2006 San Francisco Regional
Air Guitar Competition
It’s two hours
before showtime and there are twenty-plus contestants backstage. We’re
finally starting to get to know each other by the time the supply of
MGD runs out. Nobody anticipated much of an audience
so none of our friends have the foresight to buy advanced tickets. Thirty
minutes before showtime one of competitors wanders out from backstage
in search of more beer and returns pasty-faced. He bares tales of “a
wall-to-wall crowd” and “200 people lined up down the block
being turned away” and “sold out” and, worst of all “they’re
not giving us any more beer.”
None of us contestants wind up having anybody we know in the audience
to root for us. Similarly, none of us will have anyone in attendance
to make fun of us the next day. The humility of playing air guitar
publicly begins to sink in. We band together to support
one another and the camaraderie
is comforting, exciting, and totally devoid of ego.
competition begins with Round One where all contestants are given 60
best with their own routines and their own material.
Some guys are rocking out with the awkward abandon you’d expect
from a 30-something office worker who has never strummed a real guitar
before. Others contestants jump and kick and wag their tongues like it’s
the only chance they ever get to do so. And yet still more air
guitarists perform pieces of high conceptual value.
of my favorites was a gentleman who appeared backstage looking like Thomas
turtleneck, 80’s prep haircut and glasses,
leather shoes. He sat down on stage with his left foot on a collaspable
footstand and indulged everyone with Concerto in A major.
The guitar part didn’t come until 30 seconds into his routine
and by then people were pissed. Well, the classless morons were
pissed, the rest of us
thought his commitment to his bit was worth the abuse. He didn’t
score very well but he earned my highest respects. That could very
easily be me in a few minutes.
Having absolutely no aspiration to win, only entertain, I decide
I will give the crowd a little bit of the ol’ switcheroo.
The night before the contest I spent 20 minutes melding together
a flamenco piece by Carlos
Montoya called “Fandangos de Huelva y Verdiales” with
the solo from Metallica’s “Shortest Straw.” (This
is roughly 20 minutes more than I spent on plotting out my physical
having a soft but emotive guitar part in the beginning the audience
would likely not be expecting Metallica to slap them in the face.
the music sufficiently mashed together
I forfeit practicing in lieu of retaining my last shreds of dignity for
a few more hours. My hope
is that come showtime my moves and my rocking out and my flailing
will naturally follow
Whatever it made me do ended up advancing me to Round Two.
As they announce who is moving on each winner is brought on stage
until we’re all standing shoulder-to-shoulder. We are then told that
we will all have to perform to a compulsory song of the organizer’s
choice. None of us have any idea what the song is going to be and most
of us are worried that we will be forced to air guitar stupidly to a
song we don’t know in front of a sold out audience at The Independent.
And the club still hasn’t replenished the backstage beer
Just as they are cueing up the song for all to hear the MC, Björn
Türoque - a talented air guitarist in his
own right, obliges my incessant inquiries and whispers in my
ear “the song
is California Uber Alles. Do you know it?”
By the Dead Kennedys? Are you kidding?! The Ronald Reagan version?
The Jerry Brown version? The live version, the jazz version,
the LP version…?!?!
At that moment I knew exactly how Cliff Clavin felt when he was
on Jeopardy and the categories were Beer, US Postal Service,
With Their Mothers.
Despite Jello Biafra and East Bay Ray vowing to never work together
again I do my best to channel them both into one persona and
proceed to kick
Ho shit, I win.
The fella placing 2nd (also named Craig and doing a Metallica
song) turns to me and says, “Awesome! You won!! So are you gonna tell anyone
or are you just going to keep this a secret?” I honestly
have to consider the question.
Cedric, one of the U.S.
Air Guitar’s organizers, is too inebriated
to explain what it means to win but instead sends me home
with a certificate that has, I think, my named scrawled near one of
the empty lines. Talk
of flying me to New York for a national competition comes
up but no one even wrote down my full name so I’m skeptical.
II: New York City *
Phase I: San Francisco *
The Prequel *