Today’s guitarists just aren’t made like they used to be. When I was 11, I showed an interest in learning to play guitar. After months of prodding, my parents bought me a second-hand Martin six-string acoustic that acted as my springboard to complete failure as a rock star. I spent years practicing, plenty of money on equipment and lessons, and an inordinate amount of time trying to ‘make it’ with girls who I knew were into musicians.
Today’s award-winning guitarists don’t spend the money on lessons, the time on practicing, or even the money on equipment. In fact, they don’t even use guitars when they perform. Welcome to the world of competitive air guitar.
I know what you’re thinking: Competitive air guitar? What’s next, the imaginary World Series? Nascar while running and making engine sounds like ‘whaaaaaaaaaaaa (shift to a lower octave) whaaaaaaaa?’ Get serious. This is big business, though it makes you long for the days of Tiptoeing Through the Tulips with the likes of Tiny Tim.
The official governing body of the U.S. Air Guitar Championships is appropriately named U.S. Air Guitar. Their aim it is to “take our nation’s unofficial pastime out of the bedroom and put it up on the world stage.” According to the website, “In a time when U.S. military and economic leadership faces unprecedented criticism around the world, it is our belief that air guitar represents one endeavor our country can dominate without controversy.”
So in short, watch out Osama. America won’t be taken down without a fight. And as long as we have a solid championship-level air guitarist competing on the world stage, America will no longer be the subject of the world’s criticism.
U.S. Air Guitar is also responsible for maintaining the Air Guitar Hall of Fame, which includes legendary figures like 2003 U.S. and world champ David “C-Diddy” Jung, who is known for wearing a backwards Hello Kitty backpack on his bare chest, and 2006 U.S. champ Craig “Hot Lixx Hulahan” Billmeier, whose style is a postmodern mix of punk, flamenco and metal.
When I think of the hours my friends and I spent ‘jamming’ and ‘getting tight’ in the garage with our real instruments, it seems such a colossal waste of time. All we needed to do to get some notice was to put on a cassette of our favorite band and play imaginary instruments just as well as the real Motley Crue.
This year’s fake guitar playing championships were held at real New York City concert venue Irving Plaza. Inexplicably, the ‘event’ was held in front a sold out crowd of screaming fans, dozens of photographers and news cameras from all three major networks, MSNBC, CNBC and FOX News. With all those photographers on site, it’s a wonder nobody caught Rod Serling on film.
Just prior to the competition, crowd favorite Andrew “William Ocean” Litz said, “If I don’t walk away with the U.S. title and at least 3-4 broken bones, I haven’t done my job tonight.”
After a tough evening of pretending to play guitar, New York’s own Litz somehow defeated defending champ Hot Lixx Hulahan and Rockness Monster to take the title and represent the United States at (lord, forgive me for the fact that this is not a joke) the Air Guitar World Championships. On a related note, Litz did not break any bones, but his pride is probably plenty damaged.
At the end of the competition, all the pretend rock stars took to the stage to perform what was described as an ‘all-star rendition’ of Freebird – a song that’s overplayed even by those who don’t really play.
As an aside, I always thought that my best chance at ever representing my country on the world stage was to be on an Olympic curling team. Now that air guitar is an option, I have officially changed my tune. My real talent, however, lies in steering wheel drumming. Once someone sanctions that, I will definitely enter the competition.
As “William Ocean” travels to Finland to represent Team USA in the giant pretend guitarists of the world competition, all the other fictitious fingerpickers have to hang their heads in shame for not being able to win a contest that requires exactly no skill whatsoever to win.
As for me, I have to head out to the store to pick up a few things: a DVD copy of ‘Air Guitar Nation’ (a documentary described as “very good” by Joel Siegel, just moments before he decided to give up in his fight against cancer), a new set of strings for the real guitar I’ll be strumming while pretending to watch, and a block Finlandia Swiss to remind me of the utter cheesiness of the Air Guitar World Championships being held in Helsinki.