Greil Marcus’s excellent website has an “Ask Greil” feature which is a lot of fun. You asks your question and (sometimes) you gets your answer.
Most of the site consists of re-posting Marcus’s half-century worth of writing, a fair bit of it consisting of uncollected periodical writing like a post that went up a few weeks ago and read:
“City Recommends: That you check out page 31 of the May (1975) issue of Creem magazine for a picture of Olivia Newton-John that will knock your eyes out and possibly even make you change your mind about her music.”
Which led me to ask:
Just curious. Did it change your mind about her music? If so, I’d love to hear more.
He responded thus (and here’s where it gets interesting):
The picture of her pop-eyes put her on top of my Good People chart and I started paying more attention. When “You’re the One That I Want” came out pic and song were the one that I wanted.
I have since seen the picture (having spent last month’s entertainment budget on an E-bay copy of the magazine in question…always wanted to get hold of an old Creem anyway and figured I’d never find a better excuse.) Unfortunately I can’t find a copy of it on-line and I don’t have the means of scanning it. Suffice it to say “pop-eyes” is on the right path, though it doesn’t quite do it justice.
It certainly isn’t like any picture of ONJ I’ve seen before and, boy, have I made a point of seeing a lot of ONJ pictures in my time.
[NOTE: I’m the right age for it. The rumors that swirled around her in my high school years were….interesting. Actual conversation held among the male kitchen staff at a certain Baptist Girls’ Camp, circa 1979:
Old Hippie Cook (well, he was 31, which seemed old to us): “Rrrrwwwrrr.”
JK (aka “The Mississippi Kid,” aka “Mornin’ Glory,” aka “Future Minister of Youth at the First Baptist of your choice and/or Traveling Evangelist”): “Aw man, she’s a lesbian.”
Old Hippie Cook: “That don’t bother me. Long as she’ll let me watch.”
Just so you know, I never heard these kind of conversations about any other seventies siren, not even Stevie Nicks. And, unless the subject was Olivia Newton-John, I never heard them at Baptist Camp either.]
What interested me in GM’s answer, though, was his statement that seeing a picture–any picture–of a woman he didn’t know, put her on top of his “Good People chart.”
Now, I’m shallow myself. Shallow as in: Liv, you’re on my Good People chart. I don’t care if you just shot a puppy…..Which, now that I’ve seen that other picture, and I look more closely at these, I think you just may have.
I’m sure that’s not what GM meant. I’m sure he was being other than shallow.
Which leads me to a place where I ask myself if, visual creatures that we are, we all do this sort of thing, whether we like it or not and whether we admit it or not? I know most of us tell ourselves we don’t…that, in the long run, we develop defenses against judging books by their covers. That we sort out the Good People from the Puppy Shooters a little too automatically at the beginning but get beyond it as we grow older and wiser.
And I’m sure we do, to some degree.
But I suspect it’s not to the degree we think it is.
Then again, the experience of seeing that picture in Creem (which I’ll gladly post if I ever find a means), is somewhat further complicated by a caption which Marcus does not mention (and may well have forgotten if he hasn’t seen the picture in a while). It reads:
The Creem Dreem: Olivia Newton-John. Contrary to rumor, Olivia’s yum-bum is not made of ice cream. In fact she is in private life not a mere truffle but a red-hot mama who could leave even hot honchos like Gregg Allman wilt chamber lain but begging for more. Here in an exclusive CREEM Hot Shot we see her leering at her next hapless conquered root, Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators.
That’s in line, actually, with a review of Liv’s latest album in the same issue that begins:
What female singer would ya like most to sit in yr lap?
Got it now?
Actually, to me, she looks more like an ax murderess who enjoys her work in the “Creem Dreem” photo. Which is maybe why I’m leery of either including or excluding anyone from my Good People chart based on a photograph….or even whether I like their records.
Then again, I always did like her music anyway, especially her voice. Even if, as I always suspected, it had little to with her getting to sign a big record contract and more to do with the notion that a lot of young men, liberated and otherwise, would be asking themselves which female singer they would most like to sit in their lap.
More fool them.
The Overlords know we dream in pictures, though. That’s how they got to be them and we got to be us.
Still on my Good People chart, though. God help me.