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A Personal Letter - A Review of AIRS - From A Friend

This is a reprint of a letter - a review, really - of AIRS that I received from a friend of mine, my old manager at Barnes & Noble, Sean Johnson ... a smart, literate man, a family man, a father to a daughter and a son - a New Englander who understands the idea of "ancient families making a living in harsh conditions" and the natural, elemental coastal (and small town political) forces that give life to and shape the story of AIRS.  



Damn George, this was a huge undertaking, huh? I guess I never understood the size and scope of AIRS until now that I'm holding it in my hand and listening to it again and again.


“When I was a boy I watched my father by the sea…”


I love this story! Obviously, this is Block Island. The Manisses, the ferry, the kite theme, windmills, old, ancient families making a living in harsh conditions. I love it all. And I get it all, too, especially the symbolism. Seagulls, stonewalls, wheelchair.  The Book of Airs and all the depth they entail from the rise of the dad's great kite opus from the flames of the windmill, to the indignity of dying on his son's single kid bed.  I love the concept too, the merging of well-established genres, a nod to the classic rock ALBUM where you get lost in the story of the whole thing rather than downloading a song here and there (and not even knowing who performed it).


It's like a book with a soundtrack. Liner notes on steroids. I read the story first and then listened to the music -- WOW! The music is awesome.  AIRS is clearly performed by seasoned musicians.   It has so many layers to it, a tour de force of instrumentation, and familiar sounds add detailed illustration to the story like the door opening, footsteps on an old floor.  Ballads.  Epic monster jams.  I was floating, then flying, always hungry for the next chapter of Owen's journey to freedom.  At first I tried to fit AIRS into my busy life, like I was trying to dip the tip of my toe into it like it was a cold dark salty pond rather than jumping full in cannonball-style.  But how lame on my part –JUMP, MAN, JUMP!  AIRS has to be taken as a whole from beginning to end, from the ferry to burning windmill to the kite rope flapping in the wind and disappearing into the sky. Epic, powerful stuff.


“Inverted flower folds sewn from the sails of either windmills or boats?”


The story.  It’s always about the story, right?  Everything comes down to the story, and I left AIRS really caring about Hannah and Owen, thinking about them like I knew them personally.  Owen has been away, both literally and figuratively, from his island homeland, and he returns basically from one prison to another prison.  He is stuck on the island to come to terms with his own demons, forced to face those things that he feels he has ruined.  Hannah believes it was her fate to lose her ability to walk and forgives Owen in the end, releasing that rope before he flies away to oblivion.  So, yeah, Owen gets out of prison but he is still chained by circumstances beyond his control:  drugs and alcohol, his family, the death of his father, fire.  But then the winds of change take him away forever


“Belle –it’s okay. Please let me go!” 


He breaks his burden, escapes his life.  Annabelle and Hannah help him do it – help him forgive himself, and then he’s gone, man, frozen in the stratosphere, drown at the bottom of the ocean.    


“Annabelle, don’t leave me inside with this refuse…”


I did, however, lose track of the other characters, and some characters I wanted to know more. The brother, his father, Hannah’s mother, Annabelle (what was the purpose of one arm?)  Rachel (did she set the fire?).  Who was Coleman Burke again?  I had to stop a few times and re-read stuff.  Can you go HUGE with the lyric book?  Really make it a small novel and flesh these guys out?  I could tell you have some "darlings" in there LOL!  (What writer doesn't, right?) To me, the story was really about Owen and Hannah.  Everyone else didn't have much effect on my point of view of airs.  I'd read about his dad and brother and nephew and bottles and kept thinking, but what about Hannah????  I also think Owen got off way too easy.  He needs the shit kicked out of him.  I’d think the entire island population would hate his friggin guts.  They’d force him off or kill him for what he did to Hannah and his own family, burn his windmill down as a mob or something.  Like everyone hates Owen, not just his brother and Burke.   Everyone would make fun of his kite obsession, spitting on him, leaving death notes, kicking him, throw rocks, hiss, parents shielding their kids from him as he walked down the street.  Everyone wants him dead and erased from their memories -except Hannah, because she’s the angel on earth to save him, and Annabelle, because we never have any choice in who we fall in love with.  All great stories are about redemption and forgiveness, right?  I guess I wanted deeper pain and greater redemption.  More! more! more!   I simply wanted more.  A deeper tragedy, a deeper hole for Owen to fly out of.    


The beautiful thing is no one holds Owen more accountable than himself—you’ve captured that brilliantly through the lyrics.  I love what you’ve created, how Owen finally finds freedom from his past. 


But whatever.  It’s great.  AIRS is great, George.  I love it and I hope that you and Steve find a grand audience for Owen and his sad story.  In the meantime I’ll listen and read, listen and read again, and watch that great kite float on layers of ancient air high above a forgotten island.  I can…almost… reach that rope… 


"Rope trailing disappears from all sights / Pulls at our hearts"


- Sean Johnson - Manager, RI Book Company


Thank you, Sean!