Why this site? Why is it so big?? Why the anal retentive details?
Why the pointless research? What dose “it” all mean? Do you
have a life? Aren’t you guys kinda worried about copyright
infringement? Is this one of those covert SubGenius projects? Is
this an overly complex tribute to Evan Dorkin’s ‘Elltingville Comic
Book Club’ comic strips? Why am I reading all of this? Why the
flaming hell ‘XANADU’?!?!
Why ‘XANADU’, indeed.....
It’s been well over 30 years since Xanadu first opened its doors to an unsuspecting public and yours truly being one of the first to arrive for the party. In fact, this party has lasted so long that the simple question of “Why” seems to have faded into oblivion. Any attempt to make a structured response to this question has no purpose anymore….well, a simple structured answer as, at this point, you’ll get many answers from many fans, not just from the old school fans who were there at the beginning, but from those who had joined this party within the past 30 plus years of the movie’s stubborn existence.
There are many MANY individual stories of those who had discovered and joined this Art Deco-styled Mardi Gras. They are
everywhere! Forget the internet, the known universe are filled with them…..
However, before you comb through that mountain for those stories, you’ll have to start here, with one of the first questions posted on this page….’Why This Site?’…..and the fanboy/grand Pooh-Bah party-host behind it all, me!
I was born in the mid-60’s in Santa Monica, California. As a kid,
for whatever reasons I couldn’t fathom, I sensed I was missing
out on something and I didn’t know what it was but, damn it, it
was there, taunting me. The first clue of this teasing was
seeing the old Pacific Ocean Park pleasure pier on the way to
Venice Beach. In particular, it’s front entrance, Neptune’s
I was too young to grapple with things like urban decay
(much less the English language) as this pier had seen far
better days as it closed many years earlier and chunks of it
were now falling into the Pacific Ocean taking out an
unsuspecting surfer or two. Still, the grand entrance with its
dazzling hanging arches and the sea bubbles reaching for the
sky with a statue of Neptune pointing the way hypnotized my
young mind and eyes. It was, even in its death throws, telling
me that there were better and grander days ahead and when I
get older, I’ll soon partake in this grand party. A couple of years
later, the whole pier was torn down to make room for condos.
This foreshadowing wasn’t much help….
(As a side note: proving one dreamer’s nightmare for another
dreamer’s shinola, the pier in it’s serious disrepair turned out to
be the playground of the future legendary Dogtown
skateboarders. (See ‘Dogtown & Z-Boys’ documentary for
The cherry on the top of this search was Tomorrowland in
Disneyland. There are no words to describe what filled my
head and heart when I first entered its hollowed exhibits. Out of all the copyrighted Lands Disney dished out, I spent the most of
my time here. I’ll do you all the favor of not going into the
PeopleMover here. Oh, then there was my Las Vegas
discovery, but THAT’S for another damned web site, too!! (TOO LATE!! It's already HERE!!)
By 1978, I had discovered the elaborate sounds of the Electric
Light Orchestra. The group’s music was the perfect
soundtrack of this grandiose world that I was searching for.
They were a faceless band, but the art and music was out of
this world, literally. Take a look at the spaceship of the cover of
Out Of The Blue and one of its singles, the iconic Mr. Blue Sky!!
I doubt you could find yourself on a bigger and dizzier sugar
rush than all of that. It also helped that the group was by now
turning into a rock/pop version of Earth Wind & Fire! I certainly
wasn’t complaining about that either!
It was through the group’s 1979 fan club newsletter where I first read about Xanadu. The seed was planted and just in time too, as the publicity behind the movie was soon growing and the ‘X’ word was popping up more often and in more places.
I started to fantasize about seeing the band performing the show tunes on a big-ass movie screen. Nevermind that Olivia Newton-Elton-John chick! Bring on the band, I say!! Of course, this was not to be. In hind sight, I guess seeing Olivia on that same “big-ass screen” was a LOT more pleasurable than watching a group of old English rock musicians, some of which had afros and shaggy beards, lip-syncing.
As Xanadu’s opening weekend approached, I started to pick up on anything that wasn’t nailed down related to the film, like newspaper clippings, ads from recording industry publications (Billboard, Record World, etc.,), terrorizing local record stores for their XANADU displays and generally keeping all ears and eyes out for other chunks of information. All that other-world art deco/fantasy look all these pictures and ads heavily suggested was doing its job on me.
Around a month before that opening day, I heard the ELO single, ‘I’m Alive’ on Rick Dees’ old KHJ-AM morning show. THAT kicked me into overdrive! On the very next day, I went to the nearest record store (Westchester Music, R.I.P.) and bought the single. Just for the hell of it, I also picked up the other single, Olivia’s ‘Magic’, just to round out the collection though I didn’t give the later single much thought at the moment.
I immediately went home and played the hell out of that sucker! Both sides! Possibly to breakout of this rut, I put on the ‘Magic’ single. Priorities kinda shifted soon after the needle touched the vinyl. Being a hard-core artistic geek, the lyrics of promise (“Building Your Dreams/Has To Start Now/There’s No Other Road To Take/I’ll Be Guiding You”) and the woman (actually, the character she was portraying) who was singing it really hit hard on me. Nevermind the Orchestra! Here comes the Babe…I mean, the Muse!
Kira may not have been deep and a bit stiff like the rest of the film but I fell for the whole thing anyway. Since a LOT of the advertising used Olivia’s face and voice, this effect was primed for suckers like me. According to what the film stood for, anything can happen at anytime if you put enough effort into it…..providing if you get a nice cute knowing girl to motivate you.
Then came the opening weekend and my first Xanadu screening…and to be honest, there isn’t much to remember during that
moment as my mind was in a delightful daze/haze. I do know that I finally found MY movie; not only did it have cool music, but had that basic other worldliness utopian vibe that I was picking up from these Space Age/Tiki places. Plus, seeing Olivia looking literally like a goddess and seeing parts of my own backyard of Santa Monica and Venice Beach were the added layers that sealed my fate with this cinematic love letter.
I was so dizzy with this discovery, I ended up watching it two more times that day…without paying; mind you, this was pre 9/11 days before they had cattle prods between showings. In total, I saw this film 13 times during its first and only run.
From this point on, well, it seems quite obvious.
The following years of collecting, researching, writing and generally obsessing over this movie made it all clearer the reasons
behind my deep attachment with this party. For me, Xanadu mostly represented the last of the Post WW2 pop culture era, or as someone more opinionated and fictional (Dick Vaughn) described it as ‘the last American Dream era’.
There was an aura of relief, joy and optimism when WW2 was over and this utopian feeling spread thick well into our culture for the next 35 years. Where else would we get such bearing fruits like Worlds Fairs, Beatles, Burt Bacharach, James Bond, Space-Age anything, mini-skirts, bell bottoms, Drive-In’s, all of which lead to this movie.
However, by the time Xanadu showed up on the scene, this era was dying out along with it’s last-ditch effort…’Disco’. And so, this ‘disco without the disco’ film went down with it all and was felt for dead by impatient tastemakers and people who were generally embarrassed by the decade of the 70’s that this film was mis-represented.
In the face of this sad ending, the few brave fans refused to even
acknowledge the film’s supposed funeral and, in the mid-90’s, two of
them met each other through the rambunctious hobby known as ‘tape
trading’ through snail mail (that’s right kiddoes! There was a time when
you could freely exchange music and videos without being sued by the
RIAA for “copyright infringement”).
Soon after the trading started, these two fellas (Otis Fodder and I, if you
haven’t noticed by now) began to find things in common, outside of the
mountain of cool & strange stuff we were already throwing at each other.
Two of which was ELO and Xanadu!
From there, they (we) butted heads and thought up ways of honoring this
scruffy lovable little movie. One idea that was reasonably plausible was
taking out a corner of the internet and declaring their (our) collective
righteous support behind it.
Thanks to my collection and Otis’ web know-how, Xanadu Preservation
Society was forged in 1998 onto the backs of unsuspecting fools and into
the fore heads of pop culture junkies everywhere. Soon, other fans were
crawling into our radar offering more ammo for the site to blow the minds
of what the Church of the Sub-Genius called “the normals”.
Xanadu has many supporters and they have their own reasons to continue to go back to the film. Whatever the slings and arrows come its way, Xanadu will stubbornly continue to endure through it all with its basic
message of hope, mercy and its own particular brand of “fun”, whatever that word means to you.
Or to put it so “simply”, “Why Not?’
“Why Not”, in deed.
Party hardy, y’all and watch out for the flying beads,
P. S.: For more personal and better written Xanadu tributes, we recommend that you check Marc Edward Heuck’s eloquent blog posting and Heather Hoban’s own scribe at her site.
P. P. S.: parts of this piece were taken from my 2017 zine Space Age Ash Tray.
P. P. P. S.: I must give a huge thanks to Otis Fodder for putting up with my Xanadu obsession through the years and many address changes. Buy his records! Another round of thanks should go to ELO’s masterpiece, ‘Time’, and Donald Fagen’s solo masterpiece ‘The Nightfly’! Buy them, too!!