Felipe Rose and on-stage co-host Ben Freeberg talk about Going Back To My Roots – A Tale of Self Discovery, which will be presented at TEDxAsburyPark on May 18, 2019.
Ben Freeberg: Welcome. I’m Ben Freeberg, one of the on-stage hosts of TEDxAsburyPark. Today I’m here with Felipe Rose, who will be a speaker at this year's TEDxAsburyPark Conference on May 18, 2019. Welcome, Felipe.
Felipe Rose: Ben, how are you?
Ben Freeberg: Good afternoon. So thanks so much for taking some time to talk. I’d love just to spend a minute, if you could please, to give the audience an introduction to yourself and what the title of your talk is going to be for this year's conference.
Felipe Rose: Sure. My name is Felipe Rose and I'm one of the original co-founders of the international, world-famous Village People, where my role in the group was the Native American. After celebrating my 40th anniversary in 2017 and returning from a 12-country, nine-week tour, I received the news by email that beginning June 1st of that year, I would no longer have the trademark available for touring and that the group as we knew it at that time (including me), was essentially done. When people left the group or the band, I replaced them, holding auditions by ‘type,’ and of course they had to sing and dance. So there was a specific talent requirement and then they also had to look the part. And so after four lead singers, three cowboys, three construction workers and two bikers (that sounds exhausting), it was just time to really deal with what was at hand.
Things didn't go the way I really wanted them to go. I'm a tree hugger, not a fighter. And so this thing was starting to become very contentious, very dangerous; too many lawyers were involved, too many people were involved.
I thought I had the situation under control going into June 1st. I hoped to have an amicable meeting, turn over the trademark name, and since we had shows scheduled all the way through that November, we would therefore stop December 1st. At that point, they could continue on with the plans of the ex-lead singer who won the trial for his royalties and the trademark. It turned into a real chaotic situation. It was nerve-wracking, I went into a depression. It was just something that I couldn't even imagine anyone telling me--that after 40 years, I was being fired.
Ben Freeberg: So now you're going to speak at the TEDxAsburyPark conference about this. How are you going to share this story and what do you hope for the audience to get out of it?
Felipe Rose: I think that what I’d like people to take away is that we are not defined by any one thing that we do. And in this world today, with the way social media is, and the fact that you can work from home, you can work in satellite offices around the world, you can join conferences, you cannot define yourself by one thing any more. You can be the comedian, and a cook and a chef and a writer and do all these things.
My chaotic situation was pretty much more mental, as I tried to grasp what was actually happening to me. And no one plans to suddenly ‘retire.’ If you're going to retire, you have to start getting ready to set certain stepping stones along the way. You have to stop excess spending and get your financial life in order, and suddenly you’re also responsible for your health insurance. There were a million things, plus the legal aspect. What I had to do was tap back into what I knew first, which was my love for performing, the arts, and for music and lyrics, the word, the written word, spoken word.
Ben Freeberg: We've spoken about that before. So how did you use that love and passion for music and the spoken word to help you find yourself again?
Felipe Rose: Well, I went back into the recording studio and I hit upon this song which was called Going Back to My Roots. The song was written and first recorded by Lamont Dozier for his 1977 (according to Wikipedia, it was produced by Stewart Levine and features additional production from Hugh Masekela). It was originally covered by Richie Havens, then the New York City disco group Odyssey released a cover version of this song in 1981. I added a lot of my roots...the musical influences, drumming, flute, and I brought in a hip-hop artist. I was able to take the song and release it to my fan base. There was so much chaos and confusion for my fans, who wondered “Are you in this new group or are you not in this new group?” The fans were really furious and I was in the middle of a lawsuit, so I couldn't really talk about it publicly, so the best way that I could reach out to my fan base was through my music.
When I released the song (and we had something like nine remixes), hundreds of people went to my website and on Facebook and through the song I was able to let everyone know “I'm okay, I'm going to continue on with what I do best.” This let me look at it from the perspective of, “The basket was full, you had a full career (40 years), now what are you gonna do with it?” The best thing that I felt in my heart and spiritually speaking was to walk in my own shoes, to be able to stand center, front and straight, and really look at what was. Does the group define me? I thought that I was defined by the group. Then through all of this analysis and researching and reading and tapping into my spirituality and then relying on a very small circle of friends, I was able to actually steady myself and then really walk through and find myself and find my footing again. When all of this broke, my friends and family and my legal team closed ranks so I was able to stay focused, not listen to idle gossip, or hear “you should do this, or you should do that,” and I was able to put everything together financially, figuring out where things were, where they stood, and I can say now, I'm pretty much okay. I'm okay.
There's nothing really to feel sorry about. The only confusing thing for many people (and it’s still confusing) is that now what came out of that situation is that there are two groups; one is with the original lead singer of 38 years who came back and took the group (he has a whole new Village People), and then the guys I was with, they continued fighting and losing and they're now called The Kings of Disco former members of Village People. So they copied me twice. Each of them has someone in the group dressed exactly like me, doing everything, so I just have to say that you can't give a race or a heritage away and I guess that legally speaking through the old contract, you do sign away your name and your image and all that to these producers. I did that when I was...20 years old. Looking back what I know now, would I change anything? And the answer is no.
Ben Freeberg: That's great. It's an incredible story. So if the audience wants to engage further with this idea and what you're speaking for and you and your music, what's the best way for them to do that?
Felipe Rose: They can do it through my website...in journaling I'm finding out that basically what happened to me can literally happen to anyone anywhere, in any place, in any business, or in anything that they've worked at for so long. And I mean it still happens today. People are losing their jobs .... people have been in certain companies and have been there since the inception of the company and suddenly they're booted out.
What I've learned was to just not go into a full panic mode. The key is to review and assess everything and figure out where you want to go from there. And I realized that I have many options now. I can go out on the speaking circuit and talk about the situation...
Ben Freeberg: I'm so sorry that we have to cut this off...it leaves people on a bit of a cliffhanger before coming to see you in May. Before we head out I just wanted to say Felipe, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us and our listeners.
Here’s a reminder to get your tickets for the largest, highest rated TEDx conference on the east coast. It's TEDxAsburyPark on Saturday, May 18, 2019 and you'll have an opportunity to hear more from Felipe about his story.
Read more about Felipe Rose here.