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The other night I helped judge another kind of boys’ club, the air guitar contest that was the closing event of a month-long performance series organized by Artists Space. It wasn’t a total surprise that I loved it. I’ve listened to rock and roll my whole life and am told I do a pretty good air guitar myself.
Our eight contestants were 100 percent men, a statistic that is said to be changing abroad but is still typical here. This art form is an autoerotic combination of performance art, drag show, pantomime, posturing, parody, feather display, dance, and mating call. Champion air guitarists “Air Lingus,” “Bjorn Turoque” (pronounced “born to rock”), and “the Rockness Monster” informed us that the criteria for judging were technical ability, charisma, and “airness.” As Lingus put it, “What counts is not the there guitar, it’s the air guitar. We’re after transcendence.”
And that’s what I saw in “Osama Bin Rockin,” who played the air sitar as a Joseph Beuys figure wobbled in the background; “30-Pack of Rock,” our eventual winner in a T-shirt that said, “Lick my legs I’m on fire”; “Air Apparent,” who did a fabulous Prince; and “Sir Angus,” outfitted as a T-bone steak.
These hormonal warriors put on a nonstop show of horniness, impetuousness, obnoxiousness, contempt, hopefulness, and sheer joy. As Bjorn put it, “Air guitar is about bringing the bedroom onto the world stage.” He paused, then added, “and promoting world peace.”