Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Songs that Changed the Landscape of Human Thought and Understanding: Air Supply's "Making Love out of Nothing at All"

During the height of the Cold War, the Summer of 1983, when the threat of actual nothingness for animal- and man-kind was only one hydrogen bomb-blast away from possibly happening, Air Supply sang about the transformative powers of nothingness on their brilliant hit single "Making Love out of Nothing at All." Written by Jim Steinman, the mastermind behind Meat Loaf's monumental loaf of meatiness, Bat out of Hell, the song not only made Americans aware of Australians for the first time since the year before, when Men at Work popularized Vegemite, but delivered a profound message. In the song, Air Supply resuscitates existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre's concept of nothingness from the daaaaaaaarkly comic pit of despair he had characterized it as into a practical, empowering strategy for embracing life and possibly getting some ass in the process.

At the time, intellectuals criticized Air Supply's hit for "sounding exactly like Steinman's previous hit single, Bonnie Tyler's 'Total Eclipse of the Heart.'" Of course, these coffee-drinking philistines, smoking their clove cigarettes and listening to their Steely Dan, missed the message aimed directly at their demographic. Air Supply's tough-as-nails acoustic guitar and piano approach set the standard for the vanguard of "soft rock" a few years earlier with "Lost in Love." Russell Hitchcock and Graham Russell, the geniuses behind Air Supply, in fact deliver "Making Love out of Nothing at All" as a sermon. Their smooth harmonies blend exquisitely with a twelve-note piano motif to convince the listener that they can make something out of nothing, literally.

In Sartre's Being and Nothingness [L'Être et le néant] (1943), the philosopher correctly notes the predominant view that, historically, nothingness had been viewed on a continuum with being, that nothingness can only occur once being reaches its end. Sartre concludes that nothingness is that "which is not." Therefore, when Hitchcock and Russell run through a litany of various knowledges in their song ("And I know just where to touch you / and I know just what to prove," for example), concluding it with the admission of "making love out of nothing as all," the duo contradict the tendency to perceive "that which is not" (i.e. death) as a negative and, instead, embrace "nothing" as, at the very least, an opportunity to have sex. Since the purpose of sex, ultimately, is to create life, Air Supply greet nothingness as a form of productivity. So, not only do Air Supply know "all the rules" and "how to break them," they also know how to embrace the nothingness of our miserable existences like a valuable opportunity ... to affirm the glory of existence ... and to possibly have some coitus while they're at it. Let's face it: there hasn't been a piece of Existentialist propaganda this effective since the black turtleneck sweater.

Here's the glorious video:


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  2. Used to love this song. It was the last song on on a side of a white cassette tape--I was 13. And Air Supply supplied every anthem for my romantic angst. The video cracks me up--who sleeps with a guy who keeps a framed photo of another woman on the nightstand table? Or when he wears a Members Only jacket sans shirt?

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