2006 US Air Guitar National Championship
in New York City
June 2006 – You’re not going to believe this but I’m
being flown to NYC to compete in a national air guitar competition…
I am booked at the HoJo in Manhattan in room 209-C. Sweet, 3rd floor view of the city! Except that “C” actually meant “cellar” and to look out the window meant that I had to stand on a chair and was even then only allowed a view of passing feet. The metaphor unfolds and it dawns on me that my new opponents, much like the people walking at street level above me, are probably of a higher echelon than I had anticipated. Here in New York City I will be competing against the veritable cream of the crop, the airest of the air.
I have done little to prepare for this. In fact, I pared down about 8 seconds from my medley just so I’d have that much less time to flounder between what I figure are my key moves. My routine is basically the same as it was in SF but with a new kick here and some extra tongue there. Whatever, I’m more excited to see what other kind of people are involved in this kind of thing.
As I suspected, my fellow contestants are more or less like me. They're goofy guys with too much energy and a severe lack of shame, and they're all giddy at the thought of being flown across the country to compete in a national event. True, the ante was upped and it seemed like a lot more thought and passion went into everyone’s presentation but again – no egos, just friendly, anxious, bonding. Nobody was above the fact that what we were doing was playing air guitar which made the whole thing just that much funnier.
The beer ran out quickly but most of us really had no interest in going at this with any impairments. The order was picked from a lottery and I landed somewhere in the middle. I watched the first few contestants and was stunned.
Up till now the only difference between playing air guitar and masturbating was the outfits. Both were simulations of the real thing meant to be done privately (and I should add that air guitaring between two consenting adults is never frowned upon).
But now I was being forced to recognize the legitimacy of air guitar. These guys had well-developed routines, elaborate outfits, tons of energy and above all, they fully ROCKED. Two of my personal favorites were these guys:
Interestingly, my alternate song choices were Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” and the Foo Fighter’s version of Prince’s “Darling Nicky” - Prince and Jimi Hendrix have the 'sexual guitar playing' title coveted as far as I'm concerned. That's probably why I stuck with what I know best - quirky jerky white boy rock.
been asked several times if playing
real guitar works for or against me.
watched routine after routine of talented guys elevating the practice
air guitar to a level I had not expected. These
guys weren’t just thrashing about like 8th graders on PCP
(well, one guy was - his performance provoked one of the judges
to compare his strumming to the act of “diddling [his] mother” to
which the guy replied, “my mom is here tonight.” “Then
she must be exhausted”). What they
were doing transcended
mimicry and was somehow art. To think otherwise would be an
insult to everyone having a good time. The audience screamed, danced,
air like they were at a real rock show. While we may have been
pretending to play the guitar we were certainly rocking out
that’s what the crowd
was cheering for. It seems funny to make the comparison but
when you watch the Sharks fight the Jets in West Side Story they’re
not really fighting, they’re air fighting. But
that doesn’t make the play
any less entertaining. Actually maybe that’s not true.
I might be pretty entertained if I went to see a Broadway performance
of West Side Story and the
But I digress…
When my time to perform came I was sufficiently inspired to do this:
high enough to move on to Round Two, where the unknown Compulsory
Song waited like a shadowy figure. Would he be a
a foe? Would it be a song
I knew and to which I could rock out appropriately, or
would it be a song I didn’t
know and through which I’d have to bumble? Or worse
still, what if it is Creed or Nickelback?! Would I be
forced to throw
to be air guitaring, but publicly, and to a band like
that, might just be more
than I can air, I mean bare. Oh, angel
of mercy, sendth some help…
More times than I care to admit I have found myself in the humbling position of performing to people who couldn’t care less. I thrive in environments where I must work especially hard to win people over, or at least knock them over (figuratively or literally, depending on the situation). So as the first few Round Two contestants ran through their sets I switched into Punk Rock Mode where anything goes so long as a mark is left when I’m done. I did some reconnaissance by stepping out on the dancefloor and watching from the audience perspective, assessing what moves I could do, what things I could climb, what affects I could break without serious repercussions.
Sadly, I had to suffer the four performers before me as they enacted each and every idea that came to my mind. The first guy (William Ocean, the same guy to do “Let’s Go Crazy”) had the audience so riled up his score ended up being .1 point short of perfect. After he finished everyone backstage resigned to the notion that this guy had it in the bag. I was left with nothing, save smashing a bottle over my head and spelling AIR in my chest in my own blood. When my turn came I was completely baffled as to what I was going to do. I took the stage and paced. I held up a finger in an effort to keep the sound guy from cueing the song. This seemed to build the kind of excited tension you feel at the circus when the tightrope walker takes his first step, but I was so clueless I felt more like the shortest, saddest clown who hopes he can fit in the car after the other 12 have already gotten in.
Invariably, when we play a show there is always someone in the back of the room indifferent to us. I like to single this person (or group of people) out and try extra hard to get them involved. Applying this technique I spied the judges booth in the balcony and decided they were the indifferent ones in the back of the room, they were the disenfranchised who needed my attention. To put it another way, they would be my targets.
Here is both William Ocean and I's performances, side-by-side:
It was a risky move and I very seriously almost fell backwards off the balcony but what choice did I have? I think maybe I should enter a Fucking Shit Up contest because maybe that’s what I’m actually good at.
The scores were tallied and Ho Shit, I won.
And that’s where the controversy began.
The point totals said I was the winner but the dissent among the crowd suggested otherwise. Thankfully my four friends (one from Long Island, one from Austin, one from Boise, and one from New York), were accustomed to being loud and racous when needed. And now it was needed. As you saw above William Ocean not only totally kicked ass but he also had the Ballroom on his side. He mashed his back and I nearly fell to my death so when the idea of an Air Off came up I’m pretty sure I could see the same sentiment in his eyes, “Please don’t let it come to this or one of us will have to die.”
In a show of genuinely positive sportsmanship he conceded to the scores and asked the audience to do the same. Had he not gone first in Round One his total score might easily have beaten mine and I knew that, so I thank circumstance for letting me win. (Björn Türoque, a veteran of having to go first, reported similarly – no matter how good you are if you go first, you won’t win. It is tradition.)
Ocean (real name Andrew Litz) and 2nd place winner Jace "Zombie on a Rainbow, Esquire" Bartet (possibly the fastest headbanger I have ever seen) hoisted me on their shoulders where I mentally vowed to take this win seriously. I wanted to make these guys proud that I had been voted to represent us all in the World Championships. I even said as much after I won, “I promise to slay anyone I have to in order to win, Finnish or otherwise.”
I talked to the judge who was a correspondent on the Daily Show about getting on his show. He said we might have had something if William and I took our conflict to a higher level but since everyone seemed to get along they had no drama to play off. He also said he honestly thought I was coming up to the balcony to beat him up.
Oh, a little comment about the oft-asked question regarding air groupies: Yes, there is such a thing. There are of course the perceived air groupies who operate much like an air guitar – they are invisible and subject to whatever your imagination can conjure up. And then there are the real, three-dimensional air groupies. Life-sized, flesh and blood, star-struck men and women who want you soley because you are a recognized, ballsy, rocking fucking performer of the arts. If someone like Mick Jagger or Steve Buscemi or Al Roker or that guy on Pier 39 who juggles dead cats can get groupies why not an air guitarist? For anyone not in the know I promise you this – if you put yourself on the line, especially as any sort of entertainer, you will get groupies. Honestly, try it!
I am told my appearence on Good Morning America tomorrow has been canceled on account of "excessive tongue-wagging." Since I don't have to get up early I walked with Randy "Big Rig" Strecker (he who placed 5th in the event) across Manhattan to a bar where Björn Türoque was holding an Aireoke.
as well move on to: