We all have dirty little secrets. Here's one of mine: I know every word to every song on Xanadu by Olivia Newton-John. You might think it wouldn't be easy being an Olivia fan in San Francisco, where retro is only cool if it's ironic. But in truth this town is home to a quiet little underground of ONJ-lovers.
One member of that underground is my friend Joel, with whom I went to see Olivia (as all her fans call her) at Davies Symphony Hall in October 2003. Joel is a true devotee: He joined her international fan club to get better seats at shows, visits her fan site (www.onlyolivia.com) about once a week, and goes to see her every year. He even brought a fantastic gift to the concert we attended — a roller skate (à la Xanadu) covered with a legwarmer (à la Physical) and filled with an exuberant bouquet. During one song he walked up the aisle, placed the skate on the low stage, and handed Olivia the attached leash. Her expression of surprise and delight was clear, but Joel's thrill was priceless.
I first got into Olivia when I saw Grease in the theater when I was 10. Of course I'd heard “Have You Never Been Mellow” years before, but this was the first time I'd seen her. She was stunning: that blonde, smiling wholesomeness with an undercurrent of sexiness. Then Xanadu hit two years later, and I was wowed. The movie was universally panned, but the soundtrack (with ELO) was brilliant.
Last month, when the planners of Dolores Park Movie Night — the free monthly outdoor screenings — were trying to decide whether to show Grease or Xanadu in August, they polled the audience at their screening of Caddyshack. The response was overwhelming: It had to be Xanadu.
A couple of friends of Joel's, also huge Olivia fans, agreed with the choice. Matthew explained that Xanadu would draw a gayer crowd, perfect for such a camp movie. Nico was even surer: “Definitely Xanadu,” he said, “because it is just a train wreck.”
Like Joel, Matthew and Nico go to lots of Olivia shows. Nico keeps a fan book with tour programs and ticket stubs, but Matthew is a little worried about being “outed” as an ONJ fan. “You're not going to make us look like dorks, are you?” he asked worriedly.
The thing is, to me there's nothing dorky about being an Olivia fan. She's still beautiful, she still has a clear voice, and she still carries that anachronistic mix of earthiness and perk. I won't be seeing her when she plays the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts in Santa Rosa on Aug. 3, nor at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga on Aug. 10, and I'll miss her on Aug. 11, too, when Joel, Matthew, and Nico will all see her in Tahoe. But I have to believe she is magic. Because, you know, she kinda is.