celebrities, music, obits

Grace and gratitude: a fond farewell to Olivia Newton-John…

Just as I was going to bed last night, I got the news that Olivia Newton-John had died at age 73, having spent the past three decades battling breast cancer. I have been an Olivia fan since I was about– oh, I don’t know, maybe three or four years old. I have always loved her very sweet voice, from the time she was an up and coming country star until she was a guest star on Glee.

There were a few interludes in her career that I liked somewhat less. I wasn’t a big fan of the song “Physical” when it was popular, probably because it was such a departure from what she had been doing in the 70s. Also, I got super sick of that song, because it was constantly on the radio and MTV. But, as I got older, I came to appreciate her in almost every incarnation, even when she was doing super sexed up songs like “Soul Kiss” and “Tied Up”. I listened to her less in the 90s, although I know she put out some new age type music then. I also remember she had an Aussie clothing line called Koala Blue.

Then, in 2016, she joined singer-songwriters Beth Nielsen Chapman and Amy Sky on the album Liv On. What I loved about that album was that all of the songs were so beautiful, with lyrics that were comforting, grateful, and consoling coupled with gorgeous melodies and harmonies. The trio must have known people would want to sing these songs, since they also released a karaoke version. On more than one occasion, when I’ve listened to Liv On, I’ve found myself choked up with emotion. I’m not sure why they put out an album with so many emotional songs on it. Maybe it was because Olivia had battled breast cancer, as did Beth Nielsen-Chapman. I just read that Amy Sky’s mother also suffered and died of breast cancer, so she has also been very active in raising money for breast cancer research. Indeed, Olivia even opened a research center in Australia to help battle cancer.

I know Olivia was originally diagnosed with breast cancer in the 90s, but she went into remission. In 2013, the disease came back, and a few years after that, it had spread to her spine. I read that the pain was pretty unbearable during this time, yet there was Olivia, so sunny, upbeat, pretty, and blonde. She always looked like an angel to me, even when she was supposed to be sexy, like at the end of Grease, when she traded her plain pink frocks for black leather, satin pants, and heels. Those winsome looks, combined with her beautiful voice, were enchanting to me. She was the one rare singer my dad and I could always agree on when we were in the car together. And I always admired her positive outlook and genuinely sweet demeanor, always delivered with good humor.

My favorite Olivia era is the 70s. I used to listen to three specific albums repeatedly: If You Love Me Let Me Know, from 1974, Don’t Stop Believin’ from 1976, and Making A Good Thing Better, from 1977, which my dad had on 8 track. Years later, I also fell in love with her 1975 album, Have You Never Been Mellow. To this day, I’ll often put on that album when I need to calm down. In fact, in my memories yesterday, I even mentioned that song, as I remembered moving to Texas in 2013, where we would stay only a year before leaving the United States for Germany. I remember being awed by her powerful vocals when she took on big songs like “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina.” And I always got a good laugh when I heard her try songs like “Ring of Fire”, which she gave a disco bent flavored with country, or “I’ll Bet You A Kangaroo”, which was no doubt a tribute to Australia, her adopted homeland.

Olivia’s music got me through many rough times. It also helped me bond with others. One of my best friends in college, a guy named Chris, was (and still is) a huge Olivia fan. He even went as far as to get a picture with her and an autograph, which he posted on Facebook yesterday. She was the one person whose albums he would always buy, and pretty much the only person whose music we could discuss without him managing to piss me off (don’t get him started about James Taylor). I loved to sing her songs at karaoke shows, and would often bond with others who liked her music, too. She was always a popular choice!

I even enjoyed Olivia’s forays into acting. I especially loved Xanadu, which was released when I was seven years old. I didn’t see it until a couple of years later, when we had HBO. In the early 80s, that movie was constantly showing on the cable movie networks. It bombed at the box office, but the soundtrack was awesome! And for 8 and 9 year old me, it was a magical film, with so many special effects and fantasy elements. Yes, as a 50 year old, I know it’s a cheesy film with a ridiculous plot, but I still count it as a favorite guilty pleasure. It, too, is something I watch when I need to cheer up. I can always count on Olivia to make me smile and soothe my soul with her sweet, warm, powerful voice.

I probably won’t do her justice, but I’ve decided to try a couple of songs from Liv On, as my own tribute to Olivia. We’ll see how they go. I would like to do some of her early stuff, too, but as it’s early in the morning, I figure my voice will probably hold out better with some of her more recent, more vocally forgiving songs. So watch this space, because this is where I’ll share the results, when they’re ready… which if I know myself, will be in a couple of hours or so.

A pretty song I tried from Liv On… You might recognize the lyrics.

I was going to do a second song. I may decide to do it tomorrow. I almost had it wired this morning, but Arran and Noyzi were demanding a walk, and then I decided it was too hot to try another. So maybe tomorrow… if only for the challenge of it, and the fact that I will always love channeling my inner Olivia.

I finally managed “Grace and Gratitude” a month after I posted this…

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