Wednesday, December 31, 2008
It's snowing in New York right now, and it's projected to be about 15 degrees F tonight, so I feel sorry for anyone who's planning on standing out there all night.
I did it once. Once is all you need. Actually more than you need. It's one of those things that people tell you they've done and you're all impressed, but actually doing it is kind of ridiculous. You literally just stand there in these little hog pens for like six hours. Alcohol is not allowed, and yes, the cops enforce that. You cannot move around because of the crowd and the barricades. Need to go to the bathroom? Ask a cop. It's like being in kindergarten. Then the big 30 seconds comes and the ball drops and it's over.
I actually can't think of a worse place to be on New Year's Eve than outside, in the freezing cold, in a hog pen surrounded by cops, in the most crowded place in the world.
Not to be a party pooper! I'm happy 2008 is over. It was a good year in some ways (the election) but not in others (the economy). So I'll be ringing in 2009 with hope for a brighter future. But I'll be doing it at home, with my wife and a bottle of champagne, in comfort and in private. There's nowhere else I'd rather be.
Sunday, December 28, 2008
This is KERA, Japan's most popular punk, gothic, rock and lolita style magazine. My wife bought me a copy for Christmas as kind of a gag gift, the result of an inside joke.
The cool thing about KERA is that it's the entire range of counterculture fashion in Japan - not just gothic and not just punk. It includes DIY stuff (think FRUiTS) and Lolita too.
The covergirl this month is Nana Kitade, who's a singer, and the poster-child of "punk Lolita" style. She used to be on Tofu Records in the United States, before they mysteriously disappeared. I actually think she's quite bad. She is cute sometimes, though - here are a couple more photos from inside the magazine:
These sorts of fashions in Japan are, from what I can tell, entirely superficial. Whereas most rock fashion in the US and UK were initially borne out of necessity or to express a particular feeling, in Japan it's mostly for show. Western punk bands wore what they wore because they were poor and that's just what was available in cheap used clothing stores. Gothic bands wore what they wore because their music was dark and they were depressed.
But I made the mistake of listening to Nana Kitade's music one day and I was horrified. Now, I am sure she's a very nice girl, but what. the. hell?! That's just false advertising.
Anyway, it's fun to look at! Click the images for larger versions.
The Japanese borrow more from British punk than American punk, even though American punk is the original. I understand why, though; our punk fashions are pretty boring. Mostly just blue jeans, t-shirts, sneakers and leather jackets. (Think the Ramones.) None of the tartan, colorful boots or other decorative flourishes of British punk bands. Though I suppose the girl on the far left up there is sort of a nod to American rockabilly, with her black leather and polkadots.
The funny thing is while western people that dress like this are usually wearing old, legitimately torn-up and faded clothes, in Japan you have to buy it like that new. I read a news article a few weeks ago that said that Japanese women spend, on average, $500 per month on clothes for themselves. On average. I mean that includes all the people who are less well off, who have families to take care of, who live in rural areas, who are over 60 years old, etc. Think about that! How much do young, single city girls spend? (If you're curious, in the United States the average household spends $1,760 per year on clothes.)
I'm digging the outfits on the bottom right and bottom left.
This magazine, like all fashion magazines, is basically just one big advertisement. Though Japanese magazines do things a little differently than American ones; I don't think American fashion mags really break down exactly what you need to buy, where to buy it and how much it costs like this. I admit my fashion mag experience is limited, though.
Some of the "articles" actually seem to be written by advertisers. This "Naoto Girls" piece is a regular feature that's really an advertorial for the fashion designer h.Naoto, who is one of the top designers for this kind of stuff. He controversially designed Amy Lee's dress at the 2004 Grammy awards. I really like that blue/black outfit second from right above, but I don't know if most of his designs really work on non-Asian body types.
I was actually looking for this - this is half of the ad spread for "Baby, the Stars Shine Bright".
An interesting thing about KERA magazine is that their models are neither professional nor anonymous (in most of the fashion world, designers don't want the girls upstaging the clothes). They're all regular readers who sent in their photos. And once they're accepted as KERA models, the magazine promotes them as people as much as it promotes the clothes. Up there, that's Misako Aoki on the right, and Midori (just one name) on the left. The girl with the red and black hair in some of the photos a bit higher up is Ayumi Yamauchi, and she promotes her indie rock band Lancer >> Bee in the magazine.
Anyway, you may know "Baby, the Stars Shine Bright" from the film "Kamikaze Girls", starring Anna Tsuchiya and Kyoko Fukada, a total chick flick that was my wife's choice but that I think I ended up liking better than her. It's funny as hell. Although, it's really just a long advertisement too. Pretty much everything in Japan is an advertisement.
You may wonder if there are really Japanese girls that walk around like this. Well, sort of. Read my posts on Harajuku cosplay and everyday Harajuku fashions for some insight. Obviously these boutiques do sell enough clothes to stay in business.
Westerners often think there's only one Lolita style: Gothic Lolita. And they mix pure "gothic" and "gothic lolita" together. They're two different styles. In the two photos above, you see both gothic and sweet lolitas. "Sweet" is actually the most popular style.
This is Nana Kitade again. She's got a regular column in the magazine. It's funny how many Japanese designers name their brands in English, but either they or KERA often butcher it when they spell it out. They've listed as the brand Nana's wearing here as "Gramour Punks."
This is interesting. As pioneered by FRUiTS magazine some years ago, a lot of fashion mags in Japan now have these "street snaps" sections where their photographers will just go out and take pictures of real people dressed up like the fashions in the magazine.
KERA is a little different than FRUiTS in that they actually develop relationships with their favorite girls that they find this way, and then they take more "street snaps" of them over the years. So this section is not really a totally random sample of people - it's about 20% the same people month to month, and some of them are famous.
This girl above is named Becca. She's obviously western, and she's a singer who's popular in Japan. She appears in KERA pretty often, though she's not one of their regular models.
As if you needed any, here's more evidence that this is just a look and not a lifestyle. I'm not sure anyone would consider Britney Spears, Hilary Duff or even any of the Japanese acts listed above as gothic, punk or really anything other than straight pop. Probably about the punkiest this magazine's audience really gets would be Avril Lavigne.
Still, nothing wrong with a little eye candy.
If you're interested in buying these types of clothes, check out my and my wife's online store - and watch for our physical store (complete with new lines from major brands) soon!
Saturday, December 27, 2008
Merry late Christmas!
This Christmas for us was nice, if a little hectic. We're not used to having guests so there was a lot of stuff to do. And the Japanese have some different Christmas traditions so we had to kind of indulge some of my mother-in-law's wishes while at the same time trying to show her the American side (including the full turkey dinner yesterday) - it was her first time here for Christmas. I actually made a "Christmas Cake", which is a Japanese tradition:
I know, it looks a little lame compared to a store-bought one, but I am not a pastry chef! I did my best. It tastes great.
We cut back a little on presents this year like everybody else. At least I still have a job, so I'm thankful for that. I did get some interesting stuff, though. Here's a visual list of everything Santa brought me this year:
From: my mother-in-law
Every time my wife's mom comes here from Japan, she literally brings us a suitcase full of snacks. This is only like half of what she brought this time. We've already eaten the other half.
From: my dad and stepmother
We do love cheese! Notice that this was sold by a bankrupt company. This was kind of a bonus gift that my dad had bought and then forgotten to send us some years ago.
From: my mother-in-law
I did actually need sweaters this year. It's cold! I am wearing this one right now.
From: my wife
I'm a little disturbed by this album cover. I told my wife that and she was like "why?" I don't remember any controversy when it was released either. I guess some people don't see the obvious metaphor (especially obvious given the album title).
I didn't ask for this, my wife just bought it for me (used) and I haven't listened to it yet. But Ai Otsuka is really cute and I know she sings cute songs. And she's quirky and eccentric in the way that I like my Japanese pop stars to be. It doesn't get much quirkier than getting a mock facial on your album cover.
From: my dad and stepmother
This is just one part of a large cooler full of steaks, stuffed potatoes and fish that my dad bought us. He sends Omaha Steaks pretty much every year. Not that I'm complaining; they sell some fine meat.
From: my brother and sister-in-law
This is one of my favorite movies. I actually get the feeling every time I watch it that I'm seeing something kind of important. It's definitely a Bush era film. (The comic might have been earlier, though I don't remember the exact date.)
From: my wife
One of the things that's funny about my wife is that she occasionally thinks I am a 14 year old Japanese girl. But I don't mind, and she knows it. I like to look at the pictures, I admit it. And we like the same styles, so that's cool. We're both a little outside the mainstream. This is KERA, which is now my favorite Japanese fashion magazine. I might actually post more about this later! Japanese punk and goth style is amazing, even if it is completely contrived and misses the point of the original. It's kinda like everything else they borrow from us - the core of it's just been buried under the sheer volume they've amped it up to, but that ends up being interesting in its own way too.
From: my brother and sister-in-law
Yes, I like this band! But I wanted this more for completeness than anything. I still haven't listened to it and I'm not expecting it to be as good as "Riot!"
From: my wife
These are interesting. They're ear muffs that go around the back of your neck. So you can wear them without messing up your hair, or wear them with a hat. I needed these; even though I drive to the train station on the way to work, I still need to walk like 1/4 mile from the parking lot. Last week, we had like 14 degree temps with 35mph winds. It was not fun.
From: my wife
Another sweater. My wife likes it when I wear black, and she's been disappointed that I've started wearing brown, green and grey lately. I used to only wear black. (She's a little goth at heart!)
From: my wife
This is Shiina Ringo's most popular album; sold 2.3 million copies according to Wikipedia. She doesn't really look like that, that cover is kind of a joke I think. And it's out of focus, that's not my camera or the picture. This was a surprise like the Ai Otsuka CD - I've only ever talked about Shiina Ringo in the context of her writing one song for PUFFY. But I am curious to hear her own stuff.
From: my wife
Gloves. Black, of course. To replace my brown ones.
From: my mom
Mystery present. I'm not seeing my mom until a couple of weeks from now, so I've promised to wait to open this. Kinda shaped like a blu-ray disc of some sort.
From: my mom
Mystery Amazon box. I could just peek in there but I've promised not to. My wife is supposed to wrap this but hasn't had time. I think I know what it is, though...
Not pictured: my dad also sent us a box of apples from a farm near where he lives in the northwest, but we already finished them. I don't even remember the name of the farm now.
Of course, this is also technically a Christmas present:
From: my wife
I needed it and I picked it out and bought it, but I told her she could call that my main present if I could just buy it. I had no real choice, since my old one broke.
So how was your xmas and what did you get?
Saturday, December 13, 2008
The date the "first" mall was built is kind of debatable, but it was not in the 1970's. Still, that was the decade the enclosed mega-mall really hit its stride. It was really the Woodfield Mall (1971) in Illinois that did it. We'd all heard of that mall, it was sort of the Mall of America of its time - a huge enclosed structure with hundreds of stores catering to an entire region of the state. And every county in the nation wanted its own mall just like that. Mall construction exploded.
This was one of my local malls during part of the decade, though not the one I visited most often:
That's the Willowbrook Mall in Wayne, NJ, one of the largest around at the time. I more often haunted the Morris County Mall (now a strip mall), the Livingston Mall (now a "dead" mall?) or the Rockaway Townsquare Mall (still going strong).
Another shot from Willowbrook, which is the only one of those four malls I could find period photos of (the one at the top's from there too):
Malls in those days, like malls today, all shared a similar interior design philosophy. But it was a lot different than the hospital-like bright and sterile white you see in today's malls. Common 1970's design elements included:
- Dim lighting - malls in the 70's were dark places!
- Warm, earthy color tones
- "Futuristic" architecture, taking advantage of the exploding interest in science fiction films and books
- As a balance to the somewhat cold architecture, lots and lots of plants. And I mean lots. It was like a forest in some of these malls.
Here's an example - this is Altamonte Springs in Florida.
They've even managed to fit in some wood paneling!
Another great example - the Oxford Valley Mall in Pennsylvania, showcasing another common (though not universal) 1970's feature, the fountain pool:
And one more - the ceiling of this one makes me feel like I'm looking down the interior of the Battlestar Galactica:
Notice that all of these photos have kind of a yellow cast to them. That's not the film or the age of the photos; in those days, lighting in situations like this was either incandescent or that nasty yellow fluorescent stuff. These photos probably feature a bit of both.
But I actually prefer this look to the cold, overly bright and soul-sucking designs of modern malls:
That's the pompously named "Mall at Short Hills" in NJ, the current incarnation of which opened sometime in the early 80's and was among the first of the "post-modern" malls, with an all-white decor, brighter lighting and fewer organic decorations, ie. plants. (A cost-cutting move, no doubt - somebody's got to water them.) This mall's been updated and expanded a few times since it opened, but it sort of set the template for malls going forward and it hasn't really changed all that much. Is this actually inviting to anyone?
The products just get lost in a sea of light. And it hurts my eyes to look at all that white.
Of course, every mall had three or four "anchor" department stores back then just as now, a bunch of clothing stores, usually a couple of book stores and either a food court (not as common as now) or a smattering of fast food joints sprinkled around. And every mall had a Radio Shack and an Orange Julius. But they also had a couple of places I'm gonna talk about in upcoming posts - arcades and record stores. Yes, where you bought records:
At one point in 90's, I had a collection of about 400 vinyl records, which I sold for $350 en masse to a guy I used to know. Had some rare stuff in there too. Needed to pay my rent. C'est la vie.
Arcades in those days were more focused on pinball than video games, but towards the end of the decade you'd start to see stuff like Asteroids, Space Invaders, Lunar Lander and other video game machines popping up here and there. It was the beginning of the golden age of the arcade. I'll talk more about that later.
In the late 70's, my parents would take me to the mall every week and give me my allowance so I could go to the record store and the arcade. Yeah, one of those parental tricks to get me out of their hair for a few hours. Sometimes I wouldn't find anything I wanted at the record store, so I'd have about $10 to spend in the arcade, and back then that was enough to last for the whole day. As I grew up, I started taking a free bus and then later driving myself (and friends) to the mall each weekend, and I would still hit the record store and arcade every time. It was a ritual that lasted probably until I was 18 - about 1990.
Of course I hate going to the mall now. Absolutely despise it. I've changed and the malls have changed. In New York City, there are only a couple malls to begin with - the Manhattan Mall, which is an absolute dump, and the Queens Center Mall, which isn't much better. (If there are more, I don't know about them.) Both of these are like eight stories high to make up for their lack of floor space. And they're always jam packed even though about half the stores are vacant.
Out in the suburbs, where I technically now live and where it's usually a lot more pleasant to do pretty much anything, I still avoid malls like the plague. The closest one to me is the same mall where that Wal-Mart trampling death happened - that should tell you something. If I do go to any mall, it's usually Roosevelt Field in Westbury, which is the largest mall in New York State and easily the most overcrowded. It's an absolute nightmare. I'm talking lines to get into the bathroom at 3PM on a weekday. And of course it's as ugly and whitewashed as every other mall these days.
Whether it's overcrowding or undercrowding, most malls these days just can't seem to get the balance right. Yet some people still think malls are the future. You know what I say to that?
By the way, here's a great site showing photos of malls from the past (a couple of the ones above are shamelessly lifted from there). Doesn't look like he's updated for a while, but he's got years worth of stuff to look through anyway.
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
Look at this cast: John Ritter, Harvey Korman, Fred Willard, Peter Riegert, Meat Loaf, Elvis Costello, Howard Hesseman, Jay Leno, and George Carlin. It's like a who's who of 1970's comedy and musical talent.
Now, add in a plot about a bankrupt America forced to stage a gigantic telethon in order to pay its debts, and the only reason I can think of that this film hasn't reached cult status today is that it's never been released on DVD. (It's also long out of print even on VHS.)
The basic story is this. In "the future" - which in this movie's parlance is 1998 - the United States is flat broke and out of oil. When a cartel of native Americans now running Nike, Inc. calls in a $400 billion loan (with the chief explaining "I have to eat too"), the bumbling president, played by John Ritter, has no choice but to beg for money from the nation's citizens. Harvey Korman is tapped to host a national telethon to raise money and keep the nation from being taken over by Nike.
There's only one scene currently on YouTube, but it's a good one - Meat Loaf fights a car:
I love when Meat Loaf launches himself about 30 feet into the air near the beginning of the clip.
I haven't seen this film for close to 30 years, but it was one of my favorites when I was a kid. I don't remember that much of it, but I do recall that John Ritter gets shot (but not killed) when he makes his telethon appearance at the end. It was pretty dark for what amounted to a screwball comedy, definitely reflecting the deep malaise that had set in by the end of the 1970's (very similar to the mood of the country right now, for the same reasons).
In fact, between the lines of ridiculous scenes like the one above, it actually raised a bunch of serious issues that are still relevant. Class warfare. Political ineptness. Cronyism. Economic and financial crises. The rise of corporate influence and modern media over government. The cult of personality.
This movie's ripe for a remake.
Anyone else remember this film?
I'm actually in the process of trying to grab myself a VHS copy - if I do, I'll try to update later this month with some more info, screenshots and potentially video clips. I'll develop that cult following myself if I have to.
Sunday, December 07, 2008
For anyone who doesn't live here, you should know that the subway is synonymous with New York. Millions of us ride it every single day, and we complain about it to each other just as often. Besides walking, it's the main method of transportation in this city. Well, the 70's weren't kind to the subway, or to most of us. I remember when I was a kid, I had a t-shirt that said "I rode the New York City subway... AND SURVIVED!" Being about eight, I thought that was really funny at the time. But it was true - the subways were dirty, dangerous, poorly maintained and covered in graffiti.
Graffiti exploded after the budget crisis of 1975 hit, when the agency basically ran out of money, was not allowed to raise fares (they already had, dramatically, earlier in the decade) and was faced with falling ridership at the same time. Everything got worse. Maintenance wasn't done to either the trains or the infrastructure and cleaning basically never happened. The whole system started looking ragged, worn and abused. Trains broke down routinely - I remember being stuck on a powerless (and therefore a/c-less) A train near Howard Beach in the dead of summer for 3 hours. There was a sense that the system was dying and that nobody cared about saving it, and out of that, the graffiti movement grew.
Crews formed that "bombed" the trains as they sat unprotected in the yards overnight. There were literally thousands of these crews, though a few like Lee, Futura 2000 and Crunch went on to infamy and even eventual legitimate fame. (Here's a list of more than 3,000 graffiti crews from the 1970's.) In the mornings, MTA workers would arrive to find their assigned, previously clean trains often covered front to back by graffiti. Including the windows!
Most of this graffiti was ugly - I've so far shown some of the nicer examples (the one above was by Futura 2000). Some teenagers these days see stuff like the photos above and romanticize the whole era. This was a more typical train:
It was just an ugly mess.
Interiors were not immune either. Most subway interiors were covered in tags - not the elaborate murals of the exteriors, just random names scrawled by kids with nothing better to do. These weren't painted as the cars sat idle, they were usually written on late-night trips in mostly empty cars, although sometimes you'd see kids writing graffiti right in broad daylight in a crowded car.
That advertisement on the wall strikes me as ironic on several different levels.
Graffiti was one of those crimes that added to the sense of disorder and anarchy that both encouraged other crimes and made New York kind of a scary place to be. Crime in general was rising in the 1970's, and it was exploding in the subway. By the end of the decade, the number of felonies recorded each day in the New York City subway - including rapes and murders - made it the most dangerous mass transit system in the country.
This went on until the mid-1980's, when the city, state and yes, federal government finally had had enough. Money started flowing into the system again - enough to finally combat graffiti. MTA honcho David Gunn instituted a zero tolerance policy - once a train was cleaned, any new graffiti would be removed immediately at the terminal stop or that train would be taken out of service. Laws were also strengthened, adding prison time to graffiti sentences and making the purchase of spray paint by a minor illegal. The cleanup happened very quickly once it began. By the late 1980's, graffiti in the NYC subway was pretty much gone. Given the scale of the problem, it was pretty amazing.
These days, NYC trains run clean. Even "scratchitti", where taggers would scratch their tags into the glass or the train interior walls using rocks or keys, has been brought under control with the use of replaceable mylar window covers and scratch-proof walls in the newest cars.
The unfortunate thing is that there are still some dumbasses out there, some from Europe and some from the United States, who either don't realize that this era has been over for 20 years, or want to revive it. Every once in a while somebody tries to graffiti bomb a train again. It's really more unfortunate for them, because the zero tolerance policy remains in place, so their work is never seen outside of their own photos. And subway graffiti is a crime NYC cops take seriously these days. These idiots do get caught.
By the way, if you're coming in to this post cold, I am a native New Yorker. I was born here. I rode the trains before there was graffiti on them and I ride them now after. I've been around longer than any of the taggers, and this is my city. These pictures are here because they're historically relevant and interesting in context, not because they're beautiful. So if you're going to argue against what I'm saying here, you'd better at least have as much ownership of the subway as I do. My taxes and fares paid for these trains, as did my parents'. My votes in favor of bond issues approved their purchase. If you can't at least say the same, then keep your arguments in favor of defacing the property I helped purchase to yourself.
And take heed of the comment rules.
Note: the pictures in this post are not mine, though I've had them for long enough that I don't remember exactly where they came from. I believe the first three are from the fascinating book Subway Art:
The others are probably from the site nycsubway.org. If anyone knows the actual photo credits, I'd be happy to add them.
Friday, December 05, 2008
The 1970's gave rise to one of the most insidious trends ever on network TV: intercut parallel plots. Intercutting was the enabler for such top-rated shows as "The Love Boat" and "Fantasy Island", which ruled the airwaves starting in the mid-1970's and running into the 80's. Both of these shows featured three sets of guest stars every week, who'd each arrive on the show with some sort of personal problem that seemed either ridiculously complex (a failing marriage) or deep-seated in the character's psyche (fear of heights or some such). In the end, though, all of these problems proved simple enough to be solved in the 12 or so minutes allotted to each character's plot line, making you wonder why they couldn't have figured it all out themselves while sitting on the couch at home.
What made both of these shows so successful were three things: a beautiful, romantic setting, a solid and trustworthy main cast, and an endless stream of B-list guest stars. Guests on "The Love Boat" included such 70's stalwarts as Richard Dawson, Tom Poston, John Ritter and Paul Williams, as well as new faces like Jamie Lee Curtis and a very young Courteney Cox. "Fantasy Island", being on the same network (ABC) and with similar ratings, had a similar guest list.
NBC, which at that time was even more of a joke than Fox is now, wanted in on some of this action. Remember, this was long before "The Cosby Show" or "Friends" or "Seinfeld". The network only had three shows in the top 20 ("Little House on the Prairie", "CHiPS" and "Diff'rent Strokes"), so they set out to create their own ripoff of "The Love Boat", this time set on a cross-country train. This would allow them to have various settings around the country, as well as the train itself (just like on "The Love Boat"), and it would give them the same rotating guest cast anchored by a few regulars working the train. What would set it apart from its ABC competitors? In the long tradition of train movies, it would be less a comedy/drama and more of a suspense thriller. The result: SUPERTRAIN.
But it didn't quite work out as planned. All you need to know about this show can be found in the first ten minutes of the first episode, which is absolutely hilarious.
It's almost impossible to know where to start with this.
First of all, this was, to that point, the most expensive television show ever made. NBC spent millions on a large number of massive new sets, several large and detailed train models (and their own in-scale sets to go with them), not to mention the giant cast. Whereas "The Love Boat" was able to use (and re-use) stock footage of the Pacific Princess whenever exterior shots were needed, NBC had to create sets for the "Supertrain" stations, had to film models rolling through the countryside, and had to use a lot of optical effects to make things seem bigger than they are. This needed to be a top 20 show just to even begin to pay for itself.
Secondly... a pool?! On a train?!
I do give the show props for the hot-pants clad female staff, and now that we're 30 years on I'm entertained by the faint whiff of sexual harassment as the lead service attendant tells "his girls" how he's in love with all of them (to a chorus of giggles!). Hey man, people weren't so uptight in those days.
The show ran for only nine episodes from February-May 1979, with a retooling in the middle that replaced about half of the regular cast. Its final change in the ninth episode was the addition of a laugh track in an attempt to make the unintentional humor seem otherwise. I'd love to see that, but unfortunately that episode hasn't made it to YouTube yet. Probably will eventually.
There's a great site here that goes more into detail on "Supertrain" than I ever could.
Thursday, December 04, 2008
Men have no defenses against eyes like that.
And the smile!
Now that's... that's just not playing fair. She was Twiggy, Farrah Fawcett and the girl next door all in one.
Olivia was beautiful, multi-talented and multimedia, before there even was such a word. She was a singer first, and a pretty successful one in what they used to call the "country and western" genre, reaching #1 on the charts with "Have You Never Been Mellow" in 1975 and eventually winning four Grammy awards in the 1970's alone. I didn't appreciate her voice at the time, but listening to her now gives me chills sometimes. Her voice is both unique and flawless.
But you can't keep that face off the big screen.
I was vaguely aware of Olivia from her music - I may have been a kid, but she was popular enough that everybody knew her name - but it was the movies that made her a universal object of desire. And of course I mean "Grease."
It was 1978 and I was six years old. I didn't even know what this feeling was, I just knew I wanted to keep looking at the pretty lady. And in that final scene, I think my jaw hit the floor along with every other guy in the theater, whatever the age.
But you know what? Maybe it was the extra two years or maybe it was something else, but it was actually her next movie that I remember her best for. Yeah, the movie some have called the worst ever made. I love it. I'm talking about "Xanadu".
I know, "Xanadu" came out in 1980. Well, it was conceived and shot in the 1970's, and it's definitely of that era. One of its issues is that its production was delayed and it was released too late - it missed the roller disco fad and seemed laughably dated already on its release. It is a late 1970's film, even moreso than "Grease" was.
The plot's your typical boy-meets-girl-who-doesn't-really-exist, boy-falls-in-love-with-girl-who-doesn't-really-exist, girl-who-doesn't-really-exist-helps-boy-open-a-roller-disco, boy-loses-girl-who-doesn't-really-exist (or does he??) story. Along the way there's a lot of singing and dancing, much of it on roller skates, and a bit part obviously written specifically for Gene Kelly so he can get one more musical under his belt before he dies. (And he did, unfortunately.) The soundtrack was written by John Farrar and E.L.O.'s Jeff Lynne, and it's usually called the one bright spot of the film. (And that's kind of a big bright spot, considering it's a musical.)
Nowadays there's of course a Broadway version of "Xanadu", which is I guess sort of a cheeky and ironic telling of the story, although that's a little redundant because the film is already kind of making fun of itself. And I've seen the female lead at work in the Broadway version and let me tell you, she's no Olivia Newton-John.
Anyway, this is a horribly condensed version of the final scene in the film version, with Olivia and her stupifyingly awesome feathered hair. (Why did feathered hair ever go out of style?) This scene basically mirrors the final scene in "Grease" - it is a similar situation in the film - but I like it better because it's so heavy on the now-stereotypical 1970's disco kitsch but so legitimately good at the same time:
I swear, every time I see this scene I'm just like poor Michael Beck there, with a big grin on my face, staring wistfully.
Since the 1970's, Olivia's definitely had her ups and downs. She moved from country to pop music in the early 80's and had some successes with cheesy songs like "Let's Get Physical" before fading a bit from the public eye. In the 1990's, she fought a public battle with breast cancer and became something of an activist. Then in 2005, her long-time boyfriend was lost at sea. (She's now found someone else.) She still records music, but mostly releases her albums in Australia, not here. I was never one to buy her albums anyway - except for the "Xanadu" soundtrack, which I have both digitally and on vinyl! (It was actually a gift from a friend a few years ago.)
She does still tour in front of some big crowds and she pretty recently had a concert special on one of the big cable movie channels, which I watched out of hopeless devotion to my first crush - and she sounds as good as ever.
She's also done a couple guest judging stints on "American Idol" and she still looked pretty amazing on both.
Ryan Seacrest has aged more in six years than she has in close to thirty.
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
Hey hey hey, let's all go back to a time of free love, baggy pants and shaggy hair. I want to talk about the 1970's. All month long.
The music. The movies. The teen idols. The fashions. The stuff I lived through and the stuff I wish I was old enough to live through. I grew up in that decade - that's me up there, in the foreground, sitting next to my brother, ready to celebrate Christmas sometime in the mid-70's.
I'll try not to duplicate VH1's "I love the 70's" series too much. The thing about that show is that it's a bunch of people trying to be funny about stuff they don't remember. Well, I want to talk about the stuff that I remember, either because I experienced it, or because I watched other people experience it and was jealous. The 1970's was a time when we all celebrated freedom, independence, and doing what we wanted to do.
I can't promise I'll post something every night. But I've got a lot of stuff saved up, waiting for the right moment. This is that moment. Can you dig it?