June 26, 2011

Last Night I was a Judge at an Air Guitar Competition


I'd been asked to do it quite some time ago and didn't really think too much about it till I showed up an hour before the show, not knowing at all what I was walking into and figuring I'd just wing it. (My usual plan. Winging it, I mean.) What I walked into turned out to be a kind of parallel world, a counter-earth populated by people whose lives appear to revolve around air guitar and the air guitar subculture, for whom actual guitar-playing is a mere meta-reference point. I mean, I know they do other things too, but last night, it was all about the air. And sure, there's irony in there somewhere, but part of what gives it such a kick and makes it such an interesting world to look into is the earnestness with which the irony is expressed, and I must presume, experienced. These people are committed to their subculture, which has a surprising (to me as an ingenue) breadth and depth, with its own vocabulary, customs, heroes, and villains, and true fans who are as committed as the performers. Overall, I would describe their demeanor as a deadpan glorying in absurdity. They take it seriously, or maybe it's more like they take taking it seriously seriously, and that, for me, is what elevates it to something beyond what I expected it to be, something vaguely like art. Well, it is performance art, obviously.

Jeez, I was thinking, someone should make a movie about this, the subculture, the bizarre cast of characters, the philosophy, the whole strange world. A kind of King of Kong thing. When I mentioned that to one of my fellow judges, as though I had just come up with this great, shockingly original idea, he just looked at me pityingly, because, course, someone had already done it. (Trailer here.) And moreover, this guy, the judge, known as Bjorn Turoque, was one of the stars of it. The third judge, C-Diddy, was the other star of the movie. Both these guys are worshipped like gods by the air people. Oops. I should have done my homework, like I always say, as a gigantic imaginary drawer full of notes-to-self gathered over the years can attest.

But these guys were friendly and took me under their wing, showed me the ropes, tried to steer me away from breaches of air etiquette. I don't think I ever quite grasped the concept of "airness" in all its nuance and complexity, but I sure wish I had a recording of the various times someone tried to explain it to me. I remember Hot Lixx Hulahan, the master of "air-emonies" and the guy who invited me to judge, giving me a particularly cogent definition of "airness," but the details now elude me, as ineffable as the thing described, I suppose. Also, I was a little loaded.

I wasn't too popular as a judge. I got heckled a bit, and a group of fans who didn't like some of my scores and commentary tagged me with the epithet Worst Judge Ever, and it stuck. I don't mind too much, though, because, I mean, why would I, and second of all, heckling the judges seems to be part of the program. Even Bjorn Turoque got ice thrown at him, though I can't remember what for. I was told afterwards by some air guitar fanatics at the bar across the street that I had been a lot nicer than Jello Biafra was a couple years back.

The whole thing was a lot of fun, and I had a great time. I'd totally do it again.

(The picture is of the finale, where all contestants and much of the audience joined onstage to "do" Freebird. It reminded me of Isocracy in a way.)

Posted by Dr. Frank at June 26, 2011 07:08 PM | TrackBack

you've probably figured this out, but that documentary is streaming on netflix. It was worth watching, but I still really don't understand air guitar competitions.

Posted by: Saul at June 27, 2011 01:44 AM

it didn't matter much that you were, and are, the Worst Judge Ever, did it? haha, what a wacky world the Bay has created.

i just left there last week after the Asian Man Records 15th Anniversary Festival, and I must say it was a damn good time. inspiring what may make for some good air-tunes!

Posted by: Angelo at July 5, 2011 03:34 AM