By Mike Gianakos
The time honored tradition of actually needing to have some semblance of musical talent in order to travel the world playing rock venues in front of thousands of screaming fans is no more. Circumventing the aforementioned necessity is the introduction of air guitar into the world of competitive sport. Seriously.
You might be surprised to discover just how many people are aching to partake – and we’re not just talking about shut-ins and the mentally ill…alright, to some extent we are, but many air guitarists are seemingly normal people with normal jobs and normal families who allow their rock starved alter egos to take control of their otherwise normal bodies once a year for a competition unlike any other (thankfully).
So, pack your spandex, stuff your crotch and press on your temporary tattoos, we’re going to Finland!
Wait, Finland? Well, yeah, because the small Finnish town of Oulu has been home to the World Air Guitar Championship for over a decade. It’s also the starting point of director Alexandra Lipsitz’s exploratory documentary, Air Guitar Nation.
You see, despite the USA’s undisputed status within the hierarchy of rock, as of 2002, America had never been represented in the World Air Guitar Championships – a bizarre realization for Kriston Rucker and Cedric Devitt, two twenty-somethings who, understanding America’s current culture of fame infatuation, organized the first ever US Air Guitar Championship with the idea of sending the winner to compete for the World title in Finland.
And boy, were they on to something. After all, making an ass of yourself in public for your proverbial fifteen minutes of fame is another area of undisputed American dominance.
So it begins. The first phase focuses on selecting an East Coast winner who will later compete against the West Coast champion for a shot at representing the USA in an international showdown.
A small NYC nightclub kicks off the journey of two pseudo rockers that stand head and shoulders above the rest. The first, a self-professed bringer of “Asian fury” donning a “Hello Kitty” breastplate and red spandex called C-Diddy, blows the crowd away with his air riffs set to metal. His closest competitor, Bjorn Turoque (think: Born To Rock), possesses an abundance of passion but is bested by C-Diddy’s unparalleled “skill.”
After taking the East Coast crown, Diddy is off to Hollywood to compete for the US bid to the World Air Guitar Championship. But not before making a stop on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
Later that night, back in New York, the tenacious Bjorn Turoque ends up on Last Call with Carson Daly, performing for the studio audience and convincing Daly to send him to Los Angles for a second shot at taking down C-Diddy. And just like that, these two air junkies become the short bus version of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, each improving the other’s performance at the highest level of competition in their field, culminating in a final rock-off for world air supremacy.
Both end up in Finland where the greatest guitarists from around the world (who can’t actually play guitars) attend an air guitar “boot camp” on a remote island before performing in front of a dizzying throng of Finnish faux rock fans.
The “high altitude training camp” offers courses in technique, stretching, fitness, nutrition, dealing with stage fright and, of course, the handling of groupies. And what remote Finnish island air guitar boot camp would be complete without inspirational words from two-time World Air Guitar Champ, Zac Monro (that’s right, the Zac Monro)?
As one might expect, Air Guitar Nation is often hilarious. Yet remarkably, AGN, once you get over the “Is this really happening?” hurdle, manages to maintain a gripping narrative in spite of its subject matter. Perhaps even more remarkable is how readily the viewer is sucked into this surreal world.
After being told toward the beginning of the film that air guitar is performance art, a pure form of artistic expression, by some talking head “expert,” you laugh. However, by the end of the documentary, it somehow becomes understandable.
No small feat considering we’re talking about grown men and women dressed like clowns being celebrated for doing what comes so naturally to that drunk jackass sitting behind you at every concert you’ve ever attended.
Look for Air Guitar Nation at select theaters in New York and Los Angeles starting March 23rd.