Today I learned that Olivia Newton-John died today, August 8, 2022. As I pondered on this, a wave of emotion came, and memories from my childhood came. Her music came into my life in the ’70s, I seem to recall that she came into our lives while we lived in Guam. I think her song ” I honestly love you” is what I remember most of our time on that wonderful Island. Through the years it would be other songs that would become part of the music that we loved to listen to.
I met Olivia in October of 2012. I was working at The Cheesecake Factory here in Oklahoma City, and I had been working the patio that day. It was hot, with not much wind, and absolutely no one wanted to be out there. As a result, my shift was short. Just before doing my closing side work and getting changed so I could ride my bike home, I noticed a man and a woman, who appeared to be canvasing the restaurant, and I found their behavior odd, seeing as how we weren’t busy that day, and if they were looking for a table there were plenty to choose from. Dismissing it, I headed to the back and got my change of clothes out to make my bike ride home comfortable. As I walked through the service area in the direction of the patio I noticed through the side door that the man and woman were sitting down, and when I got closer another woman was sitting across from them with a ball cap, and decent-sized sunglasses and recognized Olivia immediately.
The restaurant has had several celebrities come through, like Alice Cooper, and Kristen Chenowith, whom I waited on. None of them affected me the way Olivia did. She had a special place in my childhood, and I got quite energetic and ecstatic about her being there. I began pointing out to the staff that was working that she was at that table and not one person of the server staff knew who she was. I brought up Grease, and John Travolta. There were a couple that knew but other than that, no one else did. And I knew I had to meet her. Quickly observing that they were drinking water, not caring that I was in a T-shirt, shorts, and tennis shoes, I grabbed a pitcher and went out there and proceeded to betray the fact that I was flustered. I gushed all over myself trying to talk to her. Such a mess. I said, ” Miss John”, and she tipped her hat to me indicating she was in disguise, and then the worse words came out of my mouth. ” I used to love you”, ” I mean I still do” and she kindly understood, and asked me, ” Are you coming to the Casino to my concert”, and to my horror, I replied, ” No, I’m going to a Bible Study”. You could have heard a pin drop I’m pretty certain. It was awful. I was so excited and nervous. But I got to refill her water glass and got to talk to her, and I might as well have floated home because the bike ride went quickly. Getting home I put on Spotify and listened to her music, Especially Xanadu. Which I had memorized at 15 years old. Then I got a message on Messenger from a girl from work who was now working in the back office. ” Honey, did you forget to turn in your money?” Oh my goodness, I had forgotten to give them the money from any sales I had. This could have gotten me fired because it’s a grave offense. She knew, however, that I had left the building floating and gave me grace and told me to turn it in first thing the next day.
The Euphoria lasted on a few days, and then one night, playing Spotify, it occurred to me that some of her most beloved songs were about infidelity. The realization shattered that twitterpated feeling I had from meeting her. It reminded me that as a culture, we tend to romanticize infidelity and sexual brokenness. So I was a bit disappointed at that but it’s been a great tale to tell.
I had just gotten home from work, changed clothes, and put on YouTube when I noticed a video of John Travolta paying tribute to Olivia. Selecting it, I watched that she had died from Cancer. She won her first battle, but unfortunately, the last one prevailed. As different video clips of her past work, her early career, and the movies Grease, and Xanadu went by, I began to feel sad. As a 15 yr old, I had been mesmerized by her music, mostly Xanadu. I had the album way before the movie came out on August 8, 1980. And my mom was the one who took me because my dad didn’t want anything to do with it. Mom shushed me several times as I would sing along with all the music, especially her songs. My parents had no clue the depth of why her music in that album meant so much to me. At that time, I had experienced molestation, by many men. And I hated my life. Xanadu allowed me to slip into another world where I was wanted, cherished, and worshipped for being a God in my imagination as I pretended to be a son of Zeus. One of my molesters had given me a little bottle of poppers, also known as Amyl Nitrate, that you inhale and it’s an instant high with a terrific headache when you come down off the high. And I would sniff it profusely while playing the vinyl record on my dad’s state-of-the-art sound system as loud as I dared while he and my mom were not home. I wanted desperately to be someone else.
After my parents divorced, Mom and I found a two-bedroom apartment that was a far cry from the 4 bedroom, two-bath, two-car garage, precious home we once lived in. I turned 16 and I got a job working for Taco Bell in Midwest City. Nearby was Heritage Park Mall, and I spent a lot of time there as a kid. A store in the mall was called Video Concepts, and one day, wandering through the store I noticed they were playing Xanadu, and I stood there transfixed, watching it from beginning to end. It became a place to hide from reality for a couple of hours. I was quite obsessed with the movie. Once I rode my bike to the mall to watch the movie and my bike got stolen because I had no way to secure it. Back to my story, I felt a connection to the main character, Sonny, who said at the beginning, ” guys like me shouldn’t dream anyway”, and then that set off a chain effect that liberated the dazzling Kira from the Kingdom of Zeus, to help Sonny discover and realize his dream. Gosh how I loved fantasy back then. Now, I’m grown up, and her death, as with many of them, remind me that our lives are ” But a vapor” James 4:14.
Olivia’s death brought sorrow to me. It reminded me of that kid that was so disconnected from life, wounded beyond imagination, void of any sense of significance as a son, a human, or special place as a member of my family. A kid that was barely surviving and would grasp onto anything that promised something that made him happy. Just to be able to feel something other than what was happening in his current world.
But Xanadu brought something else which I feel is significant. There is a scene where Sonny and Kira are celebrating with Champagne, and it becomes a cartoonized love song, called “Don’t walk away”. Imagery can be one of the most powerful motivators of the heart. Imagination can be a really beautiful thing. And with this song, it is. The two characters are distinctly male and female, and it portrays the beauty of love between a man and a woman. Sonny’s character is wonderfully masculine and in every way he is portrayed in this song, we see how the beauty of the woman, Kira, captures his heart on various levels. Sonny’s character displays the strength and good of the masculine, in the way he’s drawn into her, the way he stands, and the way his focus is entirely ON her. And she’s graceful, elegant, and beautiful, especially in the eyes of the man who loves her. And the coy way she draws him to her, yet throughout the song, she only lets him get a little close to her and she moves, and he follows her in every direction. And in the end, they land on a rose and embrace. My own masculine heart rejoices in moments like these, knowing the beauty of the Imago Dei, and the unique way God designed men and women, in HIS inspired Holy Spirit, to flow in their design to honor God in their created male and femaleness. It also draws on my heart, which leaves me yearning for my own “Kira”. But that’s in God’s hands and I trust Him.
Watching Xanadu, I remembered with sadness and with joy, everything the movie brought up in my heart about the past and the present. I’m grateful in this respect for the gift of the imagination that can highlight truth to us. I would pray and hope that all my imagination would be to glorify and honor God. It’s my heart to do so. And I sincerely thank God for making me a man, but even more importantly, a son.