment in a time long before we even got to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. I wonder how many gay men heeded the call and enlisted, only to be dishonorably discharged. Nobody mentioned that possibility in the song.

I am not sure how the Village People rose to fame—Wikipedia provides a boring account whereby a promoter scouted guys with certain looks, one ad requiring interested dancers to have moustache. I prefer to envision a ragtag troop going on stage in smoky gay clubs, sandwiched between drag queen acts, the hoots and hollers of Freddie Mercury clones egging them on. Catchy as their songs were, it’s hard to imagine how they ever got on mainstream radio. While Rod Stewart tried to shock listeners with a violent death, the Village People cozied up to America by taking a light-hearted approach. They gave the Navy and the YMCA a boost in publicity, winking all the way.

Why fear gay men? They took the view that it was all good, clean fun. And America accepted it. I find it ironic that, while most states still prohibit same-sex marriage, “YMCA” is a wedding reception staple, with everyone from Great Uncle Lew to little Susie crowding the country club dance floor for a lively one-round spelling bee.

Boy George and Dead or Alive soon followed the Village People. Their songs didn’t explicitly address sexual orientation, but their lead singers created a new spectacle.

At least as campy entertainment, we were in.

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