Bert Archer: Olivia Newton-John made me cool for about an hour once

His real gift to me came one sunny afternoon when I put my record player as close to my open window as I could get and blasted the Grease soundtrack.


For about 61 minutes and 14 seconds.

That’s how long it takes to play the Grease double album soundtrack that had just come out and somehow this never happened, I was the first on my block to get.

The movie was adult enough that it seemed like we shouldn’t see it, but not adult enough that we couldn’t, and we all did.

I remember a conversation in the basement with some fifth graders who thought the line “Meditate on my address” was “meditate on my boner” which, to be fair, the actual line doesn’t make any sense either, but it allowed a fifth grade in particular with an older brother to expand on the subject of erections.

So thanks for that too, Olivia.

But his real gift to me came early one sunny summer afternoon when I put my record player and speakers as close as I could to the open second-story window and watched my little Cameron Cres strip. and up to Métis Ave., at the foot of which my house was, extending my domain over two entire streets, I turned the soundtrack up full blast and the Bee Gees hadn’t even finished a quarter of the opening theme before they and , starting with the second track, brought all the boys and girls to my yard. Some I knew for sure were at Lindsay Place High School, which meant they were at least 7th grade. They sang, the girls danced imitating some of the moves Olivia had taught them, and for the rest of the album even through the boring song about heartbreak, they all stood in my yard, me looking at them with a beneficent smile, happy to be able to offer my subjects this little sample for their amusement.

But as the last few rama-lama-ding-dong faded into the other boring song about love being too splendid and then Frankie Valli repeated the theme but not as well as the Gibbs, so did the children. I put the record player back on my world atlas desk and went back to my normal life, where those kids didn’t really know me for the most part, because I was in fourth grade and only half a dozen were friends of mine.


However, she did not stop there. When she was 14 years old, Olivia Newton-John was kind enough to release the Let’s Get Physical video. Little did she know that it was based on Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, the Marilyn Monroe-Jane Russell film that had been released 29 years earlier. But Let’s Get Physical came out at just the right time to be the first explicitly homoerotic music video to hit my pituitary gland.

Thanks again, Olive.

When she married Matt Lattanzi, the star of My Tutor—my second favorite movie about cute boys losing their virginity—two years later, she took her place in the pantheon of my adolescence.

Newton-John died Monday at the age of 73. I haven’t thought much of her in the intervening decades, although I understand he had an excellent career. My childhood was not exactly rich in moments of freshness. I didn’t even smoke. I probably should have. And I certainly never had a more triumphant moment than Olivia Newton-John (and the Bee Gees and John Travolta, to be fair) gave me on that bright Pointe-Claire summer afternoon.

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