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Air Head

To boldy go... where no man ever really wants to unless he's trying to get out of trouble or into your pants. That's where Air Supply leaders Graham Russell and Russell Hitchcock have staked out their creative territory for nearly 30 years. Call them anything you want -- softies, saccharine saps, insincere. You can even compare 'em to Barry Manilow (a comparison that, for reasons not quite clear, Graham Russell once called "absurd" -- maybe this is fodder for Celebrity Death Match?)

But they certainly do get the last laugh. For starters, they've raked in more cash than most of us macho men will ever see in our lifetimes (and that includes bank tellers). Second, and most painfully obvious, they have a knack for tapping into a part of feminine consciousness that apparently continues to induce hysterical screaming. Most of us will never know what it's like to walk on-stage to the shrill, deafening roar of a predominantly female audience losing its collective shit at the very sight of us.

So let's give credit where it's due. These guys may or may not have behaved like Captain Kirk in the, ahem, "boldly going" department, but the fact is, they gave themselves the opportunity. Also important -- and this is no small feat -- their tunes are catchy. For all their grandiloquence and lush orchestration, you can't get 'em out of your head after you hear 'em. And, though members of the American Hipster Gestapo laugh themselves into seizures at the mention of Air Supply before dismissing the band as "irrelevant," let's not forget that they continue to enjoy immense success overseas, particularly in Asian markets like Singapore, Hong Kong, mainland China, Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, and India.

It's a well-documented fact that Hitchcock met Russell (yes, the Russell-as-a-first-and-last-name thing does get confusing) in 1975 during a Sydney production of Jesus Christ Superstar in which they were both cast as apostles. "The first day of rehearsals," Hitchcock remembers, "the 12 apostles were paired in these giant plastic tubes. We were both put in the same tube." At the time, Hitchcock says, Russell, who is British, was living in Australia "supporting himself as a songwriter, playing in coffee shops, universities, and clubs. That kind of thing."

It would seem their partnership was preordained. "We both, coincidentally, sat together in the dressing room," Hitchcock says. "Our chairs were assigned next to each other. Just a whole bunch of stuff threw us together." And, according to Hitchcock, their creative rapport fell together with ease. "We started singing together about two weeks after we'd met in the production of the show," he says. "It was basically an acoustic version of what came to be the Air Supply sound."

Ahhh yes, the Air Supply sound. In 1996, Mike Ross of the Edmonton Sun called it "uncompromising," which isn't necessarily the first word that comes to mind with songs like "All Out of Love," "Lost in Love," "Making Love Out of Nothing at All," "The Power of Love," "The One That You Love," "Don't Throw Our Love Away," "So Much Love," "Keeping the Love Alive," and "I Remember Love." But relentless sentimentality is, if nothing else, uncompromising.

Hitchcock quotes Paul McCartney when searching for an explanation of the Air Supply sound: "To get kind of cliché," he says, "'The world has had enough of silly love songs.' The world never does. It never tires of a great ballad or a great, sentimental love song, no matter what the musical climate is."

Coming from the rough-and-tumble climate of Australia, Air Supply has had some stiff competition but has played it smooth. "Being as naive as we were was the best thing that we could have done," Hitchcock says. "The kind of bands that were playing were the likes of AC/DC, Midnight Oil, Cold Chisel. The kind of places we could play were limited because we didn't want to go out every night and play in a pub, four or five sets a night, for people that had been drinking heavily. It wasn't an ideal situation for our music. We've always considered ourselves [more suited to] a concert audience."

How priceless would it be to see footage of a drunken Bon Scott or Malcolm Young at an Air Supply gig? Well, there's always the next best thing: Russell once claimed that there are bikers in Air Supply's audience. Obviously, Russell and Hitchcock are tapping into something that transcends creed, color, and good taste.

"We've maintained the essence of Air Supply," Hitchcock argues, "[but] a lot of the songs were very personal."

Hitchcock insists that he and Russell don't argue or compete for fan booty. "I don't remember us ever having a cross word," he says.

Going to an Air Supply show, you're certainly not going to be denied the hits. The website declares, "The Hallandale show will feature newer, yet-to-be-released material from a project in celebration of their thirtieth anniversary."

"We've never been ones to want to live in the past," Hitchcock says, sounding somewhat defensive. "We've played material off every CD we've ever released. We don't ever want to be considered retro or nostalgic or any of those horrible terms."

So what's with not wanting to be compared to, say, Barry Manilow?

"We're different," Hitchcock says, bristling. "I don't think you can listen to an Air Supply song and a Barry Manilow song and go, 'Yeah, they're similar.' We both have very individual styles, certainly as songwriters and as performers. I guess the great comparison is that he's a superstar, so I'll take that comparison."

Perhaps it's also because he's seen as campy?

"Well, he certainly plays love songs, and he may be campy. We play love songs, but we're certainly not campy."

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Saby Reyes-Kulkarni