book reviews

Olivia Newton John’s life story, Don’t Stop Believin’…

When I was a child, I loved Olivia Newton-John’s music. My dad was also a fan, and he had at least three of her albums. Two were on cassette tape and one was on 8-track. I wore all three of them out. She was the one singer whose music we could agree on when we were in the car. I loved her super sweet voice and light country sound, which eventually evolved into radio friendly pop. Her range was very impressive. Even in her country days, she’d try other genres. I remember her version of “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”, which is not my favorite of her songs, but still impressively done.

As I got older, Olivia started doing other things. She was in Grease with John Travolta, then Xanadu. I loved Xanadu when I was a kid. I watch it now, only as a total guilty pleasure. When it used to air on HBO all the time, I’d watch it over and over again and I liked it better than Grease. What can I say? I was a child, and children aren’t always known for their good taste. I do still love the soundtrack from Xanadu, even if the movie is cheesy and ridiculous.

When I was in college, I had a good friend who loved Olivia’s music even more than I did. Although he admits his musical tastes “suck” (and that was actually how he put it), we do both share an affection for Olivia. He even added me to a Facebook group full of her fans. I don’t participate in it much, but I do enjoy some of the posts. That was where I first heard about her book, Don’t Stop Believin’, which was just released to U.S. readers in March. I believe it was available in Australia before then. I’ve also heard a movie was made, an edited version of which appeared on Lifetime. I haven’t seen it.

She’s looking great!

Olivia Newton-John was recently in the news because tabloids had reported that she was on her death bed. Olivia, just as sunny and beautiful as ever, responded by making a video letting everyone know she’s doing fine, even though she struggles with cancer. Much of Olivia’s book is about her cancer struggle, although she doesn’t include a lot of gruesome details about it. Unfortunately, it appears that besides stunning good looks, musical talent, and a winsome personality, Olivia inherited a tendency toward cancer. Her older sister, Rona, tragically died of a brain tumor in 2013 and Olivia has had three bouts of cancer, which started in her breast back in 1992.

A 1976 gem… back in Olivia’s heyday. My dad had this album on cassette and I wore it out.

“Don’t Stop Believin'” (not to be confused with the epic song by Journey), was a song that appeared on Olivia’s 1976 album by the same name. I don’t think it was one of her best known hits, but the title does fit with the overall theme of her book, which is about being positive and living your best life. Olivia Newton-John maintains a lovely attitude and upbeat tone, sure to delight her fans, even if some people don’t see it as entirely believable.

I’ll be honest. I’m kind of a cranky, cynical person. I can’t help it. When I read a book that is about 99% sweetness and light, I have some trouble believing it’s entirely truthful. I’m sure Olivia Newton-John is a very warm and friendly person, but much of what she’s written in her book seems more about PR than the truth. One reviewer on gave her a one star rating and noticed a lot of the same things I did. Olivia has nothing bad to say– and she does a lot of name dropping. On one hand, a reader could conclude that even stars like Olivia can be starstruck by other celebrities. On the other, sometimes it comes off as a little tacky. Olivia Newton-John also promotes alternative healthcare therapies. I’m not one to totally dismiss alternative medicine, but she doesn’t really provide enough information, particularly from credible sources, that explains why these therapies are so good for cancer treatment. Instead, she does a lot of cheerleading for the cancer center she lent her name to in Australia. It actually sounds like a wonderful place for treatment, but it’s probably out of reach for a lot of her readers.

Olivia Newton-John’s book is relentlessly cheerful, even though she’s been through some challenges. Some people will appreciate that quality. Even I, as an admitted grouch about some things, was able to take a pearl of wisdom from the book. When Olivia was first diagnosed with cancer, a person noted that the cancer would cause her to grow. Although I wouldn’t wish cancer on a person to help them evolve, I do agree that difficulties in life help a person become resilient, resourceful, and wise. Maybe, in a weird way, a person can see the experience of having cancer as a kind of “gift”… on the other hand, my guess is that most people would not see it that way… especially the many people who do not have Olivia Newton-John’s fame and fortune to sustain them. Moreover, speaking only for myself, I appreciate it when people are honest. I felt like Olivia Newton-John’s book could have used a bit more honesty.

Olivia is not actually a native Australian, although she definitely promotes that image. Olivia Newton-John’s father was British. Her mother was German. Olivia and her siblings were born in England and they moved to Australia when she was a child. I did rather enjoy Olivia’s comments about her famous Nobel Prize winning grandfather, Max Born, who was friends with Albert Einstein. Olivia writes that she is a hopeless failure at math, just like I am. However, they say math and music are connected. Like Olivia, I excel at musical pursuits. Interestingly enough, like Olivia, I also have some family members who are great at math, but don’t do music.

I would have liked to have read a bit more about Olivia Newton-John’s upbringing, more about her important relationships… I guess what I’m really saying is that this book lacked depth. Olivia adores her daughter, Chloe Lattanzi, but really doesn’t write much about her, other than relentless positivity. Chloe famously suffered from anorexia nervosa, much like Olivia’s dear friend Karen Carpenter, who also gets a mention. This would have been a good opportunity for Olivia to write a little bit about anorexia nervosa and how she dealt with her daughter’s experiences with it. But she just glosses over it, and doesn’t mention her daughter’s cosmetic surgery at all. This wasn’t a book about Chloe, of course, but I think it almost would have been better to not mention the eating disorders than just gloss over them with a brief mention.

I remember back in college, a friend quipped that listening to Olivia Newton-John’s music is a bit like being wrapped in cotton candy and set out in the sun. As much as I enjoy her very sweet vocals, I have to admit, that description of her music kind of fits. I suppose it shouldn’t be any surprise that her book is almost as sweet. That quality might annoy some readers, but overall, I found Don’t Stop Believin’ to be an uplifting book. Olivia Newton-John shares with me a love of animals, particularly dogs and horses, and an affinity for music. I wish I could be as beautiful, kind, and lovely as she appears to be. I’m glad she’s found help for her cancer that focuses on wellness and natural healing. It appears to be working. When it comes to cancer, I say do whatever you can to make the healing as bearable as successful as possible. I wish Olivia well, and would recommend her book to fans. Just don’t expect a lot of dishing.