It’s one thing to be a little nervous before a big interview. It’s happened to me before, it’ll happen to me again. But what coursed through my veins on Friday afternoon before I interviewed Graham Russell of Air Supply transcended mere nerves. It was a heady blend of excitement, giddiness, a pinch of disbelief, topped off with a big splash of fangirl juice that’s been fermenting for 30 years.
From the moment I heard “Lost in Love” on the bright orange 8-track tape in the stereo back in 1980, I was an Air Supply fan. I’m not even sure “fan” is the right word, actually, because I lived and breathed this band. Every concert I could make it to, every album, every t-shirt, every poster I could get, I got. I knew every song, from the first note. I knew their middle names, I knew their hometowns, I knew their tour schedule. I fell asleep to their albums on my turntable. I had hot air balloon pictures and stickers plastered everywhere. I had “AIR SUPPLY” written on my denim notebook because it was important, you see, for all the other girls at my school to know it was okay if they also loved Air Supply, just as long as everyone understood that they were my band. I hope you’re getting the idea here. If a hairshirt had been a requirement, I’d have bought six.
I loved all the boys in the band, of course, and I really loved the lead singers, Russell Hitchcock and Graham Russell, but I always had a particular weakness for Graham. Maybe it was the English accent. Maybe it was his distinctive voice, a strong tenor with a soft side, like he’s singing through a gossamer cloud. Maybe it was the guitar. Whatever it was, Graham held my heart. I remember asking my mother, basically all the time, to be sure and get graham crackers and Golden Grahams cereal so I could cut out the word “Graham” on every package for my scrapbook.
Air Supply provided the soundtrack of my teenage years. For every first date, every school dance, every broken heart… they were there. Their music was comforting, familiar, always a port in my adolescent storms. Even as I grew up and started to make my way in the adult world, they came with me. I bought every new album they put out, on cassettes for my Walkman, then on CD, now they’re on my iPod. They have always just been there with me, a part of my life, a part of my whole identity.
So when I saw the marquis outside my local performing arts center announcing their concert here on November 8, I first was disappointed. Money is just too tight right now for luxuries like concert tickets (even though, you do realize, an Air Supply concert is not so much a luxury as a necessity, ranking just slightly more important than water). But after about three seconds’ worth of self-pity, I said, right out loud, “Oh, screw that. I’m Christy Potter, and this is Air Supply we’re talking about.” And I got on the horn with the theater’s press office and asked for an interview. It took some wheedling, but I got it. Then I found out my interview was going to be with Graham, and I couldn’t feel my legs for a second. By the time Friday rolled around, 80′s Fangirl Christy and Journalist Christy were waging an epic battle in my head.
80′s Fangirl Christy: “Like, ohmigod, I’m totally going to call Graham Russell, like, Graham Russell of Air Supply, like, on the phone, like ohmigod!”
Journalist Christy: “It’s an interview, you nitwit. You’re a writer. You do interviews all the time. Grow up already.”
80′s Fangirl Christy: “Ohmigod, like, shut up. You’re, like, old and stuff. Gag me with a spoon.”
This went on right up until I dialed the phone and Graham answered. I wasn’t sure what to expect – except possibly a coronary on my end of the phone – but he was warm, friendly, engaging, and incredibly sweet. He also found it amusing that I was so jittery.
“There’s no need to be nervous,” he said, sounding all English and Graham-like and sending 80′s Fangirl Christy into a paroxysm of shrieks on the floor of my brain.
We talked. And we talked. And we talked some more. It was less an interview and more a conversation. I’m writing an “official” article about it for the paper, so I won’t give away all the details here, but this is where I can tell you the things I can’t say in the paper. This is where I can tell you how it felt to spend that time on the phone, one-on-one, with someone whose music, whose art, has always found a way to touch me.
I was so comfortable with him that I took him into my confidence and, after making him promise not to tell Russell because he might get terribly jealous and of course we can’t have that, told him I’d had the biggest crush of all on him. He laughed and seemed flattered, but naturally I wanted to make sure he knew I meant it. Really, really meant it. And so, I kid you not, I told him about all the “Grahams” I cut off cereal boxes and packages of crackers and put into my scrapbook and all around the Air Supply posters on my wall.
“Oh my,” he said, no doubt wondering at this point if I might be dangerous. “You did have it bad.”
Journalist Christy: “There, are you satisfied? I told him about your stupid cracker thing.”
80′s Fangirl Christy: “Ohmigod ohmigod ohmigod ohmigod!”
We talked about Air Supply as a band, one whose undeniable success shaped, even defined, the soft rock sound of the 80′s. I told him about all the concerts I spent squished against the bottom of the stage, hands in the air, screaming and crying in a tornado of emotions and hormones that could only be fully understood by my fellow tornadoes, screaming and crying next to me. I couldn’t believe I was telling him all this. What’s more, I couldn’t believe he got it.
“I like hearing that,” he said. “Our music has become the soundscape to people’s lives, and of course it is to ours as well. It’s so genuine, what we see in our fans. Every night we get to see them laugh and cry. We see them light up when we start certain songs. We hope to never forget our beginnings. The fans bring you to where you are. It’s all about them.”
We talked about his enduring friendship with Russell, with whom he said he’s “never had an argument.” We talked about how they stay relevant in today’s music world, to which he responded “If we want to try something new, we just do it. At this point in our careers, we can take chances. I mean, we’re still Air Supply. If people don’t like it, then they don’t like it and we’ll try something else. But they’ve embraced it.” Something new, incidentally, includes a dance track that’s coming out later this month. They’ve brought it out at some recent shows and, he said, the audiences love it. “How about that?” he mused. “I wasn’t sure they were going to, but they’re really flipping out over it.”
80′s Fangirl Christy: “A dance track! OHMIGOD! Am I, like, going to have to learn to twerk now?”
Journalist Christy: “Go to your room.”
He told me about the new album they have coming out for their 40th anniversary, and about three new musicals they’ve got gearing up to take the stage: one in Michigan, one in Australia, and one in Korea.
“It’s like we’re entering a new phase of our careers,” he said with his easy laugh. “We’re incredibly grateful to still be able to do this. You can’t mistake passion, and our fans know it’s real. We love what we do.”
By this point, I knew I’d kept him as long as I’d dared, so I thanked him for his time, and for the amazing interview. Then I hesitated. It didn’t seem like enough. What do you say, in a moment like that, to someone who has been such a huge part of your life, for so long? How do you thank him for all the swooning excitement, for the untouched innocence in every moment he was there for? How do you thank him for a memory full of music? The right words wouldn’t come. Instead, I asked him if he’d do me a favor.
“What’s that?” he asked.
I quietly sang the first few words of my favorite lyric from “All Out of Love.” I could hear his smile as he started to sing.
“I wish I could carry your smile in my heart, for times when my life seems so low…”
There was a moment’s pause.
“Thank you,” I said. “You just brought my entire adolescence back to me.”
“I’m glad, my dear,” he answered.
When we hung up, I couldn’t have stopped my whirling emotions with both hands. I started to cry. Then I got up, put “All Out of Love” on the stereo, and put my arms around 80′s Fangirl Christy. And we danced.