Twenty three of the coolest people I’ve ever met geared up by putting on costumes, make-up, and even wigs, for the grueling brawl that ensued as we all tried to wax the stage with one another in an art form whose name betrays its beauty: air guitar. As the evening’s emcee and national popularizer of air guitar, Björn Türoque (who has written a book, and been featured in a documentary and several news programs) explains, the art form’s ultimate goal is nothing short of world peace. If you’re holding an air guitar, you can’t hold a gun.
More than 1,200 D.C. fans sold out the 9:30 Club for the district’s first annual air guitar competition. The winner goes to New York in August for the nationals, in which the winners of 15 regional competitions duke it out for a chance to compete for the world title in Oulu, Finland. But last Wednesday I wasn’t thinking about future glory; I only thought about how to defeat 22 other competitors and come out on top.
Many people consider this peaceful art form “pretend guitar,” but if you perform with that approach, you will lose points. Yes, points. Like figure skating, scoring ranges from 4.0 to 6.0 as judges rank performers on three criteria: technicality (how real the picking, fretting, and strumming look), stage presence, and an indefinable criterion called “airness.” This is where you lose points if you’re just playing pretend guitar. Airness is the extent to which you push the experience for yourself, the crowd, and the judges, convincing everyone that you and the guitar you aren’t playing are one. Things like tuning your air guitar, turning on an air amp, or having an air roadie come help you set up all help.
There are two rounds: a freestyle round, in which competitors are judged on a 60-second performance from a song of the air guitarist’s choice (I performed Brad Paisley’s “Time Warp”), and a compulsory round, in which the five finalists each perform their interpretations of 60 seconds of the same, previously unannounced song – in this case, Boston’s “It’s Been a Long Time.”
At the end I came out on top, but someone came out on top of me. His stage name is Shred, a dad in his early 50’s who won the crowd’s heart. My Sojo intern community and many staff came out to support, and soothed my wounded ego with kind words saying that I was a much better air guitarist than everyone up there. But second place isn’t bad, eh? I was grateful to dedicate my near-victory to Jesus.
So enter a local competition. Do it in the name of peace, and to honor our Lord (Colossians 3:17).
Jonathan “Couch Potato” Mendez is an editorial assistant for Sojourners magazine.