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Something in the Air

I like adjectives that are both crystal clear and totally vague. For example, you may be coming off a “good” weekend just like I am, but it’s entirely possible that the “good” elements of our respective weekends were completely different. Perhaps you were served an amazing slice of peach cobbler, or your blind date turned out to be George Clooney, or you finally disposed of some incriminating evidence that’s been haunting you for years. But you definitely weren’t crowned the Philadelphia regional champ of the US Air Guitar Championships. Nope, that was all me.

Just one day after I returned from a full month of traveling, Leah pointed out a newspaper ad for the air guitar competition taking place four days later at the TLA. She immediately bit her tongue as we both flashed back to last fall’s viewing of Air Guitar Nation, which had caused me to remark, “These guys are so lame. I could do this so much better.” That was a defining moment for us, one of a few simple statements I’ve made over the past few years that have given Leah good reason to question her commitment to me.

Within seconds, I was registered and ready to compete. A few days later, my alter-ego, Windhammer, stormed the TLA stage amidst thirteen fierce competitors in front of about three or four hundred screaming (and heckling) fans. Here’s how the competition works:

  • Each contestant does a freestyle performance to a sixty-second edit of the song of their choice. (Mine was the mighty Lost Horizon’s “Sworn in the Metal Wind.”)
  • The top five scorers from the first round compete in a compulsory round, doing an improvised performance to a surprise song. (In this case, I shamefully failed to recognize Sweet’s “Set Me Free.”)
  • The contestant with the highest combined score wins, and is sent to San Francisco to compete in the national finals on August 8th.

The compulsory round left me tied for first place with a slender lad by the name of Airistotle. Having proven his mettle by coming this far, he may have made the tie-breaker round a nail-biter for me had the second surprise song not been Skid Row’s “Youth Gone Wild.” From its first two tentative notes, I knew the contest was over. There’s a great writeup of the whole show on the US Air Guitar blog, and my winning performance is immortalized on YouTube.

I expected the competition to be a lot of fun. What I didn’t expect was for it to make me re-evaluate the position from which I enjoy music. Rock and roll—and especially heavy metal—was my first love, and I never got over it. When a twelve-year-old kid is stirred by something like that, he’s responding as much to its performers’ inherent posturing as he is to the music itself. The mythologies they create for themselves power the music just as much as the skill, the gear, or the drugs, if not more. For years, I felt guilty about the fact that I was a music-lover that had never bothered to become a musician. It didn’t occur to me that the attitude I had adopted from the music was an equally valid musical expression of its own kind.

Parading around on that stage in front of all those people, playing an invisible instrument without a (pardon the pun) shred of self-consciousness, I came to realize that I wasn’t even thinking about what I was doing. It was simply what came naturally, what the music caused to be as it passed through me. Is it silly? Sure. Is it stupid? Absolutely not. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that, as far as I’m concerned, that’s also a pretty accurate description of rock and roll.