Ululating to Air Supply


Arts & Culture

Greatest+Hits+Air_Supply_Greatest_HitsShe of the Karaoke Tribe, from the Archipelago of the Interminable Love Song, where Karen Carpenter never goes out of style, has not asked me to prove my love, but when she says she wants to go with her Filipina émigré friends to Diamond Jo Casino in Dubuque, Iowa, to see Air Supply Live! in concert, I seize this as an opportunity, after twelve years of marriage, akin to a renewal of vows, and as close to sacrificing my life for her as I’m going to get. It’s a card I will hold in reserve. “Yes, I cheated on you with your best friend, but don’t forget, I went to see Air Supply Live! with you at Diamond Jo Casino in Dubuque.” 

Hard work, marriage. 

You remember Air Supply and what they sang. Of course you do. That song. And the one that sounded just like it, and that other one, too. Yeah. Those. 

If I seem as enthusiastic about the concert as a zombie at a baby shower, then that’s twice as enthusiastic as I mean to seem. I embarrass easily. I’m overly self-conscious, and when someone does something really stupid around me, such as wearing a fake deer head to get attention, as I saw recently on a commuter flight, I feel that it’s me wearing that deer head. The same holds true at an Air Supply concert. I feel as though it’s me belting out stale lyrics along with the audience. 

But it’s not me. It’s Margie. She is a loyal soul who loves without apology or embarrassment. I did not grow up listening to Air Supply, and so I don’t see what she sees performing on stage. I see a man, bedecked with a rhombus of white hair and a tag-sale Sgt. Pepper jacket, and his taller partner, Russell, likewise white haired, with a microphone wrapped from ear to mouth, almost retro, it’s so conspicuous. The room, including the stage and bar, is only about half the size of an Olympic swimming pool. Does Russell need a microphone at all? 

“It’s great to be back in your lovely state,” Russell tells the crowd of a hundred and fifty at most. Margie and I sit in folding chairs near the front of the stage. “Everyone says that, don’t they?”

And it’s true that it feels like a line, but he has to say it, I guess. It’s part of the package, though he conspicuously left off the name of the state it’s so great to be back in. Is he thinking, Idaho? No, Ohio? I had it a second ago!

Guitar strung around his neck, he tries to make a connection with the chattering crowd. “Do you ever feel you need to go someplace alone?” he asks. “I need that. In my house, I have places that no one knows about … not even me. A sanctuary.” He laughs and turns to the band of four young men behind him, who seem awake enough to give him courtesy laughs in return.

I do like his sense of irony. He has my respect for that. Maybe he couldn’t care less about this quadrillionth gig of his, but he has to pretend he cares, while dropping hints that he’s not going to take himself too seriously anymore. 

The other one, Graham, keeps signaling for more applause, talks about this being the kickoff of the world tour. “Can you rock it for me?” he asks. The people beside Margie can’t rock it for him or anyone: double-wide Iowans, nodding slightly as though sitting on the tarmac waiting for their plane to be de-iced, and Margie asks to change places with me.

Graham has noticed three empty seats in the front row. Empty seats bother him and he wants them filled immediately. Did they leave? Were they never filled? Margie’s Filipina friends, closer to the stage than she, dash to fill them. 

“I don’t believe we fall in love,” Russell says, as smoke billows. “I believe love falls into us. Write that down, guys.” 

“Is he Shakespeare?” someone near me asks. The audience is not full of dewy teens. They’ve been through it all, and so they joke about how incredibly large that woman is—the one who’s Every Woman in the World. They want to drink a beer, maybe play the slots. It’s an alliance between half the audience and Big Russell, the ironist. The other half of the audience, which includes Margie and her Filipina friends, are in alliance with Graham. They believe that love has fallen into them, that love will lift them up on stage. 

Graham and Russell cycle through their hits, which, now that they’re singing them, are familiar even to me. “You Are My Lady,” “Lost in Love,” and then Russell sings a new composition called “Everywhere,” the basic idea of which seems to be that someone (you) is everywhere. Everywhere the singer goes. Everywhere the singer imagines. In his heart and most likely in his soul, although his soul isn’t explicitly mentioned in the lyrics.

He confides in the way that someone confides in a bunch of people one doesn’t know that he likes to sit on the porch and look at the mountains. Wait for something to happen. If something doesn’t happen he drinks a bottle of wine. Then something happens.

Next song, he drops into the audience like a paratrooper with a shattered knee. “He’s everywhere,” a wag behind me says. But he’s singing one of his big hits. I know he is, though I have no idea what it’s called. It’s that big one. That big hit. Like the other ones. Not like “Everywhere,” which has as much of a chance of becoming a hit now as “The Farmer in the Dell.” But for him, his career marches on. There’s nothing stopping him, not even advancing age. I ask Margie the name of the song. She’s waving to him. She’s been waving to him the entire concert. “You’re Every Woman in the World to Me,” she rattles off.

“Again?” I ask. 

“No,” she says, acknowledging her mistake, but also acknowledging that I’m a pest by waving her hand at me, not in the same way she waves it at big Russell. 

It’s “Here I Am!” which sounds kind of like Every Other Song in the World to Me.

 Oh my! Graham is wading into the audience, too, and has kissed a woman full on the lips. Get out the nitro tablets. He leads the audience in an acapella version of “Here I Am.” The concert is going karaoke. Someone ululates. Do people ululate at Air Supply concerts? The lighters come out, both real and virtual. 

In the afterglow of the concert, Margie shyly asks if I’d mind waiting while she stands in line for an Air Supply T-shirt. The shirt costs forty-five dollars. But, on the bright side, you get a CD of their new music, which presumably includes “Everywhere” and “Everything,” and maybe even “Everybody” and “You Are My Lost in Love Lady/Woman and Here I Am to Me.” 

“Sure,” I say, “Go ahead. I’ll play the slots.” And I say it without any sense of irony or cynicism. I mean, she is my lady. While she’s standing in line for the ephemera so meaningful to her, to have it signed, to look into their eyes and see a connection, I put five dollars in one of the penny slots in the casino twice the size of the performance area, and I start to hum “All Out of Love” because there’s a part of my brain that, despite all the other parts, is sentimental and earnest and believes that all you have to do is believe. It’s not love that falls into me, but money from this slot machine. Within minutes, I’ve won nearly three hundred dollars, more than enough to repay myself for the tickets, for dinner, for the gas, for her exorbitant T-shirt. When Margie comes by to collect me, I belt out a bar of one of Air Supply’s famous songs, hoping she believes it’s true. 

Robin Hemley is an award-winning author of ten books of nonfiction and fiction, and is widely published around the world. He is a senior editor of The Iowa Review as well as the editor of the online journal Defunct, which features short essays on everything that’s had its day.