Thirty-six years ago, entertainment publicist John Wilson held a potluck Oscar party at his Los Angeles home, and — inspired by a double feature of the infamous movie musicals Xanadu and Can’t Stop the Music — he decided to launch his own informal awards show, the Golden Raspberry Awards, or “Razzies,” to recognize the worst in film. The latter movie — starring costumed boy band Village People, Steve Guttenberg, and Valerie Perrine; directed by Nancy “Rhoda’s Mom” Walker; and co-written by Allan Carr of Grease fame — was ultimately named Worst Picture at the inaugural Razzies, beating out Olivia Newton-John’s roller-disco disaster.
So now the Razzies are a legitimate part of every awards season (this year’s ceremony, which includes multiple nominations for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Independence Day: Resurgence, and Zoolander 2, will take place Feb. 25), and we have Village People to blame — or thank.
Obviously the title Can’t Stop the Music was incredibly nonprophetic, since Village People’s poorly timed flick came out in 1980, when disco music was well on its way to being stopped. But decades later, the movie has its undeniable charms. It’s notable for its lavish Busby Berkeley productions, its toe-tapping/rump-shaking boogie anthems like “YMCA” and “Milkshake,” and, of course, the first starring cinematic performance by the future Caitlyn Jenner.
Yahoo Music recently spoke with the Village People’s affable original Cowboy, Randy Jones, about this fascinating era in pop culture: when disco made way for new wave and Can’t Stop the Music paved the way for decades of so-bad-they’re-good celluloid classics.
YAHOO MUSIC: Does Can’t Stop the Music have a cult following today? And are you proud that it was the first-ever winner of the Golden Raspberry Award?
RANDY JONES: Yes, it’s usually when people get together and watch it on television and drink heavy cocktails and smoke pot — that’s the way you should watch that movie, really, unless you go see it in a theater and everybody dresses up the way they do for Rocky Horror Show. I do screenings of it that way, when people actually dress up as the characters and run up in front of the screen for “Milkshake” or “YMCA.” But yeah, Can’t Stop is the reason the Razzies exist.
It certainly had a colorful cast…
Well, I’m probably one of the only people you’ll ever talk to that co-starred in a film with Caitlyn Jenner.
What was working with Caitlyn like back then?
Bruce Jenner was just a great guy. He was nothing but the best. He was the nicest, the most American, the purest-acting human being. He was polite, he helped me rehearse my lines, he was sexy, he was handsome, he was married, he was young, he was enthusiastic, he was cooperative. I never saw him get angry with people, I never saw him get frustrated. He just appeared to be the absolute perfect person to be on the front of a Wheaties box. And he was very kind to me, very generous. When we were shooting the year of ’79, one of my great remembrances is I celebrated my birthday on Sept. 13 in West Hollywood in the nightclub scene, at a place called Studio One. I still to this day have a birthday gift from him, which was a fabulous pair of aviator sunglasses. Porsche Carrera used to do a sunglasses line, which was incredible, where you could change out the lenses. They were wonderful sunglasses, and I still have those as a gift from him. Bruce had a beautiful Porsche that he drove too.
What else do you remember about that co-starring experience?
He was an incredible guy. He was the epitome of the American jock. I mean, you’ve got to understand, this is the guy who had won a gold medal in ’76 at the Olympics and was on the front of a Wheaties box. If you go back and find a clip of from that film on YouTube, he had the confidence to shoot that movie where he wore that crop-top white T-shirt and those little tiny Daisy Dukes, and do it with all enthusiasm. And I’ve got to say, he had some of the best hairy thighs I’d ever seen on a man [laughs]. He had some great legs, he had a great body, he was a great athlete.
Did you have any idea that Caitlyn was suffering from gender dysphoria, and would one day transition and present as a woman?
Not one inkling did I ever experience, see, or hear that. And I rehearsed with this person, saw this person I saw in his home! I had difficulty wrapping my mind around it in February of 2015, when there were rumors swirling around for maybe a year. And then there was some kind of announcement that he was doing this interview with Diane Sawyer. … I could not wrap my mind around Bruce becoming Caitlyn.
Do you have a better understanding now?
I don’t watch reality television much. … I honestly think that — and this is just my take on it, perhaps — that he didn’t feel like he was treated right, or he was maltreated or beaten down. And when you’re one of the only men in a house full of women [on Keeping Up With the Kardashians], maybe he felt like he was being overpowered. But he’s a very smart man. He saw everything, he observed, he got the numbers of their stylists, of their makeup artists, of their hair people, of their designers — he kept a record of it, and when he finally had enough, he said, “Well, all right, I’ve had enough. F-U, I’m going to do this better than you’ve done it!” And so he took all of that, and maybe that’s what pushed him over the edge. Who knows?
Have you met Caitlyn since her transition?
Yes, I met Caitlyn at the GLAAD Awards this past May in New York City for the first time. I’d known Bruce for all those years, but I’d never met Caitlyn. It was the pivotal moment for me that helped me to understand, when I looked and saw that three things were the same: the eyes, the voice, and to hold the hand. I knew that was the person that I know.
It’s interesting that you, and probably most other people, had no idea what was really going on with Jenner’s identity struggle in the ‘70s.
Well, I can absolutely swear to this: When Can’t Stop the Music came out, starring Valerie Perrine and Village People and Bruce Jenner, the reviews for most of us were not good. Bruce was not recommended or commended for his acting skills. But I can tell you one thing: Caitlyn Jenner is the best actress in the world! Because for the 62, 63, 64 years before she presented herself as Caitlyn Jenner to the world, she had everybody convinced that she was Bruce Jenner, an Olympic athlete, one of the nicest, best guys in the world, a father, a husband. That takes the ultimate skill of any actor. So I can say Caitlyn Jenner is a great actress. That Razzie was not deserved! Caitlyn Jenner is one of the best actresses in the world! [Editor’s note: Jenner was nominated, but lost the first Worst Actor Razzie Award to The Jazz Singer star Neil Diamond.]
Village People are forever associated with the 1970s, but one thing that stands out in Can’t Stop the Music is this relentless optimism for the 1980s — this excitement that the ‘80s and big things are right around the corner.
I was actually very excited about the ’80s. I’m upbeat, I’m positive, I’m enthusiastic, I’m always looking forward to fun. I don’t have a dark outlook of this world. I was very much looking forward to the ’80s. Being born in 1952, in 1980 I was 28 years old, and I was riding high with tens of millions of records sold. I had just come off making a $25 million movie, which was a big-budget movie in 1979-1980, produced by the guy who had produced Grease, starring Bruce Jenner — who to me is forever the 1976 decathlon gold medal winner, the best athlete in the world, the guy who can run further, jump further, run faster, throw the javelin further, the hammer, the discus, everything a jock has to do to be a great athlete. I had made a movie with him! And also, I couldn’t remember the last time I had heard someone tell me “no.” So yes, I was really looking forward to the ’80s.
Village People even released a song called “Ready for the ’80s” in 1979.
Hugh Hefner actually had a Playboy special; I think you can find it on YouTube. It was a remarkable party, a roller-skating party, and Dorothy Stratten [was there]. This was the year that she was Playmate of the Year, in 1980. I went out with her a couple of times, and she was a great gal. She’s out in front and very prominent in that special. We performed “Ready for the ’80s,” “Rock and Roll Is Back Again,” and “YMCA” on that special.
But then in 1981, when Village People really tried to embrace the ‘80s and go all New Romantic/new wave on Renaissance, you didn’t participate. How come?
This is what happened with that. We spent [1979-1980] making Can’t Stop the Music, and the balance of that year completing a world tour. You had the “Disco sucks! Death to disco!” movement starting to rumble then … and our producers and the majority of the group had been on this yearlong tour being exposed to a lot of different kinds of music around the world, especially what you might call new wave: Steve Strange, Adam Ant, all of that stuff that was happening in Britain and Europe. They saw that as something coming up over the horizon. And they were disappointed in the [lack of] success of Can’t Stop the Music in America. So they were rethinking how to proceed. The majority of opinions from the producers, from the composers, and the members of the group was that we needed something different. I did not agree. … I thought too much had been invested in these six characters for the group and the entity that was Village People. I thought it was an insulting move to essentially slap that audience in the face and get rid of the characters and turn around and say, “This is a new look; this is a new vision of Village People.” So I ended my relationship as a member of the group before that happened.
The producers felt that this was a moment for them where they could break with that image of what the original image of the guys were, and they delivered six guys in facepaint à la Steve Strange, à la Visage, à la Adam and the Ants… and it was not a successful project for RCA. I felt that I was correct in not moving forward to be part of that. That imagery lasted for that one project, and then the group went back to the original look, and I reorganized the group and it limped along for a few more years, and then I reorganized the group in ’86-’87, and the group still performs to this day as an entity, basically as a franchise, but as a group “Village People” with the original characters. And I’m very proud of the fact that it does.
But would you say Village People’s campy aesthetic influenced the 1980s at all?
I absolutely think that’s what we did. I think we paved some ground for people like Culture Club, like Boy George — not only anything that might be seen as LGBT, but also we paved the ground for boy bands that have come along since then.
Did the demise of disco sadden you?
You know, as Gloria Gaynor once said: “Disco didn’t go anywhere, they just changed the name to ‘dance music.’” It’s still the same. People are always going to want to dance. They’re always going to want to have music that makes them feel like dancing. But the one thing I can say is I know the music that we did as Village People, and so much of the music that people consider disco music from the ’70s, is music that you can put on at any time — whether it’s a bar mitzvah, a wedding, a high school reunion, a birthday party, or in a nightclub. The music that people call “disco” makes people feel good, makes people recall a nice, great time, and for a moment, you’re not thinking about your power bill, you’re not thinking about your insurance for your car, you’re not thinking about your mortgage payment, or your rent, or the fact that you’re having any other difficulty with your boyfriend or your girlfriend or your mom or your dad. You can just get out and float in the music and have a good time and dance. That music from the ’70s always helps people feel better.
I understand your new song “Hard Times” is inspired by that era — and by another disco movie.
Yeah, it’s kind of like a sequel to Saturday Night Fever, where if you think of Tony Manero, what’s he like, 50, 51, 52, 53 years old? He never realized his Broadway dreams [Editor’s note: As chronicled in actual sequel Stayin’ Alive], he now maybe works for Con Edison, but he still likes to go out on the weekends and dance. His wife has left him, he’s divorced, he’s got a punk-rock right-wing skinhead for a son, his daughter won’t talk to him, and he lives by himself — but he still goes out and gets his groove on. Maybe he has this ballroom class that he teaches on the weekends, and he’s got his eye this little-bit-older Latina lady, and he has a great time on Saturday nights. And you know what? Society is going back to that again. It’s part of what is the American way of life. Americans work harder than anybody else in the world. They work more hours, they work hard on the weekdays, and they might have hard times, but they still like to enjoy themselves on the weekends. That is voiced in “Hard Times,” and it’s essentially a sequel to Saturday Night Fever.
This article originally ran on Yahoo Music.