You'd think that people would have had enough of silly love songs

But they haven't. Which is good news for eighties soft-rock band Air Supply - beloved even by local 'arsim' and heading to Ra'anana.

Air Supply 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Air Supply 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It's an "only in Israel" moment. A souped-up greaser-mobile full of teen male "arsim" cruises down a Jerusalem side street: windows open, cigarette smoke billowing and stereo speakers visibly pulsating. As the car gets closer to the pedestrian walking on the sidewalk, the cacophonous blend of engine roar and bass thumping separates, enabling the strain of a song to be distinguished from the din. Is it Snoop Doggy Dogg? Or maybe the heavy metal stylings of Godsmack? Nope, these "toughs" are singing along in earnest to "Making Love Out of Nothing At All," one of a long line of syrupy hits performed by '80s soft-rock group Air Supply. Those testosterone-filled Israeli teens on the prowl probably never heard of Graham Russell and Russell Hitchcock, but there are apparently devoted enough fans of Air Supply's founders and frontmen that Russell and Hitchcock are forced to register in hotels under assumed names while they're on tour. For all the parodies of their sound and image (Will Ferrell's Saturday Night Live spoof comes to mind), and for all the jokes about the '80s which use them as punch lines, Russell and Hitchcock are clearly having the last laugh, not only thriving commercially with sold-out shows around the world, but finally being recognized in a historical sense for the pop craftsmen they are. Air Supply is downright respectable. Look no further than Brad Pitt, who, ironically or not, broke out into "Making Love out of Nothing At All" for future mate Angelina Jolie in the middle of 2005's Mr. and Mrs. Smith, or American Idol winner Carrie Underwood who performed the same song on the fourth season of the show. "It's a great achievement for us. We don't push for it, but our songs get all over the place," the 58-year-old Russell told The Jerusalem Post from Singapore, where the band is in the midst of a seven-week tour which brings them to the Ra'anana amphitheater on July 5. "We're in big blockbuster movies all the time, it just happens. I didn't know Brad Pitt was going to start singing 'Making Love Out of Nothing At All' in Mr. and Mrs. Smith. I was in the movie theater and went 'whoa!' I also had no idea our song 'All Out of Love' was used in the Debra Messing [2006] movie Wedding Date. There's even a scene where she opens a closet and there's a poster of us from 1982. It's kind of strange, having this iconic status." That status, however, was earned in a long-fought battle. With their heavily orchestrated, impassioned ballads, the Australian-based group struck it big in the early 1980s with one romantic hit after another, written by guitarist Russell and sung by Hitchcock. While audiences loved it, critics derided the saccharine sweet sentiments and the squeaky-clean image of the band, which stood in opposition to stand-offish new wave and heavy metal hair bands that dominated the charts at the time. But Russell said the lack of acceptance into the "cool kids" club didn't bother him and Hitchock. "We knew we weren't The Rolling Stones or AC/DC. We just did our thing," he said. "By the same token, though, our show was - and still is - pretty full-on. Audiences are quite surprised, saying afterwards 'We thought it was going to be Peter, Paul and Mary.' But it rocks, it's loud and passionate, and very energized. We're moving all over the stage. If we didn't have a great live show, we wouldn't be doing this. We have some kind of chemistry that's been there for a long time." RUSSELL AND Hitchcock's chemistry was initially diagrammed in 1975, when they met while performing in the Australian production of the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice musical Jesus Christ Superstar. Discovering they were kindred spirits, they decided to form a band, and within a year, they had scored an Australian gold album with their debut. But the lucky break that helped them explode beyond their native country came thanks to an unlikely source - Rod Stewart. "We were 'the' popular band for the moment there. Rod was touring Australia, and usually the most happening local band got the opening slot, which was us. We were blown away by the opportunity - Rod was the biggest thing in the world," Russell recalled. "After the first show, he came backstage - we hadn't met him yet - and it was like seeing God. He said, 'you guys were great. I want you to open for me when I tour America next year.' So that's how we got to the US and played all these great places for six months with him. We learned so much from him." Since then, over 20 Air Supply albums have been released, along with such "love"-based hits as "All Out of Love," "The One That You Love," "Sweet Dreams" and, of course, the Jim Steinman-penned epic "Making Love Out of Nothing At All." Russell and Hitchcock have remained the constants in the band, as the core backing musicians have changed regularly over the years. According to Russell, he and Hitchcock provide a perfect complement for each other. "We certainly have a brotherhood. I don't think we've ever had an argument in our entire 32-year career," he said. "We let each other do whatever he does best. He's the singer and I write the songs. He usually leaves the creative stuff to me, including the show design and the pacing, and he does his own thing in performing. His voice still sounds so amazing, that's what he does so well." Air Supply's success has enabled Russell to branch out in other endeavors, including penning a children's musical - Petalbump - which is having its world debut in October in Salt Lake City, Utah. Utilizing a 30-member children's cast, a light show, a full orchestra and a children's dance company, Petalbump features Russell's music, some of which he cowrote with longtime Air Supply keyboardist Jed Moss, who is also a concert pianist with the Utah Symphony and Ballet West. "It's a children's musical, but it has some profound messages," said Russell. "I love theater and I'm always writing shows. I wrote a rock opera about 15 years ago, but it didn't go anywhere. I just love writing pieces with stories, creating things around themes. Even when I'm working on Air Supply songs, I need to come up with an overall story, and the songs come easy." And ultimately, it's the songs - roundly dismissed when they were released - which have been the pillars of Air Supply's ongoing popularity which has now trickled down to a new generation of lovers of silly love songs. "We get all ages coming to our shows," said Russell. "Sometimes it surprises me. "But, you know, our songs keep getting played on the radio and movies, and kids are listening by default, so it gets into their system." Just like those arsim in Jerusalem.