It’s About to Get Awesome
One night about a year ago, I was standing on the BART platform waiting for the train. It was after work so I was slightly seething. I noticed a man standing about a train-door length away. I recognized him, but couldn’t place from where.
Suddenly, the answer struck me like a power chord.
Before my recognition could be decoded and properly organized by my brain, my hands intercepted the signal. As if possessed, my limbs involuntarily sprung into action.
I looked the man dead in the eye, and without saying a word I approximated a guitar neck in the air with my left hand, leaned back, and began lightly strumming imaginary strings a few inches in front of my belly button. I stopped and raised one eyebrow, transmitting the silent question, “Right?”
He closed his eyes, tightened his lips, and quietly shook his head in a gesture of humble admission. Then, very gently, he reciprocated my guitar lick with one of his own. We both quickly scanned the rest of the platform, checking to see if anyone caught this clandestine exchange.
The train arrived. We got on the same car together.
“Jeff Leopard, right?” I asked.
“Yep. You’re…The Awesome? You got a haircut.”
End of interaction.
We awkwardly endured the next few stops together, clinging to the train handgrips like they were conversation flotation devices.He was right.
Under the stage name The Awesome (a.k.a. Shred Begley Jr.) I was the San Francisco Regional Air Guitar champion in 2008 and 2009.
The first year I performed, I rose to third in the nation. And I had gotten a haircut.Now Jeff Leopard and I were both wearing polo shirts and sporting laptop bags. Last time we met I wore electric hot pants and a dozen neon shoelaces around each bicep. He wore a pink Mohawk and an exaggerated candy-raver costume.
That night we flew and tumbled and thrashed and wailed in front of a sold-out crowd of maniacs. We were snarled in a do-or-die match for our very rock and roll souls. Our weapons: air guitars. Last time we met we were warriors. This time, we were struggling to make the smallest of talk.
In the end, all you walk away from the stage with is glory. But as I learned, the glory that accompanies competitive air guitar is as elusive and hard to contain as the particles of air that comprise the instruments we play.
So you ask, why do it?
Do you ask the sun why it pounds atoms together at 3,000,000,000 times the temperature it takes to melt a face?
Do you ask a bald eagle why it flies in front of the moon at midnight and screeches so loud it breaks all the windshields in the neighborhood?
Do you ask the devil why he stabs sinners in the ding-dong with his pitchfork?
No, you do not. The answer is clear:
WE DO IT TO RULE.
When the U.S. Air Guitar Championships roll into town during the summer, men and women of an otherwise mild manner are transformed into gods of pure rock. Sweaty and shameless displays of pure enthusiasm set to epic anthems produce girth-defying feats of semi-acrobatics that drive audiences wild.
FYI: San Francisco is one of the – if not THE – best cities to compete. This city gets it, plain and simple. It’s no secret that weirdness is dense here. There is no shortage of willing wing nuts ready to push the boundaries of the sport to its strangest limits. People here also love to get drunk and watch some sideways shit go down. Does it break convention? Is it a pure spectacle? Is there a keg? If so, you’ve got an event! That’s why the USAG does two sold-out nights in SF each year. When the finals were here in 2008, they filled the Regency Ballroom. When the competition was pared down to one night in 2010, the freakin’ Fillmore was sold out.
We also can’t forget San Francisco’s legacy of defiance as an example to the world:
Tradition says humping is for just one man and one woman. San Francisco says, “Hell no!”
Tradition says baths are for every day. San Francisco says, “Hell no!”
Tradition says you need an electric guitar to rock. San Francisco says, “Hell no!”
The air guitar season is once again in full swing, so here are some tips to help future champions down the mighty metal highway to flaming glory. Much of this knowledge was passed on to me by my mentor, World Air Guitar Champion Hot Lixx Hulahan (from where? SAN FRANCISCO). Now I pass it on to you:
The SF Regionals are coming up fast. Be ye voyeur or be ye warrior, sweaty glory awaits you at http://usairguitar.com . BTW, female competitors, drag kings, and drag queens never compete in the numbers they should. What gives, San Francisco? Let this be a call to all: Kick out the dominant paradigm, motherfuckers!