Most of the essays began life in a column the critic still writes for L.A.'s Art issues. magazine, although all have been extensively rewritten and expanded for the book. Still, Hickey has nurtured some of these ideas for 25 years. Look up "Earthscapes, Landworks and Oz," a fascinating article he published in Art in America in 1971, for an early primer on "Air Guitar" and its up-to-the-minute passions.
Perhaps the most startling feature of the book, however, is the form its essays take: a partial memoir of the author's life. As often as not these stories begin with his itinerant youth.
Hickey means to narrate his own experience of art--whether a landscape by Cezanne, a television episode of "Perry Mason," a Hank Williams song or a painting of a rough-hewn saint by Caravaggio. His unavoidable emphasis on refining first-person experience seems meant to correct the widely misunderstood principle at the heart of "The Invisible Dragon."
For if beauty is indeed an attribute of response, Hickey means to respond. The lovely, liberating eloquence of his deeply felt, often moving encounters with the peculiar democracy of objects in American life is very much the point.
"The act of perceiving the world and understanding it is pleasurable activity," he says. "But when art's no fun, you begin to wonder: What am I doing? This is a lot like school!"
"Air Guitar" is naked pleasure, executing an unabashed literary seduction. My guess is that, consoled by the dazzle of its beauty and challenged by its gorgeous eloquence, readers will find themselves creating a confluence of simple hearts around it.