"Poetry of the Air"  By Gary Hill: A Review 

Review by Dr. Mality

I’ll bet you couldn’t find too many people more devoted to music in all its myriad forms than Gary Hill, the editor of the long-running webzine Music Street Journal. He is one of the few music journalists who doesn’t seem to be obsessed by genres and it shows in his writing. For years, Music Street Journal has reviewed artists of all stripe, ranging from heavy metal to pop to country to R&B to punk and beyond (but with a special emphasis on progressive music).

Apparently MSJ was not able to contain Hill’s love of music. To answer that craving, we now have Poetry of The Air, a kind of love letter to musicians. It’s a massive collection of interviews Hill conducted with an enormous variety of performers and composers. And each interview is basically devoted to the same fundamental questions: what is it that led you to a musical life?

The questions are the same, but it’s the answers that make the book go. First, the range is truly spectacular: there are a total of 87 interviews here and they run a spectrum of rock, jazz, soundtrack, metal and pop artists. Some are legends of their profession….Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman of Yes certainly fit that bill. Jordan Rudess of Dream Theater and Tommy James of The Shondells also come to mind. Others are not quite as well known and some are downright obscure. But all have a deep love of music and a career based around it in common. Gary finishes off the book with his own personal thoughts on a life spent in music.

Five basic questions are posed to all the “guests” here. The answers are fascinatingly different and very eloquently phrased, for the most part. I did notice one name that popped up in interview after interview in answer to the question about what music inspired the person to become a musician: The Beatles. That band appears with great frequency here and if anything, it proves the enormous influence the Fab Four had on all musicians who followed. Other common inspirations are Elvis, King Crimson and Jimi Hendrix, but influences as diverse as the soundtracks of Walt Disney, Guns N Roses, Burt Bacharach and Beethoven also arise. It’s pretty interesting to hear what Cheap Trick’s Bun E. Carlos and Renaissance’s Annie Haslam listened to in their youth.

There’s a lot of philosophical musing on the nature of creativity and how essential it is to the human condition. In some cases, the answers take a different form than just typical responses to questions. Guitarist Clark Colborn wrote a rambling essay in the form of a story in his section. To be honest, some of the answers can tend to drag. At several points, I thought some tighter editing would have helped the flow of the book. 

But Poetry of the Air is not really meant to be read straight through in one sitting. This is a browsing kind of book, where you look for artists that interest you and hear what they have to say. Later on, you may investigate those names you are not so familiar with and be pleasantly surprised by their thoughts and experiences. 87 interviews and the author’s own thoughts provide a lot of food for thought.