A young Puerto Rican fellow, dressed like an Indian in full trailing headdress, standing at a hotel entrance waiting for his limousine. Just a trifle odd, perhaps? Perhaps. But then, huffing and puffing up the driveway, there comes a jogger, clad only in Adidas, dirty yellow shorts, and the unsightly surplus of body hair God gave him, and you think, what's really odd anymore? What's really anything, anymore?
First of all," says Randy Jones, the cowboy member of Village People "we all have our own rooms." Village People are in Washington to promote their new movie "Can't Stop the Music." When they leave Washington, these six youngsters -- as Ed Sullivan would have called them -- who parade before audiences in outlandish and revealing get-ups and bump and grind to an extent Gypsy Rose Lee never dreamed of, are heading to Hollywood, and for what? To film an episode of "The Love Boat".
Are we talking wholesome or are we talking wholesome?
The really peculiar thing is that beneath all the bumping and grinding and pelvic punctuation, there is something perversely innocent about Village People. They are Busby Berkeley girls of the '80s, except of course, they're boys. In the '30s, when Busby created a hall of human harps for one of his outrageous musical numbers, a chorus girl's mother was reported to have protested, "I didn't raise my girl to be a human harp."
Not one has yet reported any of the Village People's mothers as having said, "I didn't raise my son to be a Village Person."
"My mom said once, 'I wish you wouldn't carry on so much in that 'Macho Man,'" recalls David Hodo, the construction worker member of the troupe. "Of course that was in the beginning, when we were still kissing our biceps and stuff like that."
Village People is, as "Music" producer Allan Carr loves to say, a "phenomenon," not that there's ever much shortage of those. At first they were considered a mere curious doodad manufactured for the gay subculture and very in joke, but now they're the joke the whole world is in on. Their sexual flamboyance, parodied get-ups suggestive material ("You can hang out with the boys" at the YMCA, they sing) have somehow all been mellowed into the mainstream. Now they are heroes to an audience that encompasses a wide and madcap spectrum.
It hasn't taken much imagination to read double meanings into their songs about "Macho Man" and "YMCA" and "In the Navy," even if lately they've gone for the more ecumenical stuff like "Ready for the 80s." Hodo says, I'm tired of hearing about all the double entendre we supposedly have in our songs. 'In the Navy' was written for the kids in our audience, because we found out we have a lot of kids, and then somebody found something in the lyrics about 'young' people and said this was recruiting (for homosexuality, not the service).
"Well, 'YMCA' was the best that ever happened to the Navy. Guys in the Navy sing that song to each other. They really do. They make up their own dirty lyrics and sing it all the time."
On stage, Village People strike mean, snarling, rough-tough predatory poses, which are very funny and "a great put-on," according to Nancy Walker, the liter-sized comedienne who for some reason was chosen to direct the picture. "The first time I went to see their act, at the Omni in Atlanta, in my stupid mind I was waiting for a rock group, I mean, a rock group audience. I said, 'Ugh! This is going to be unpleasant!' But I walked in and here are 14,000 mommies and daddies buying popcorn for their kiddies! They laughed and hooted and hollered and I thought, 'Are they getting this?'"
Steve Guttenberg, the very strapping 21-year-old actor who plays impresario to the group in the film, and refers to them as "The VPs" off camera, says, "They're really kinda nice, sweet, adorable, cute guys who have their own life style, as it were, but they're adorable."
And Carr, the roly-poly hypester who produced the execrable and hugely popular movie "Grease," says he has no fears that "straight" audiences will shun this film. "Everybody comes to it," he says. "It's not 'Cruising.' The gay audience discovered Village People first just as they discovered Bette Midler first. You don't sell 40 million records to a gay audience.
"I went to Montreal to see them in concert. Before you spend $13 million on a picture, you better see if you have an audience, 'cause if you don't, you can make it for four million. And the audience that I saw there -- little kids, 6-year-olds, dressed up as Village People! And then across the aisle from them, a group that looked like a Hadassah benefit. And dating couples. A huge, mixed audience."
"I always thought we were pretty raunchy," says Hodo. "But you do a concert, and you look out there, and you see grandparents who've brought their grandchildren.
"So obviously we don't offend anyone."
Or else everyone has just managed to learn to love being offended.In a way, it's question of survival.
When it comes to the game of the hype-the-movie, "Can't Stop The Music" is the World War III of media blitzes. It's Dresden and D-Day rolled into one. Hype like this makes you just want to cave in and go with it, because fighting it is pointless at this point.
In Washington, last night, the picture, got not one but two party premieres, one at the West End Circle and the other at the Dupont Circle (it opens to the public in Washington tomorrow). At the Dupont Circle, personable theater owner Ted Pedas took pity on a large crowd of Village People groupies maintaining vigil outside the theater and let them in for free to fill up empty seats. Almost all of them were men, and men dressed in sweat chic at that.
The movie got beaucoup whoops and cheers, although Bruce Jenner and Valerie Perrine as a romantic team got laughed at more than with.When in the script Jenner suggests they have a wedding on the Golden Gate Bridge, an alert member of the audience called out, "Or off it." The picture is filled with playfully smutty innuendo, and those in the crowd who discerned it tended to roar with recognition. Most of it is supplied by characters other than Village People, who somehow emerge from the thing as benignly iconographic and merrily mythological as the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Woodman and the Scarecrow in "The Wizard of Oz."
Three different engineers worked on the sound system for last night's screening and they managed to get the movie so loud that it was like spending two hours under a circling Concorde. And, in line with a dismal new tradition in movie openings, the affair was tied in with sleazy promotion for a local radio station.
The promotion budget for the film, $6 million, is enough to finance three other movies. Yesterday, limousines darted hither and thither around Washington as Village People were dispatched to shopping malls for autograph signings and other stars of the film, including Olympic decathlon champion Bruce Jenner and young Guttenberg, were zipped off to TV and radio stations.
"I wish this film weren't really being touted so much," says a worried Guttenberg. "When you go around yelling 'I'm great! I'm great! I'm great!' there comes a time when you gotta prove it. I sure hope they do. I hope to God they do."
Guttenberg is a bet-hedger. He's studying to be a dentist (and will be one by 1984) in case this acting career falls through, although he's been sensationally good in everything he's done so far. "I refuse to get so caught up that it's my life if I don't become a star," he says. He does want a lot of money, though. "Only 'cause I never had it. I want my sisters in Sassoons and my mother in an Eldorado and my father in a Seville. Today you don't have to be smart. You just have to be rich."
Also auditioning for the part he plays were Parker Stevenson, Shaun Cassidy "and the Pepper guy" (David Naughton, who does the singing Dr. Pepper commercials), "and I won, and I was pleased as punch." He's pleased less than punch that footage of him was used in a one-hour promo special, "Allan Carr's Magic Night," and says, "We shoulda gotten paid for that."
Asked if there are any parts he longs to play but that his boyishness might disqualify him for, he says, "Yeah. I'd like to play the horse in "The Black Stallion.' I know, I know, it's an animal. Well look, I'm an animal. Ask any girl I've dated. Watch me eat ONE MEAL and tell me I'm not an animal."
Guttenberg's ebullience has been quite a switch from Nancy Walker's crabbiness, encountered earlier in the morning. "She's always crabby," Guttenberg says. "Alway crabby. But cute-crabby. She's in her 60s, you know. She's like your grandmother. My grandmother, you poke her enough, you just poke her enough, and finally she says, 'Get out of here!'"
Walker seems peeved over early reviews of the film. She sits in her suite and growls like a puma. "I don't think there are three good critics in this country in any medium," she says. "One New York critic said in his review that I was responsible for the dance numbers.Well somebody else did those. I put down the newspaper. I said, 'Oh, that's too stupid.'
"The critics all loved it and then told you what was wrong with it. They got everything wrong which is what they always do. They can say any goddamn thing they want. I might as well ask the gas-pump man what he thinks. He'd know as much as they do."
Walker asked if she actually likes the music in "Can't Stop the Music." Or if she Can't Stand the Music. "Yeah, I like it. As a matter of fact, I'm married to a very classically music-oriented man, and he asked me, 'Am I going to have a problem with this picture?' Then he saw it and said, 'Well, that music's not bad,' and then he saw it a second time and he wouldn't stop singing the title song. And I said, 'Enough already! I've been listening to that damn song for six months!'"
Although she has spent three decades in the musical theater and movies, Walker is best know to America as Rosie the waitress in an 11-year series of paper-towel commercials. She has just filmed 10 more. And yes, there have been times when the paper towel broke and the coffee cup crashed right through. "I can't tell you exactly. It's happened four times in 11 years. They really work. It's extraordinary!"
Allan Carr, and Allan Carr Production if there ever was one, pops out of the bathroom in bare feet and a multicolored caftan given him, he says by Famous Amos of Famous Amos chocolate-chip cookies. There are "dancing chocolate-chip cookies" on it. He props his chubby feet on a glass-topped table and hugs a pink pillow as he talks.
He denies a rumor that the first cut of "Music" would have been rated R and so the Village People's nude scenes were removed to get a milder PG. "It's always been a PG," he says. "There's one little thing -- you'd never see it unless you saw the 70-mm version -- in one scene where Valerie Perrine is in a Jacuzzi, the 'YMCA' number, just one moment where her nipples come above the water. And then there are just 20 seconds of frontal nudity of the Village People. But it hasn't been cut out.
"Oh, we did have a benefit showing at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, and I myself took 10 seconds of Valerie's chest and 20 seconds of frontal nudity out, only because it was a really young family audience. But we put it right back in. The thing is, Valerie just happened to move about the Jacuzzi line, that's all."
Carr is asked if this is a better picture than "Grease," the implication he tries to ignore being that "Grease" stunk. "Technically, yes, it's better. More sophisticated? Yes. 'Grease' was just a very simplistic high-school musical. My version of high school, because I wasn't popular in high school and I wanted to make it as nice as possible."
The phone rings. It might be the grosses from Australia, but it isn't. "I am a big fan of Australia, and vice versa," says Carr, "because they love performers and they love stars."
Carr says the film, what with a TV "pre-buy," sales to cable TV, and foreign distribution, is "above the break-even point at this point."
Guttenberg wants to know what the first weekend grosses were in New York and how much money the picture is going to make.
And Village People are having a very nice lunch at a Holiday Inn in Bethesda.
"Oh God, I got my fringe in the curry!" says Felipe Rose, the Indian.
"The curry with the fringe on top!" Laughs Ray Simpson, the cop, and newest member of the group.
Hodo says sometimes the gropings of fans and the requests for signatures do get a bit wearing. "You try to get away from them but before you know it they have their arms around your neck and their tongues down your throat," he says. "We come off the stage all sweaty and these girls will dig their fingernail into your wet skin and pretty soon you're covered in blood!"
"They like to throw their underwear onto the stage," says Simpson.
"We appeared before 150,000 people in Canada once," says Hodo. "I was so scared before we went on I had to p--- every three minutes. I thought, "God, if they don't like you, they can kill you!"
It is Simpson who analyzes why the group found such roaring, stampeding favor on its recent tour of Australia and Japan.
"I think the group," he says, "represents America. You have a cowboy, an Indian, a construction worker, a cop -- the influence of America is so far-reaching, and these stereotypes represent America to people."
America. America. It's apple pie, it's dancing chocolate-chip cookies, it's paper towels, it's $6 million worth of publicity, it's fingernails on wet skin.
America. It's Village People.