Air Guitar Nation
By Neil Norman
Come on... You know you've done it. It may have been in the privacy of your own home or shower, away from prying eyes, but company to your radio. Or it could have been in the middle of a real concert where in fantastic fits of rocking out you slip into the baby's first learned skill: the habit of mimicry. You whip out that invisible "Air" Guitar and play scales up and down the neck, rake power chords across the clear strings, and literally blow Eddie Van Halen, Jimi Hendrix, and yes, even Tom Morello out of their boots where they stand. And it feels so...damn...GOOD.
"To err is human, To Air Guitar: Divine!" is a quote from one of the participants of this rocking documentary, directed by Alexandra Lipsitz. The film follows a number of contestants in the first year (2003) that the United States ever participated in the Annual Air Guitar World Championship contest, held yearly since 1996 in Oulu, Finland as part of the Oulu Music and Video Festival.
Air Guitar Nation starts with a montage of "players" who all talk about what Air Guitar means to them. It is here we first meet the two main characters of the film, Bjorn Turoque (or Dan Crane) and C-Diddy (David S. Jung). It seems all of the contestants go by a stage name that is flashier and more in character than their regular handle. Bjorn Turoque looks like your typical white American Metalhead while C-Diddy is a Korean-American rocker who jams in a satin martial arts robe with a giant Hello Kitty head strapped across his chest.
The contest begins in New York City at the Pussycat Lounge which is a music venue that doubles as a strip club in the basement. Due to favorable coverage on the Howard Stern show, the line for the semi finals is around the block. After all, the winner of this contest will go all the way to Los Angeles to compete in the US Championship to axe it out for the right of representing America at the world championships in Finland. While everyone turns in a rocking performance, C-Diddy is head and Shoulders above the crowd and handily wins 1st place. This shatters Bjorne Turoque who is, most probably, the most passionate fan of air guitar you have ever seen. But the kid will never say die, and he retains sponsorship from the Carson Dailey Show to travel to LA and have another crack at his arch-nemesis C-Diddy.
In LA, we are announced to more crazily monikered competitors: a goth punk named Krye Tuff, A wheelchair bound Christian Rocker called The Airtight Messiah, not to mention the female skin faction like Cherry Vanilla, Miss AAA, and Nikki Titts.
We are also told a bit more about the judging rules of the contest. Roy Trakin, Editor of Hits Magazine, Nina Gordon from Veruca Salt, and Rage against the Machine’s Tom Morello are the celebrity judges. Judges use the same 6.0 scoring system that is used in figure skating and contestants are judged on three categories: Technical Merit, Stage Presence, and "Airness." Airness refers to that intangible quality of the performance as a work of art or, in effect, how hard they ROCKED. Contestants get to play one minute segments of two songs. The first is chosen by them and the second is a compulsory round where the song is chosen by the competition and everyone plays the same thing. For the first song, obviously the advantage is having time to choose the best song and prepare for it at home. The second round gauges the player’s ability to showcase his raw skills in playing something with no time to prepare for it.
The competition is fierce in LA, and there is an East Coast vs. West Coast thing going on in the attitude of the crowd. Results end up being much of the same. Bjorne Turoque looks like he is ready to cry and C-Diddy is going to Finland!
Act three follows C-Diddy to the World championships where he takes part in an air guitar boot camp presided over by two time World champion and Air Guitar sensei Zack "the Magnet" Munro. The vibe is very different in Finland than it was in the states with kind of an Olympic Village feel to it. C-Diddy also confronts the fact that many of the other contestants might hate him, just because he is an American. "Essentially, I'm a war-monger." he says. In this segment the director then goes into a scary little montage of evil Americans (from our current administration) to push the point. It doesn't seem out of place, but what is really interesting is the chilly reaction that many of the other contestants have towards the American contingent. But the Finland competition is all about Peace, so the guys eventually warm up after they get to know us.
C-Diddy is flabbergasted when Bjorne Turoque shows up, after having made a website and raised money to travel to Finland. Since the contest has an open qualification round, anyone who travels there can get a shot to get in the Finals. Bjorne qualifies and then with a unheard of nearly perfect score of 17.9 puts himself in the front running to be World Champ. Who will win? Will Bjorne finally defeat C-Diddy? Or will some European Metalhead snake the crown from the Americans deserving grasp? You'll have to watch the film to find out! (Hint: Queen's We are the Champions is played at the end)
Air Guitar Nation really ROCKS! It is a fun documentary with a great soundtrack and what is more important a focus on passionate people doing the thing they love best. We get to experience the Glory of Victory and the Agony of Defeat firsthand through the eyes of these two "regular" American guys that could very well be one of you. Check it out.
Neil Norman is a freelance writer and a graduate of the University of Central Florida. Neil also works on independent film productions.