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Part III: Hanging Up the Hat

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After Can’t Stop the Music, the group left Casablanca and signed with RCA. How was that “New Romantic” image created for the Renaissance (1981) album?


We were sitting around the swimming pool one day in LA. Because the movie was a bona fide flop, they figured they had to change the look of the group. They were making us tour around in that crap from the movie, the bugle beads and satin shirts. I said, “We need to go back to basics — jeans and flannel shirts — because kids could dress like us. They can’t dress like us with bugle beads and sequins.” They had a couple of people there passing around ideas. The first one was these leather outfits that were monochrome — someone in solid red, someone in solid yellow. They had fringe on them. They were awful. We nixed that one. Then they had these guys trying to convince us of this New Romantic look, which was Adam Ant and Spandau Ballet. That was the better of the two choices. It went over almost as well as the movie. I think Renaissance has some of our best music … it also has some of the worst, one of which I had to sing, “Food Fight”.


You know, in its own way, “Food Fight” is actually a really cool kind of New Wave/punk song.


I just recently read a review of that and it said, “David Hodo singing this song sounds like Plastic Bertrand”.  Anything that I got to sing lead on was too stupid: “I Love You to Death”, “Sleazy”, “Food Fight” …


“Do You Wanna Spend the Night” is a great track, though.


That’s the one I wanted to sing but they wouldn’t let me do that one. “5 O’clock in the Morning” and “Do You Wanna Spend the Night” are great songs. “5 O’clock in the Morning” is like a bad Italian joke. We loved Italy but we couldn’t get a hit in Italy to save our lives. “5 O’clock in the Morning” was a huge hit in Italy only. Whenever we went to Italy, we had to do “5 O’clock in the Morning”.


 
 

What prompted your exit from Village People after Renaissance?


It had been four years. I was just exhausted. Our producers didn’t know when to pull back. There was a time when you could see Village People twice a week on TV. Even we were like, Again? It was the Bob Hope Special, the Tim Conway Special … It was over-saturation. It just didn’t stop. I had no friends left. Everyone I knew in New York had totally forgotten about me. I wanted to have some kind of life. We had no life. Our suitcases were our homes. I was simply tired of the exhausting traveling, the jet lag, the very unglamorous life of being in such a popular group. Glamor is only in the eyes of the audience, who has no idea of what you have just gone through to be able to entertain them.


Was it difficult to leave, in terms of your relationship with the other guys or with Jacques?


No, because I’d asked to leave several times before. I went into the office in Paris, because there had been a huge scene in Germany with a couple of the guys in the hotel, and said, “I want out.” They were going to fire Randy and Glenn at the same time. They begged me to please stay for the Renaissance album. I agreed to stay for the next year. When that year was up, I said, “Okay, I want to leave now.” They were fine with it.


After you left, the group released Fox on the Box (1982) and Sex Over the Phone (1985). What did you do during that six-year gap between leaving and then re-uniting with the guys in ‘87?


I kicked around. I tried to go back into theater but every agent I met with said to take Village People off of my résumé. That was four years of work. Around 1985, the group disbanded for about 15 months until Randy Jones managed to pull the group together again. He schmoozed this guy David Fishof, who’d just engineered the Monkees reunion tour. When Randy first called me about pulling the group together, I was ambivalent about it, but after watching all of the one-hit wonders of the ‘80s I thought that there was still no group that could put on a show like Village People did without having to resort to pyrotechnics and other special effects to hold an audience’s attention. After a six-year respite it started to look like fun again with the understanding that we took it at our own pace rather than the relentless pace we were forced to maintain.


Was Jacques involved with the reformation?


No. It was Henri Belolo [Morali’s business partner]. We had heard Jacques was sick. When we got back together, I went to visit Jacques in Paris. Henri had bought the rights to the group from Jacques. Jacques figured the group was over. Henri made a very shrewd business decision and Jacques made a stupid one. When I went to visit Jacques, he was bitter and railing against Henri. Henri was in charge now. Henri wouldn’t give us the rights to put the show together but he gave David Fishof the rights. Randy thought that we were going to be playing the big auditoriums again. We had to start at square one, playing little clubs in Scotland and Ireland. No one was offering us a record label. We had to re-establish this group.


In 1988, the group released “Livin’ in the Wildlife” on CBS. That looks like the last time Randy recorded with the group.


That was something that someone had written for us. We did it and it played in Australia for a little while. It wasn’t a very good song. When Jacques left, much of the magic left with Jacques and his hooks.


Sadly, Jacques passed away in 1991. He’s one of a few significant individuals in the group’s career who are no longer with us: Neil Bogart (1982), Glenn Hughes (2001), and Donna Summer (2012). What are some of your lasting memories of each of them?


Neil was the one who taught me what a hook was. I just thought he was brilliant. I was glad I stayed friends with Jacques. I was the only one he wanted to see in the group. We went to Paris. We were going to have lunch with him and Henri. We were at the table and Henri said, “Jacques can’t make it. He’s having an allergic reaction to some medication he’s taking.” When I got back to the hotel, the phone rang and it was Jacques. He said, “Darling it’s me and I would like to see you. I don’t want to see the others.” I rode out to see him. He was living with his lover in this posh area of Paris. That was the last time I saw him.


I really miss Glenn. He would drop whatever he was doing and come and help you with whatever. He really was a sweetheart. Donna’s apartment was just below mine in L.A. I remember we were sitting in front of my gas fireplace. I was complaining about having to deal with all the lawyers and all this legalese. Donna said, “David, it’s great that you just want to be an artist but now you have to become a lawyer.” Then she proceeded to tell me when she got her first royalty check from “Love to Love You Baby”. It was for $500. They had taken out limos that had picked her up at the airport, parties held in her honor, her dresses, her costumes. She had to wise up and become a lawyer and get smarter.


As the years went on, Village People started to draw those big crowds all over again and tour around the world. You even got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In the midst of all this, you recorded a few solo projects, including “My Sweet Lord” (2002). How did you decide to record that?


I’d always loved “My Sweet Lord”. One day at the gym, while listening to it on my Discman I thought, “This could so easily work with a dance beat.” This was before we knew of George Harrison’s illness. It wasn’t that long after I’d recorded the song that we heard of his illness and I thought, “This will look like I’m trying to capitalize on this tragedy.” So I didn’t do much with it, but some German promoter, who now seems to be in hiding, got a copy of it and has put it on several compilation albums from his Dance Street label. We have tried unsuccessfully to locate him and I haven’t seen a cent from the recording though many of my European friends have commented on having heard it.


You also released a solo EP in 2008. “The Kids’ll Be Fine” is definitely a standout. Tell me about the inspiration for writing that particular song.


When I wrote and recorded “The Kids’ll Be Fine”, school shootings were still a new phenomenon and I was moved by one particular school shooting that not only left several children dead, but put a young boy in whatever lock-up situation they put children in until they’re old enough for prison. It was not written in sympathy for the shooter, but rather from a dumbfounded feeling for such a waste of so many young lives due to the ridiculous ease through which a child can get his hands on a gun. As is usually the case, I’m sure bullying had something to do with this senseless incident. After the first verse the others just seemed to fall in line. I wanted the song to be an indictment about the mixed messages that young minds are receiving, from fashion magazines to hate-filled evangelists.


Last year, Village People recorded and released their first new single in 25 years, “Let’s Go Back to the Dance Floor” (2013). It’s great that Harry Wayne Casey (“K.C.”) was the one who wrote it. How did that collaboration come about? What was it like working with him after being each other’s contemporary for so many years?


He came up with the idea of “Let’s Go Back to the Dance Floor” while we were all backstage during one of the many concerts that Village People have co-billed with K.C. and the Sunshine Band over the past several years. I have known K.C. since about 1979. We may have been contemporaries, but K.C. is really one of the godfathers of dance music. K.C. was doing his thing long before Village People came along.


What prompted your retirement from Village People? Are there any other creative endeavors you’ll pursue now that you’re off the road?


Village People has been in existence for 37 years now. Of those 37 years, I had left the group for six years. By 2012, I was again exhausted by the pace we were having to keep and made plans to retire in 2013. Much of my decision had to do with the fact that the airlines have made travel a nightmare. Felipe and Alexander have been with the group for the entire 37 years and still counting. Ray Simpson joined us in ‘79 and has also been along for the entire trip. I am the only member of the group who ever left the group voluntarily (twice), but they are still going strong. As for what my plans are now that I’m retired, I’m still getting used to being retired and still can’t seem to find enough hours in the day. I miss the camaraderie that we had as a group, we could always make the best out of a bad situation, but I don’t miss the punishing travel, and the ofttimes crappy hotel situations. The life of a Village Person is one of extremes. One day you’re in a five-star hotel and the next day you’re in the middle of the boondocks in a poor excuse for a hotel. I do miss the audiences though. They have always entertained us as much as we entertained them.


In reflecting on the group’s career, how would you define the legacy of Village People?


I would say that we took something that we were told had a shelf life of four years tops, because we were a “novelty act”, and turned it into an international sensation whose very name conjures up a fun time, from the smallest county fairs to venues such as “Bestival” on the Isle of Wight for 20,000 twenty-somethings. I have always said, “When they tell you you’re a flash in the pan, make sure you’re the one that burns the kitchen down.”


 

Christian John Wikane is a NYC-based journalist and music essayist. He's a Contributing Editor for PopMatters, where he's interviewed artists ranging from Paul McCartney to Janelle Monae. For the past three years, he's penned liner notes for more than 100 CD re-issues by legends of R&B, rock, pop, dance, and jazz. Since 2008, he's produced and hosted Three of Hearts: A Benefit for The Family Center at Joe's Pub. He is the author of the five-part oral history Casablanca Records: Play It Again (PopMatters, 2009). Follow him on Twitter @CJWikaneNYC. 


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