Air has long been understood as elementary, as an element, like earth, fire, or water. It’s what I breathe. Sometimes it’s all I need (and to love you). It is closely tied to sky, to light, to height, to the heavens, to wind, to breath and to life. I’m told that Hebrew for ‘spirit’ is also wind and breath. Tied to wind, then? To Spirit (to God?) And “to air” (the verb) is to “put out there.” Where? On the air.
“On the Air” is one of my favorite Peter Gabriel songs (from Peter Gabriel 2, aka “Scratch”). Wondering how next to look at The Lamb, I remembered it today, and then found myself thinking about air, aware of the air. I hope that I can air my awareness. “I’m putting the aerial up.”
Everyone I meet on the street
Acts as if I wasn’t there,
But they’re all going to know who I am
‘Cos I can go out on the air.
The air is atmosphere that hangs around me without ever announcing its presence, except by way either of what’s in it, or of how it changes. The air, for Rael, is often thick with content and change. Broadway is a place where “there’s always magic in the air.” But when the Lamb lies down there, it “brings a stillness to the air.”
Air is the non-solid. When the wall of death appears, it is “something solid forming in the air” Rael waits for impact, not standing, but “hovering like a fly.” Hovering in the air.
Caryl Chessman [controversially capital criminal] sniffs the air.
Two golden globes float into the room And a blaze of white light fills the air.
[Rael] writes Death off as an illusion, but notices a thick musky scent hanging in the air.
As the brothers talk themselves through their new predicament, a big black raven flies into the cave, swoops down, grabs Rael’s tube right out of his hands and carries it up into the air in his beak.
The air is foreboding. It is where there is foreshadowing of change, and where there is change. But perhaps, more subtly, the air is where there is ascent, and perhaps some kind of liberation. If that is so, it must be a liberation that is indifferent to death, if not opposed to it. In “The Light Dies Down on Broadway,” a skylight appears in the rock, through which Rael can see and hear New York City (“my home”), a window through which he may presumably step back. But is that step “back” an escape, or is it just a step into another dream? We really already know the answer if we’re paying attention. Rael’s perspective, as he makes the decision to stay and save John, is from outside the window, from above the skylight. The decision amounts to a recognition that he is now “in the open air.”
Think about how this is not a matter of leaving anything “up in the air” as we often say. Not in the air in that bad sense, anyway.
And what is it that is here being put on the air? When Gabriel sings about going out on the air, “they” are going to know who he is. “They,” who acted as if he wasn’t there. Does Rael know who he is, in the end? Do I know who he is? Do I know who I am?
Ah, here is an unexpected knot that may be worth trying to untangle: I want others to know who I am, and I put myself out on the air. Do I want to know who I am, or is it more important somehow to know where I am. Where I am could be on the air, or in the air, or maybe where I am just is what is meant by “air.” I go out on the air here, and by implication boast that I understand the “who” and “where” of which I’m writing. In the words of the Cowardly Lion in the film, The Wizard of Oz, I try to convey “that soitin air of savoir faire.” I broadcast myself, I’d like to think. Or…. Is my self, by its very nature, a broadcast?
Think about David Foster Wallace’s commencement address at Kenyon College in 2005, where he famously urged the graduating fish to keep reminding themselves: “This is water.” “This is water.”
But we could change it to: “This is air.” “This is air.”
Or, if the air is what I am in, then maybe none of this is really a matter or knowing, of savoir. Think about that (but hopefully in a way that’s not too much like wanting to know) and then listen again.