Thursday, October 13, 2005

My American Australian Idol

Everyone has one true celebrity idol. Not just someone you thought was cute or someone whose music or movies you really liked, but someone who you actually wanted to be. They embodied everything that you thought was fabulous, and you strived to be just like them when you grew up. We may have all grown up and grown out of trying to be like someone else, but we will always remember those idols fondly. I'd like to tell you a little about mine - the lovely and talented Ms. Olivia Newton-John.

Now, ONJ's first record hit the states in 1973, which was the same year I was born. Therefore, I may have not gotten to follow her career from the beginning, but I became a fan as soon as I could start formulating opinions.

My oldest brother, who is 16 years my senior, had quite a crush on Olivia and owned most, if not all, of her early country-pop albums. So at a very young age, I had access to her music and the records that were adorned with her pretty, girl-next door face. I remember "jamming out" to one of her first big hits, "Let Me Be There" on a regular basis. I probably didn't even know the Pledge of Allegiance by age 4 or 5, but I had that song memorized. After that one sucked me in, I could often be heard around the house belting out other favorites like, "If You Love Me (Let Me Know)", "I Honestly Love You", and "Please Mr. Please". One of my lesser-known favorites of hers was a song called "Slow Down Jackson", which she wrote for one of her dogs. I actually have a tape of me singing this, although I think I was probably closer to 7 or 8 at the time of the recording. You know, around the time really bad singing fails to be cute and becomes ear-splitting, horrible noise. It is not good. If anything brought me back to the reality that I was not, in fact, Olivia nor would I ever be, it was that tape.

It was in 1978, at the age of 5 that my young life was totally changed. My sister took me to the drive-in to see Grease, a movie that would forever remain my favorite. Not only was I witness to the greatest movie ever made, but I fell completely in love with John Travolta and became fixated on Olivia Newton-John. I already thought she was great. I already wished I could sing like her. I already wished I looked like her. And then there she was, singing, dancing and making out with the most beautiful man on the planet! If I didn't already want to be her by then, I certainly did after seeing that film!

I guess appearing on the big screen shimmying around in tight black spandex gave ONJ some freedom to beef up her sound a bit in the late '70s. Her album, Totally Hot put the country sounds on the back burner and allowed her to have a little more fun and come across as the sexier sister of the girl next door. That record's biggest hit, "A Little More Love" is still one of my favorites. It's extremely rare to ever hear it on the radio, but when I do catch it, I'm in heaven. I usually need a lot of water to sing along with that one though, because there are some serious high notes in the chorus and my throat starts to dry out (and probably bleed) after a few bars.

Next came what might be considered one of the worst movies of all time, Xanadu. Yes, it's bad. But it's not Mulholland Drive bad, it's Roller Boogie bad. In other words, it's good. It may have been a completely inane plot, but it had its moments. For instance, there is this really great sequence where they have a "battle of the bands" between Olivia and her swing-time girls and The Tubes. I have no idea how it worked, but they somehow manage to meld the jitterbug song with the rock song and it sounds great. The movie is worth watching for that at the very least. The song, "Dancin'" is on the soundtrack, and as is usually the case with bad or weird movies, the soundtrack is really good. Anyway, it was during this period that I became even more fixated on Olivia than I was after seeing Grease. By this time I was about 7 and roller skating was IT. I don't like to brag, but I was hell on wheels in my pre-teen years. I could skate. I skated all the time. I was jealous of Tootie on The Facts of Life because she got to go to school and anywhere on her skates. If I would've been allowed, I would've worn mine everywhere too. My issues aside, there was a lot of rollerskating in Xanadu. The storyline revolved around it. Basically, the plot was that one of the Muses came down to Earth to inspire some poor sap to build a giant roller rink. Yes, really. Somehow, the casting people managed to get Gene Freakin' Kelly involved too. If I talk about the plot for too long, I'll get dizzy so let me just get back to the rollerskating.

Olivia had a great wardrobe in the movie. There were a lot of off-the-shoulder, frilly, white, flowing half-slit dresses. Imagine Stevie Nicks on wheels. (I nearly drove my father crazy one Easter looking high and low for a similar dress.) Of course, skating around made the dresses even more flowy and gorgeous. I used to skate in my basement because it was huge with a smooth cement floor. It was a perfect mini-roller rink, because my Dad put up a wall so I had to skate in a circle around it. And we had this exposed pole on one side of the room, which I used to love to swing around on. (NOT like a stripper. Get your heads out of the gutter, I was just a kid.) My friend, Donna, had this really cool lamp that had stencil shapes cut out of the lampshade. Then the shade would spin, creating sort of a poor-girl's disco ball, making pink and purple shapes dance across the walls and ceiling. It was actually pretty trippy, and very cool. She would come over to skate a lot, so she usually just left the lamp there. When I was by myself, I would put on the Xanadu soundtrack (especially the song "Magic") and skate around in the dancing lights, basically pretending to be Olivia. If I did that now, I'm sure I would be put in a rubber room. But as far as kid behavior goes, I'd say that was fairly normal.

After Xanadu, ONJ wanted to delve deeper into the saucy side of her that was starting to come out on Totally Hot. She shocked her country fans with 1981's Physical, a more dance-friendly record with some sexually suggestive lyrics. Of course, up until I was about 13 I really did think she was singing about working out in the title track. Hey, they were all at the gym in the video! Videos don't lie! That song actually got old with me pretty quickly. I'm still not a huge fan of it. I remember really playing the hell out of that album though. My favorite from it was "Make a Move on Me". I remember seeing her perform that on Solid Gold, immediately after which I frantically wrote down the shopping list for my next trip to the mall: headband, long shirt, belt, leggings, huge earrings. Then I made my sister give me a mullet soon after. I still wasn't blonde though, and my Dad wasn't about to let me dye my hair. Drat.

A couple of years later, I may have been ready to move on from my obsession. Not that I didn't still like Olivia, just that I started to get into Duran Duran and was more interested in looking at cute guys than trying to emulate a cute girl. I thought I was out, but she pulled me back in! In 1983, she starred in Two of a Kind, with love of my life, Johnny T. Seeing the two of them together again just thrilled me to no end. When I was younger, I didn't like seeing him kiss other girls in movies, but for some reason it didn't bother me when it was her. I thought they made the perfect couple. I figured if he had to be with anyone it may as well be her. And since I had planned on being just like her eventually, I figured it put me in a pretty good position. Ah, the convoluted mind of a child. Anyway, that was another movie that is typically considered "bad" by most people's standards. They have no idea what they're talking about. I genuinely enjoy it. It was nothing like Grease, but ONJ and JT still had good chemistry and it was a cute story. The soundtrack was pretty good, boasting two hits for Olivia, "Twist of Fate" and "(Livin' in) Desperate Times", which were both a little more rockin' than even the songs on Physical. There was also a lovely treat for me in the shape of a duet between my love and my idol, called "Take a Chance". I hadn't heard John sing since Grease, so I always adored that song. And if you couldn't have guessed this already, yes I did sing along to it in my room using the hairbrush as a microphone, only singing Olivia's parts and imagining John was there singing his. I WAS TEN. SUE ME.

After the novelty of seeing John and Olivia together again wore off and Two of a Kind was no longer fresh in my mind, ONJ's star started to lose its lustre for me and, apparently the rest of the world. She wasn't as popular as she used to be and I was just preoccupied with the new crop of '80s artists that had come along, like Duran Duran, Culture Club, Wham! and new favorite gal Cyndi Lauper, whose style and personality was completely different than that of Olivia's and thus, more exciting. I never really forgot her, but at such an impressionable age and during a time when what your friends think is paramount, I didn't think it wise to let my Newton-John flag fly so highly. Most of my friends just knew her from Grease, so I only really spoke about her in that context. I always liked her though, and if I would hear things about her in the news, I was always interested.

It was around 1993-1994 that I started hearing more about Olivia. Unfortunately, she was in the news due to having breast cancer. I immediately started thinking about what a big part of my young life she was and how much I really did still look up to her, in a way. I have a history of breast cancer in my family, so my risk of getting it is automatically higher. I've been aware of this since my late teens and was always very afraid that I would get it and wouldn't know what to do. So, to find out that my childhood idol had breast cancer was something of a shock, and I was genuinely concerned about her. Luckily, she battled cancer and won. The experience enabled her to become a role model for people again - this time not as a pretty pop singer, but as a strong woman who battled a disease and wanted to help others.

In 1999, Olivia released "Back With a Heart", going back to her pop country roots, gaining cricial acclaim as well as many new fans. It's not really my bag, but even though I may not be a huge fan of her new music these days I will still always be a fan of her. She's still beautiful and still has that sweet as pie persona. She's one of those rare celebrities who could easily be an idol for your mom, you and your kids. She just never seems to get old and has a timeless appeal. And to be honest, if I still had a turntable, I might be tempted to throw on that Two of a Kind soundtrack and lip synch to "Take a Chance". Of course, if anyone caught me, I'd just say I was wasted.

11 comments:

Bar Bar A said...

She is pretty amazing, how could anyone NOT like ONJ? She never seems to age, she's young at heart.

LoraLoo said...

Thanks for the trip down memory lane. I have a lot of ONJ's early stuff on vinyl, including Xanadu. I loved that movie. I was 10, and she could do no wrong. She is still beautiful!

Anonymous said...

I was wondering how long it would take for good old Olivia to make it into the blog. We haven't talked in a few days but she's everywhere with her new album, benefiting breast cancer, and short tour. She was just in my neck of the woods and if I had advance notice (and money) we would have gone. I love her too, as you know, and hope she is around for other little kids to sing into their hairbrushes too.

HOW CAN YOU NOT LOVE "TWO FO A KIND"?? That was my "Grease 2"!!

Thanks for the entry I've been waiting for!

Your ever loving best friend,
Angela :)

Edge said...

Xanadu ROCKS! I have to download that this weekend. And who could forget Two of A Kind? "Gotta be a strange twist of fate ..."


~Jef

Lee Ann said...

I think she had a huge impact on young girls around the world, especially when GREASE came out. I feel sad for her missing boyfriend. What a tragedy!

Mr. Happy said...

"A little more love" was the first 45 record I ever bought.

Grease - Still an all time fav. My wife is the same age as you and grew up wanting to be Sandy.

Xanadu - Not that it ever comes on anymore but if it did I would certainly watch it but will adamantly deny it in public. I've also come creepily close to buying "Dancin" and "Suddenly" on Napster a few times.

My only problem with Xanadu was I did have a hard time with Michael Beck going from leader of a tough street gang in "Warriors" (1979), which was one of my favorite movies of that time, to a guy in roller skates hanging out with Gene Kelly.

I will certainly raise a toast to ONJ. She's still pretty hot. And from what I hear, single again.

(Sorry, sometimes I just go dark for no apparent reason).

scott said...

I saw Olivia in concert 2 years ago. My review: A pretty solid show, except for two songs: A so-serious-it-was-comical acoustic reworking of "Let's Get Physical," and an unbelievably embarrassing song dedicated to trees ("Don't cut me down/I am innocent/I need room to grow/I am your friend.")

Sangroncito said...

I always liked her, too.

CarpeDM said...

Hey, I'm living the dream. I tried Hopelessly Devoted to You at karaoke. It was pretty pathetic but her voice was always higher than mine.

I vaguely remember Two of a Kind, don't think I ever saw it all the way through.

Grease rocked. Still does.

Xanadu was pretty cool as well.

cmhl said...

I LOVE her!!! I so knew every word to the grease soundtrack!

An80sNut said...

"Twist Of Fate," "Xanadu," "Magic," "I Honestly Love You," "Make A Move On Me" and "Suddenly" are some of my favorite songs from her. She has one of the cleanest voices I've ever heard which allowed her to showcase her skills in the country, pop and dance charts. I also love the production on most of her singles but give credit to her for working with talented people.

 

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