At long last I’ve discovered a competitive sport specifically designed to take advantage of my own lifelong interests and physical abilities. Air guitar.
Perhaps you are unaware that there have been international air guitar championships in Finland for the past seven years? And that every year more countries pick up on this exciting new event? And that this year, for the first time, the United States has finally joined the ranks? This is what happens when you waste all your time reading about budgets, medical malpractice caps and wars occurring way over in countries so culturally backward that they don’t have air guitar championships.
The inaugural U.S. Air Guitar Championship was held on June 5th in New York City and it was a rousing success as measured in sweat, bizarre gyrations and alcohol consumption. Hundreds of people showed up to watch air god Dave “C. Diddy” Jung wrest the title from 19 other air wannabes who possessed the necessary chops to compete, i.e. they paid the $20 entry fee, and showed up. Second place went to Bjorn Turoque, despite Turoque having, technically, the cooler name.
C. Diddy wowed the crowd with a masterful rendition of his chosen song, Extreme’s “Play With Me,” then he nailed the competition door shut by “unleashing the Asian fury” during the second-round compulsory song “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” by Smashing Pumpkins. Judging from the coverage of the event, “unleashing the Asian fury” means, apparently, strapping a large “Hello Kitty” face to one’s bare chest.
Diddy, 31, and his air groupies will now move on to L.A. for the finals (June 28, make your travel plans now) and the chance to shred for the United States in the eighth annual World Championships in Finland — where the grand prize, for some reason, is a guitar. This is like awarding the world’s greatest mime a tape recorder.
Contestants were judged on originality, charisma, feeling, technical ability, artistic merit, and the elusive “airness,” which was defined for me by organizer Kriston Rucker as “the extent to which air guitar becomes an art form and an instrument in and of itself, rather than a simple imitation of a “real” guitar.”
All of which leads me to ask: Why aren’t we in on this? Central Florida, I mean?
We have just as many slackers (per capita) as those cities do. We have just as many would-be rockers who let their dreams of superstardom fade into white-, blue- and no-collar jobs as they do. We’ve even produced our share of real guitarists, although that might be considered a drawback in this competition. The Allman Brothers, Lyrnrd Skynrd, Tom Petty, Matchbox 20, Jimmy Buffett, Creed — Florida folks all, one way or another. Granted, most of them aren’t really known for their manic, hard-rocking stage presence, possibly because it’s too hot here to jump around much, but the talent is there.
We need this to re-establish our place in the world of rock, to help repair the inestimable damage done by Orlando’s N’Sync and the Backstreet Boys. And we need to grab it before Orlando does. They’ve already got the Fringe Festival and Gay Days, they can’t have all the weird alternative events.
And most of all, we need this to finally provide justification for the last remaining youthful time-wasting activity. Everything I was ever yelled at for as a child is now potentially a gateway exercise for a very lucrative field. Kids who read comic books used to be goofing off. Now they might be working toward “real” jobs (as defined by income level) making box-office smash movies. Your son who spends his days fingering his game console might just be honing the skills necessary for such respectable employment as manning fighter jets, programming computers or, for that matter, writing video games. Does your child spend hours doodling and playing with toys? Stuff their desks with career-opportunity pamphlets from Pixar.
That covers my own pre-adolescent life, except for two notable exceptions: setting fire to my bedroom, and playing air guitar. As it happens there are very few legally acceptable careers that evolve from an interest in the practical benefits of lighter fluid, but now the countless hours I spent doing windmill power chords on a tennis racket have finally paid off.
Air guitar is truly a democratic act. “Anyone with a pulse can do it,” says Rucker. Not everyone can do it well, granted, but everyone can at least make the necessary gestures so that it becomes immediately obvious what they’re doing, if not the specific song (“Stairway to Heaven”? Mozart’s “Il re pastore”? “Mary Had a Little Lamb”?). You don’t need expensive musical instruments, training, rhythm, a natural “ear,” a good voice or even any skill whatsoever. All you really need is a complete lack of personal dignity and a love of music. And a cool stage name.
My own modest attempts displayed, even then, the attention to detail that marks a true air guitarist. I knew instinctively that just strumming looked stupid. The dedicated air guitarist knows the correct chords, the right strings, the proper fingerings, so that his (or her) performance could be mistaken for a real rocker who seems to have temporarily misplaced the instrument without noticing, as often happens, especially with your more chemically-augmented rockers. I practiced for hours. Oddly enough, when confronted with real guitar lessons, I picked at them absent-mindedly and never progressed beyond “Little Brown Jug” (or maybe “Stairway to Heaven,” I couldn’t tell). It wasn’t the teacher’s fault. He was painstakingly demonstrating how to do an A major open fret and I wanted to learn how to do a Snapper dive and scoop up thrown underwear off the stage with my guitar neck without missing a note. Besides, real guitars get heavy.
But once I got into my room with the stereo turned up to 11 and the bass cranked to tooth-vibrating levels, I was a monster of rock, effortlessly bouncing off my bed, walls and dog with a dazzling display of ax virtuosity. I was transported to another place, where music was pouring from my very soul and my name was being screamed by thousands of people, not just the ones yelling at me to turn it down. It was a powerful feeling.
That’s the kind of experience that desperately needs public expression. We’re too late this year, but I’d like to urge the Daytona Beach City Commission and the local alcohol-based businesses to begin the groundwork for next year’s championships. Do the right thing, ladies and gentlemen. Countless armies of hyperactive, talent-free prodigies are waiting.