Wednesday, August 26, 2009

AGWC part two, in which I am alternately amused and afraid, not to mention confused


The day starts off at noon with an interview. Five members or associates of the French air band Airnadette are here, one for judging and the others for performing, and we meet over coffee in the hotel restaurant. The interview is a bit confusing, but as band member Scotch Brit - who channels Britney Spears - notes, air guitar is a bit like a "return to surrealism."

Next is an info meeting and press conference at Rauhala, the "House of Peace" and air guitar HQ, only no press were present. Slots are drawn for the dark horse qualifying round by picking playing cards. Flamboyant costumes are already to be found: the Japanese organizer is decked out in white sunglasses, a hat, and platinum blonde hair, the Russian contestant is gothed out with chains hanging from pants, long wavy flowing hair, and eyeliner, his girlfriend in a silver bolero jacket with matching purse. The cameras are on as soon as entrants come through door and the media circus continues for the rest of the time I'm in Oulu. I learn that one of the camera teams, the one that in fact filmed me the day before during the training camp, is from the Australian 60 Minutes.

After the conference, I interview "Heavier Dannair," the Brazilian champion, who is there with a kind of manager. He shows me pictures of his recent trip through Germany – “I love the German people,” he reports – Frankfurt, Heidelberg, Hildesheim. There, he stopped to practice his heavy metal routine at a scenic overlook with a gray-haired lady looking on. Afterwards he said she called her whole cycling group over, and he got a picture of everyone playing air guitar with him. Next the Brazilians went on a tour to Lappland, where Fausto got Santa Claus and Santa’s elves to play air guitar too. And on a train in Finland a little blond girl also played air guitar for his camera. His manager is now a convert to the power and joy of air guitar. They prove it with pictures – people smile when posing for the camera but smile like idiots when striking air guitar poses. This guy is an air guitar guru. The two of them suggest air guitar as a new Olympic sport when I mention how sore I am today from the training camp activities. Well, if ice dancing is an Olympic sport, why not air guitar too?

Nap time, then over to the city hall annex, since city hall itself is under renovation. A reception for all air guitarists is held here yearly. Four city officials welcome us and shake hands with all air guitarists. They take these things seriously here. An enormous Finnish giant in something like a monk’s robe and a little round cap with a feather in it is getting food from the buffet table. The media circus continues: there are cameras everywhere. In fact, I keep bumping into them as I try to take my own pictures. All air guitarists are asked to line up and state their country for the video cameras. A Canadian is last in line and says “Mars” - is an Air Guitar Interplanetary Championship next?

While at the reception three German freelance journalists interview me, and then I interview Nat Hayes of US Air Guitar while this guy from Munich films us in a distractingly non-ethnographic fashion. Back to hotel to write up notes, a little shopping, and dinner at an Iraqi falafel joint where the pita was as big as a pizza, then it is time to get to 45 Special for the famed dark horse qualifying round of the championships.

The worst performance of the evening was, hands down, that by the Crazy Swede. His entire routine consisted of a minimalistic strut back and forth across the stage, strumming the same high notes on his air guitar. We kept thinking he was just warming up and was going to break out into some face-melting solos at any moment, but it didn't happen. The Crayz Swede wasn't crazy enough.

In one way, the most frightening performance was probably that of DefCon John, an American living in Tampere, Finland. I later found out he was making a tour of all the wacky Finnish summer competitions and had already participated in the wife-carrying contest and the international sauna competition. For this evening, he had decided to portray the worst American stereotypes. He had painted red, white, and blue starts on his chest and USA on his back, then sprayed his entire torso with gold. He wore a cowboy hat and silvered glasses. For clothing, he had only some skimpy shorts made out of an American flag and held up with a wide leather belt. When the Finnish emcee introduced him and asked a question, he responded, "I don't understand you. Don't you speak Merkan?" Nonetheless, afterwards he reported that he wasn't sure if the judges got the joke, because of his low scores, and joked that he had been "politically railroaded." I myself was just relieved that his shorts had stayed on the entire time.

Depending on your definition of frightening, a second contender for that title might have been the performance of one of the South Africans, who opened his number by stubbing a lit cigarette out on his neck. He didn't make it through but four did: the other South African, Skeletair; Snake Russkin of the UK and Sausalito; France's Chateau Brutal, of the well-known air band Airnadette; and the critically-acclaimed Zero Prospects, the only female contender that night. As Bjorn Turoque's recently-acquired wife, she had had extensive training in facial expressions, but the costume concept was entirely her own. Under her tight-fitting, rip-off yellow track pants she wore men's underwear with "Make Air Not War" written on the B side, so to speak, and a jock strap. She explained that this was her feminist statement about the "sausage fest" usually found in air guitar competitions.

Afterwards while chatting with Airnadette members and admiring their lamé costumes, a crazed Finnish fan steals Scotch Brit’s red plastic glasses, and starts to drink Gunther Love’s beer, although he is able to recover it before too much damage is done.

The evening winds up with a round of Aireoke, which if you haven't experienced it, is basically like karaoke only you play air guitar badly instead of singing badly. The nice thing is that it brought the locals and the pros together for once, but the bad part was watching lackluster amateur performances. As I said, it is much like karaoke: it requires alcohol to be entertaining.

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