Here they come through the machine-made fog onto the stage of the Caribe Hilton in San Juan, Puerto Rico—six outrageous blasts from the past. During the next frenzied hour, they quake and shake, flash their chests and thrust their butts while running through hits including "Macho Man" and "In the Navy." At the end, the crowd joins in, using their arms to spell out the letters of the Village People's signature piece, "YMCA." "They are the icons of an era that a lot of people view with nostalgia," says American Bandstand's Dick Clark of the enduring sextet and their stylized act. "But they are very vibrant in the '90s. I'm a big fan."
Like the Monkees, these masters of camp irony and self-parody began as a concept rather than a chorale. In 1977, French record producer Jacques Morali (who died of AIDS in 1991) thought up the VP idea, the costumes and some songs. Then he advertised in trade publications for "singers with mustaches," which led to compatibility. "It's not the same as friends playing in a garage and then going into business," says Glenn Hughes (the biker). "It was just like a job." And a good one too. The VP hit the charts in '77 with "Macho Man," the first of a string of tunes that resulted in three gold and four platinum albums.
Moving quickly from Greenwich Village gay clubs to mainstream venues, they hit the road 11 months a year. Fans ranged from mesmerized suburban teens to crusty Hell's Angels, who once gave the group a pants-down, 21-bun salute in Toronto. Eventually, though, disco slowed. Most had to go back to being, well, Village people. But in the '90s, the People, now all in their 40s, are stomping again. "We're actually enjoying it the second time around," says Felipe Rose (the brave). "We're doing it on our terms." David Hodo (the hard hat) credits a higher power. "We thank God every time we have 'Macho Man' or 'YMCA' to do." In new cities, says Rose, "if our tour manager tells us we have two hours off, we love to shop." And they get plenty of rest. They recently turned down an offer to work at Disney parks because they don't have the stamina to do three shows a day. Their fans, however, have plenty of energy. "There are these housewives who want me to whip them," complains Hughes. "I say, 'Sorry, I have a headache.' "
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