Since SNL's "Wayne's World" heyday, air guitar, with roots running deep to the yore of mullet-propelled Cameros, has enjoyed a quiet revival. In 2003, The U.S. of Rockin' A finally joined the world air-forum, exporting David "C-Diddy" Jung to compete for the international crown in Oulu, Finland, where the World Championships have taken place since their birth in 1995. The result? Lady Liberty, care of Jung, nabbed the 2003 title, and in 2004 MiRi "Sonyk-Rok" Park defended it, setting 2005's hat-trick stakes as critical, if not nationally deflating.
"I could smoke anybody in the world; no one can do what I do," says 2004's Rocky Mountain Regional Air Guitar champ Jesse "Demon Strait" Pulley, who lost tragi-controversially to Park in the nationals.
This year's regional competition takes place on Friday, May 27, at the hi-dive on the increasingly hip stretch of South Broadway in Denver.
Last year, Pulley, with the encouragement of family and friends in Mobile, Ala., competed unsuccessfully in Chicago before earning a meal ticket out of Denver to the national gig, where it all came to an end.
"Here's the deal: I'm 40; I don't have kids; I live a rock 'n' roll lifestyle -- my morning is 3 p.m., you know," says Pulley. "I do my Yngwie (Yngwie Malmsteen's "Queen in Love"), and then the judges pick "Black Betty" (by Ram Jam) for round two; it was as bad as playing Nelly's "Hot in Here" with a banjo and calling that air guitar."
Air guitar officiating operates on the same scoring system as figure skating. To qualify in the first round of a regional, air guitar competitors perform one minute from a song of their choice. A panel of judges then selects a "surprise obligatory" song to which the top five contestants, in the order they qualified, must improvise. Each region's winner advances to the national contest, and from there the victor flies to Finland to represent the Stars and Stripes.
As an extra perk, this year's Rocky Mountain regional runner-up will walk away with a mint condition 1962 Gibson hollow-body air guitar.
The air guitarists are judged on three criteria: technical merit (convincing fretwork in sync with the music), stage presence (rocking the crowd) and "airness" ("the extent to which a performance transcends the imitation of a real guitar and becomes and art form in and of itself"). From headbanging and fallen-knee mock solos to absurd costumes and exposed flesh, performers with Finnish dreams leave no tricks unexploited.
Other stipulations apply to air guitar competitions as well, such as the following, set forth by the Air Guitar World Championships: "Personal air roadies are allowed, but they must leave the stage before the performance begins."
"This event is pretty insane," says hi-dive's Matt LaBarge. "Last year we completely sold out. We had contestants venture all the way from New York and Alabama to compete. They air-guitared AC/DC, Iron Maiden and 'Dueling Banjos,' even 'I'm All Out of Love' by Air Supply. Then I gave them Van Halen's 'Eruption' to sort them out in round two."
Pulley stole the show, thanks to his swift Eddie Van Halen impersonation.
"I did this (played air guitar) for hours and hours back in the '80s. I don't want the glamorization behind it; I don't want to be labeled 'air guitar,'" Pulley says, "but I've got a following now on the Internet."
-- Matthew Schniper
2005 Rocky Mountain Regional Air Guitar Competition
hi-dive, 7 S. Broadway, Denver
Friday, May 27, 8 p.m., 21+
Tickets: $7 cover, free for participants; call 720/570-4500 for more or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for info to compete.