Choosing Air Guitars over Guns and Bombs
Air Guitar competitions are as inconsequential now as they have ever been; they may even be one reason
aliens pass us over and decide not to land. That's what the trailer for the 20th Air Guitar World Championships says.
And, they add, that's why the world needs them now more than ever. They help
create the good kind of absurdity: the mirth that makes for fat souls who can help
build a better world for all. Karaoke and lip-sync competitions can help, too.
The Purpose: The purpose of the Air Guitar World Championships is to promote world peace. According to the ideology of the Air Guitar, wars end, climate change stops and all bad things disappear, if all the people in the world played the Air Guitar. Air Guitar World Championships is a registered trademark and an annual event held in Oulu, Northern Finland. (Air Guitar World Championship webpage)
Hope: The only real hope for the world is that people create sustainable communities that are compassionate, participatory, economically viable, humane to animals, multicultural, ecologically wise, and sufficiently raucous to provide nourishment for the soul. The Bible says "where there is no vision, the people perish." Truth be told, "where there is no raucosity the people perish, too." (Jay McDaniel)
Rethinking Musicality: I love the sound of the trees in the breeze. If the forest is so clearly musical, why can't it play the guitar while I sing Nirvana coverse? (Jarod Kintz)
Mirth and Girth: We see full well the absurdities and evils of our time. Yet, we are not cynics. We believe in hope. We believe in deep listening. We believe that mirth makes girth; laughter makes us larger. (Patricia Adams Farmer and Jay McDaniel, Fat Soul International: A Manifesto
Absurdity: There are many kinds of absurdity in our world. There is the absurdity of war, terrorism, nuclear weaponry, ethnic hatred, economic inequality, and global climate change. And there's the absurdity of air guitar. I'll take the absurdity of air guitar any day. It's joy for its own sake: raucous noise among good friends. As the video puts it: there's nothing wrong with being an idiot. (Jay McDaniel)
Raucosity: Joy for its own sake, laughter and conviviality without pretext, meeting time's advance with unapologetic delight, raucous noise, good friends — these are nothing less than the eruption of the hidden light cracking the conventional crust of our mature good sense, our dehumanizing obsession with control, our idolatrous reliance on possession as salvation. (Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson)
Rethinking Ability: I’m thinking about this in terms of the phrase “performing ability,” meaning both the performance of something called “ability” and also the “ability to perform.” So, moving forward, I’m trying to consider some of the ways that air guitar constructs its own forms of ability and disability, which it receives (and perhaps alters) from the dominant society. (Byrd McDaniel)
Love without Strings: I want the gift of a guitar—no strings attached. I want your love to also have no strings attached—and be just as musical. (Jarod Kintz)
I may not have written the song, but I could add my story to it. Everyone out there could. That was what made music so powerful. (Tara Kelly)
The bridge is made of the stories that the old paradigm can't hear, the lives that it doesn't count, the imagined future it can't encompass. (Arlene Goldbard, The Culture of Possibility: Art, Artists, and the Future)
Springboards for Further Reflection
mostly by Byrd McDaniel
What is a real person?
"We might think of the “real person” as a human being in the audience. This seems simple enough.
It's performance art.
It's totally about freedom, you don't have to be a rock star.
Keep it real -- it's ridiculous.
We’re challenging others to join the ranks,” Evans said. “I hope people get the idea around it. We acknowledge air guitar is ridiculous, but it’s exceedingly entertaining to watch.”
Why do our finger's twitch?
"Why do our fingers twitch when we hear “Purple Rain”? Why, when we sing along with the radio, do we raise an imaginary microphone to our face?...We might think of playing air guitar as a form of “overt behavior” that reflects our “covert mental images” of someone playing guitar. Listening to music creates these covert images that become overt when we try to enact them with our bodies."
Who is Byrd McDaniel?
"I am Byrd McDaniel, an ethnomusicology graduate student at Brown University. This site presents some of my research on the U.S. air guitar community. Through fieldwork and interviews, I explore contemporary air guitar competitions, and I also do archival research on the historical dimensions of these practices. If you have any questions or comments, then please do not hesitate to contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org."
Aline Westphal, otherwise known as ‘The Devil’s Niece’, has been crowned the first female winner of the annual Air Guitar World Championships in Finland. The Air Guitar World Championship venue was packed to the rafters at Oulu marketplace as thousands gathered to watch one of the silliest competitions on record. The entrants, wielding their invisible guitars, were judged not on technical ability but on enthusiasm. And Aline came out on top with an energetic – and a tad unhinged – performance.
Are listeners performers?
"In Performing Rites, Simon Frith proposes three layers of the pop music performer: the real person, the persona, and the protagonist. The real person refers to a human being who is a musician (ex. Robert Zimmerman). The persona is the performed identity on stage (ex. Bob Dylan). The protagonist is the character of a given song (ex. Bob Dylan performing from the perspective of a farm worker in “Maggie’s Farm”). We could easily question parts of this formulation (for example, the tidiness of the “real person”), but many have made good use of this tripartite conception (see: Philip Auslander’s Glam Rock).
What kinds of air guitar are there?
"Thus far, my research on air guitar has three subjects of analysis:
Keep it real -- it's ironic.
I wonder to what degree people listen to air guitar performances ironically...In air guitar competitions, performers certainly employ irony. ..The judges, too, performed as personas, providing false details about performer histories and their own credentials. ..But I think the irony extended to the listeners, as well, because they seemed to provide a kind of over-the-top performance of fandom and affective engagement. Arms flailing in the air, bowing in submission to great performers, and grabbing onto the legs of air guitarists were all familiar audience tropes that harped on the conventions of listening and audience membership. During a performance, I even overheard one audience member shout: “We’re not worthy!”
Why do we imitate musicians?
In the spirit of Airnadette, the French lip-syncing troupe
In Music and Social Life, Thomas Turino analyzes music as a mode of communication, and he defines “semiotic density” as “the number of potential signs occurring simultaneously” (108). Turino is arguing that music’s semiotic density is greater than that of written text, since it has more layers of meaning. Music piles indexes upon indexes, through things like rhythm, inflection, and gesture. All of this gives music the capacity to layer meanings in ways that other mediums cannot or do not.