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Book | Air Guitar

“Dave Hickey’s prose transports are like an eye attached to a butterfly attached to a rocketship…”

~ Lawrence Weschler

Dave Hickey‘s résumé is impressive. He’s written for Harper’s Magazine, Rolling Stone, and Artforum, plus many other publications. He’s been the Executive Editor of Art in America magazine. He’s owned and directed an art gallery. He’s written and performed rock songs. I could go on (and on), but I won’t, because my point doesn’t have to do with Hickey’s former or current job titles. The single salient point, the riveting thing, is Hickey’s ability to think in a way that’s both deep and sideways, and to write about his thoughts with gripping flair.

Hickey’s Air Guitar: Essays on Art & Democracy is a compilation of essays about artistic culture, with a large dose of memoir. But this is memoir of a unique order, simultaneously cool (as in neat-o), warm (as in open and vulnerable), and intellectual. The topics covered in Hickey’s essays range from Cézanne, and Flaubert, through jazz, Andy Warhol, Norman Rockwell, and the Rolling Stones, all the way to Perry Mason, Siegfried and Roy, and Liberace, with oodles more in between. And all the while, the last sentence read begs to be reread in order to dally a while longer in the company of Hickey’s language and large heart.

From the book’s introductory essay:

“We need so many love songs because the imperative rituals of flirtation, courtship, and mate selection that are required to guarantee the perpetuation of the species and the maintenance of social order – that are hardwired in mammals and socially proscribed in traditional cultures – are up for grabs in mercantile democracies. These things need to be done, but we don’t know how to do them, and, being free citizens, we won’t be told how to do them. Out of necessity, we create the institution of love songs. We saturate our society with a burgeoning, ever-changing proliferation of romantic options, a cornucopia of choices, a panoply of occasions through which these imperative functions may be facilitated. It is a market, of course, a job and a business, but it is also a critical instrumentality in civil society. We cannot do without it. Because it’s hard to find someone you love, who loves you – but you can begin, at least, by finding someone who loves your love song. And that, I realized…is what I do: I write love songs for people who live in a democracy. Some of them follow.”

~ Dave Hickey, Air Guitar, “Unbreak My Heart, An Overture”

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