When the Air Supply duo of Russell Hitchcock and Graham Russell met on May 12, 1975, during the first day of rehearsals in Sydney for Jesus Christ Superstar, I was not yet nine years old (born May 28, 1966) and living two hours drive away in Cooranbong, the home of the Seventh-Day Adventist Avondale College, where my father Desmond Ford was the chairman of the Religion Department.
My home was not a happy place. After my mother was diagnosed with cancer on my first birthday (she died April 24, 1970), my family cracked up.
Though my dad remarried nine months after her death, and I got a devoted stepmother, the family was not the same. What remained was my father's dedication to saving souls for Christ. Aside from that mission, this world was ultimately worthless.
My parents did their best by me. They gave me far more than they had growing up. They loved me and they disciplined me and they gave me guidance about how to lead a good life. They connected me with God and with a religious community. I have no complaints. The things they forbade in the home and that I later came to enjoy, well, my enjoyment was all the sweeter for having once been denied.
Popular music was not allowed in our home. It was regarded as a sin, along with the consumption of caffeine, nicotine, and sex before marriage.
My parents, along with most of the Christian world, regarded Jesus Christ Superstar as sacrilegious.
While Russell Hitchcock and Graham Russell toured Australia and New Zealand with this musical, they started singing Beatles (a Satanic group according to my dad) hits together as well as a couple of Graham's songs.
In late 1976, Air Supply opened for Rod Stewart around Australia.
In May 1977, my parents and I moved to name Pacific name Union type College in the name Napa type Valley. Lost and lonely, I immersed myself in books of history. Music was a minor part of my life. My parents like certain hymns (many composed by Martin Luther, John Newton and Paul Wesley) and my father adored the 19th Century German classical music composer Wagner.
On July 4, 1977, Air Supply boarded their first 747 and flew to Los Angeles. They toured with Rod Stewart around North America for six months.
Back in Australia, Graham wrote future hits Chances, Lost in Love and All out of Love.
On Sabbath afternoon, October 28, 1978 (Yom Kippur),
my father denounced our Church's central doctrine of divine chosenness before 1000 of his co-religionists. Soon after,
he was called to account for his heresy at SDA headquarters in
Just before my parents left, a classmate I envied for his popularity, Andy Muth, was pushed by his mother to invite me to his home for Sabbath lunch.
It was the first time in America that I'd been invited (without my parents) to a friend's home for Sabbath lunch.
The meal was life-changing. For a few hours, I sat with a family who loved each other.
My own home was cold. Literally. Dad believed in the virtues of fresh air, even in winter. He'd wrap up in blankets and left the windows open and encouraged us to follow his example. If I'd shut the windows, he'd later come around and open them. In such a battle, the one who opens windows will always win.
Today I love a warm home. I keep things in my apartment a few degrees warmer than most people like. It's my over-reaction to my childhood.
I hated being cold. I constantly dreamed I'd be adopted by a loving family, yet, whenever I thought through the specifics, I always concluded that the benefits of my home outweighed the disadvantages. I loved having a dad who was a big shot and who was accomplishing great things in the world and knew great people and knew how to unlock books and explain important matters to thousands of people.
My father lived by the dicta that great people discuss ideas, not people. Our table talk was about philosophy, history and my father's theological battles. Ordinary matters, such as girls, were forbidden (not explicitly, just by my father's stern example, which my stepmother generally fell in with).
The one time (in seventh grade) a girl called for me and my mother answered the phone, I got into trouble.
What chilled my soul was not so much my mother drilling me about the girl and forbidding such future telephone conversations, but the whole steel wall my parents (not from malicious motives, they did their best by me) erected between me and the joys of being human. It was impossible for me to enjoy being 13 while I was Dr. Ford's son and living in his shadow.
My dad was far tougher on my older siblings (I didn't make waves around the house) than on me. I got the kinder gentler Dr. Ford. When my brother was 13, my dad marched to the door of his girlfriend's parents and broke up the relationship.
By age 15, my brother and sister had left home.
My father was restrained around women. He thought that many of them were overly emotional and insufficiently rational. Resolutely moral, dad hated it when women tried to hug him.
As I grew up, I found myself mirroring dad's behavior, shrugging off the female touch even though it was what I wanted most.
Dad and I had a similar sense of humor. We both got a kick out of the remark by Martin Luther that "women were born with big hips so that they can stay at home and sit on them."
From age eight onwards, I was fascinated by girls and sex. Due to the standards of my home, it was not something I wanted to talk about there, but leave me alone in the wider world and it was my favorite topic of conversation.
When the first girls became interested in me in fifth grade, I punched and kicked them, spat upon them, and left thumbtacks on their chairs for them to sit upon. I didn't know how else to respond to what I wanted.
Now on this Sabbath afternoon with the Muths, I sat with a family who could banter about all my secret fascinations -- chiefly, the cute girls in my class such as Denise Bernard.
When my parents moved to
Though the Muths had the same religious code as my parents, there was humanity in the way they implemented it. For the next five years, there home was an oasis of normality for me. I was never happier than when I lived with them.
One Sabbath they even had Denise over for lunch.
Andy introduced me, not only to beautiful girls, but to the typical concerns of 13-year olds, such as computer games and pop music.
I began listening to KNBR radio.
In early 1980, Air Supply's title cut Lost in Love went to number three on the American charts. I immediately latched on to the group because their music spoke to my lonely heart. I loved their first hit because it spoke to the way we can inspire each other: "But I'm back on my feet and eager to be what you wanted."
All Out Of Love was their second hit:
As a kid who moved a lot, and tended to romanticize what I'd left behind, this song spoke to me.
Then came Every Woman in the World:
Love can transform your life. Not just love of a woman, but love of friends, text, and experiences. I felt that if I could tap into the power of love, and combine it with a disciplined commitment, I could transform my life.
The One That You Love was the title cut from Air Supply's second album. It became a number one hit.
Now the night has gone away
As one who had never spent the night with a girl, that description sounded thrilling.
Here I Am (Just When I Thought I Was Over You) was another hit.
Here I am playing with those memories again
I admired the emotional courage of the lyrics. I wished that I could say such words to Denise and that they would be reciprocated.
I longed for the opportunity to feel such pain.
Come What May didn't get the recognition it deserved in North America. But those Japs and hot-blooded South Americans sure know good music:
Two Less Lonely People In The World was the wedding anthem of the 1980s says Graham Russell:
Take my thoughts away beyond the things we see
I want to do great things for the girl I love.
During the day, freed from my parents, I mixed normally with people. I developed friends and community. I touched girls.
Back in the beginning of sixth grade, the most beautiful girl in the class, Cindy, dropped a note on my desk asking me if I wanted to "go" with her. With an opportunity to seize love, I froze, felt unworthy, and never answered her directly. Instead, I teased her unmercifully for months. When I finally dropped a note on her desk and asked her to "go" with me, she responded with an enthusiastic "No!"
Now I learned from my classmates' example how to express what I felt in more socially appropriate ways. Instead of dunking girls in the college pool and twisting their nipples, I began holding them in ways they wanted to be held. At times, I even got to touch the most beautiful girls.
In the main, however, I found myself longing for a girl, Denise, who did not feel the same way about me. For months on end, I called her every day until the gossip went around the class about what I was doing and how annoying she found it, and, humiliated, I got the message and quit.
But I couldn't quit loving her.
She was the first girl I asked out on a date. Several times she turned me down in the summer of 1981 (between ninth and tenth grade) because she had to go to horse shows. Finally she said yes when I asked her to a San Francisco Giants. It was the first night of pro baseball after a 50-day players strike.
I was so nervous that I wore mismatched socks and spent most of the night making bets with Andy. Denise and I never went out again.
I hear she's now married and living in Los Angeles.
Later in the summer, I fell in love for the first time with a girl who reciprocated my feelings -- Rainy Jackson. She was a year younger than me. She had chubby cheeks. We liked the same music. It took me a year to work up the courage to kiss her. Meanwhile, when I left the Muths to return home for school, we exchanged long and longing letters (far longer and more longing on my part until the time I got so jealous, I stopped writing to her for several months. Nothing is more effective with girls than cutting off all attention.)
The most haunting Air Supply song is Chances. Whenever I heard it, I thought about Rainy:
There's a chance you will be there
Since childhood, I've found it hard to approach someone I'm attracted to (when I'm feeling unworthy, which is often). I find it easier to sit in the corner and sulk. I find it easier to avoid painful truths and to live instead in delusion.
I find it hard to tell a girl that I care because not only does that make me incredibly vulnerable, but it gives her all the power and it removes me from all mystery. It's a really lousy strategy (unless you're sure the feelings are mutual, or you need to get clarity on the matter so you can fish or cut bait).
Air Supply articulated my helpless longings and soothed the pain of my awkward adolescence. My favorite songs included Chances, The One That You Love, Here I Am, Sweet Dreams, Even The Nights Are Better, and Two Less Lonely People In The World.
Andy not only introduced me to junk culture, but also junk food. We'd clamber into the bins outside our local supermarket and dig up the pastries and cookies that were a day or two past their expiration date.
I was also introduced to the trash can outside the post office where one could find catalogues of pornography. I wouldn't look at it (for religious reasons), but I got a thrill from hanging out with those who would. I'd ask them to describe to me what they saw.
Who's gonna tell you when
I listened to that song while driving home Rachel, a 16-year old I fell in love with during my year back in Australia (1984-85). Because of a miscommunication (her mother thought the host of a party I wanted to take Rachel to was someone else, and forbade her going), I never got to date Rachel. All I got was the privilege of driving her home one night (and a week later, taking out her twin sister Leeanne all night).
I never saw them again. In the early '90s, Rachel died in a car accident.
By the time I lost my virginity at age 22, I'd moved from pop to classical music (though I was willing to play REO Speedwagon to get my girlfriend in the mood).
Since then, I've limited the amount of discretionary time and money I'll spend on pop culture and concentrated on things more in accord with lasting values.
In 1999, 2000, and 2001, I took long drives from Los Angeles to my childhood haunts. When I stepped alone on to those familiar paths (all my friends have married and moved on), I realized how little I've changed. Yes, I've learned to control my behavior better, but the same forces that drove me as a kid to seek a sanctuary in Air Supply still drive me today. And when my fears and hopes hit peak intensity, and I'm as lost in love as I was at 13, nothing speaks to me like Air Supply.
It's when I no longer feel that shock and awe that I will worry. As long as I have passion, I can still make my dreams come true. And one day soon, I pray, I will be one of two less lonely people in the world.