|Felipe Rose: "I’ve never done interviews for Out Magazine or The Advocate."|
Bugs' interview with Felipe Rose originally ran in Three Dollar Bill on Dec. 2, 2004
I was a 12-year-old disco bunny when I saw the Village People perform live at the Montreal Forum back in 1978. The opening act was none other than Gloria Gaynor, who won the only disco Grammy ever awarded, in 1979, for her classic .
Last year, a full quarter-century later, I interviewed the Village People’s "Indian" character Felipe Rose – along with Thelma Houston, KC and the Sunshine Band, Martha Wash and others – for a cover story I wrote on the legacy and importance of disco. I was so taken by Felipe, and we got along so well, that we’ve met backstage each time our paths have crossed and have maintained contact ever since.
But back in 1978, when I was a disco bunny, Rose was having the time of his life as the Village People topped pop charts worldwide.
"I used to drink stuff that could peel paint off the wall," Felipe laughs over his cellphone from South Dakota, just a stone’s throw away from where his Sioux Indian father was born. "People still think we go out and party all night long, but that’s not the case. We’re all getting older. Things have to take a back seat. You reflect on your life and think, ‘What can I do to make this last longer?’ It’s like a car. You clean it up, put it in the shop and give it a tune up. I go to the gym, do my crunches and sit-ups. I watch what I eat. I always have a beer after a show, but that’s because of thirst. I’m a light social drinker but I love a great red wine with dinner."
|HOUR magazine, August 2003|
For years the world assumed (go figure) that the Village People were gay when, in fact, only original cowboy Randy Jones and Felipe Rose are. Jones recently married his partner in a NYC commitment ceremony and Rose has been living with his partner at their home in Richmond, Virginia, for several years.
"I don’t think I’ve made a point of being ‘openly gay’ – I’m just secure," Felipe explains. "I don’t sit on TV and talk about it. I’ve never done interviews for Out Magazine or The Advocate. When I speak about myself, I speak in the solo sense. I don’t talk about the group’s private life. We’ve always kept that aspect of our lives quiet and private. I have more straight friends than gay friends and just because Jacques [Morali, the producer who created the Village People] discovered me in a [NYC] gay club, well, it could have been a straight club. My private life doesn’t play a role in what I do on stage. People always tell me, ‘You helped me come out.’ I always reply, ‘You did that on your own.’"
Gay life back in the day seems like it was way more freewheeling. Rose knows firsthand, though, that the gay community paid a price for those glory years: Almost every gay friend he had from that era has died of AIDS, including Jacques Morali.
"I’m still at a loss for words – this horrible disease…" Felipe falters. Then he adds, "All I know is what we [Village People] can do. We do charity concerts and AIDS benefits, but I’m exhausted. There’s no end in sight. We’ve lost so many artists and writers and directors clear across the board. I’ve lost almost everybody from that era. So to see the rising HIV [infection] rates freaks me out. I’d be terrified to have a child today. I try not to think too much about it because it makes me upset."
Felipe is also tired with gays on television ("There’s no mystery left") and upset with gays who helped vote in George Dubya for a second term ("Maybe this is the way our country is supposed to go – I’m completely at a loss").
Despite word of a possible Village People musical ("That’s all rumour") and over 70 million albums sold, Felipe is now solely focused on the Village People’s current tour opening for that other great gay icon, Cher.
"The combination of Cher and the Village People exemplifies what that [1970s disco] era was, and here we are still fresh and new," Felipe says. "Cher’s a pop and gay icon and so are we, and it’s weird talking about it because I just love doing it. We’ve had a helluva run. My partner says, ‘You’re at the top of your game.’ But another 29 years? No, no, no! Don’t go that far! The next five years are looking pretty nice. Then I’ll look and see if I’ve had enough."
Felipe then slyly adds, "I don’t want to be like Cher [after her numerous farewell tours] when you’re interviewing me five years from now and you tell me, ‘I thought you were done!’"