I was going to write another movie-related Top 10, but as sit here in front of the computer, all I’ve been doing all night is getting inspired by my fellow rockers-in-air. You see, Thursday morning I take off for five days on the U.S. Air Guitar Championships tour in hopes that I’ll be able to win a regional competition and qualify for the Nationals in NYC, baby! This Top 10 is a very off-the-top-of-my-head list of air guitarists (some of whom I shared the stage with at the 2009 Nationals as Mean Melin, and some who I’ve only seen in videos) who inspire me to new heights of airness. Please enjoy my list of the Top 10 U.S. Air Guitarists of All-Time. If you have an idea for a Top 10 list, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
10. Awesome a.k.a. Alex Koll
Formerly known as Shred Begley, Jr., this two-time San Francisco air guitar champion has it all: The look (giant afro and grizzly-man beard), the sass (robotic head/shoulder moves), the brains (hidden behind a visor and a pair of plastic blinds), and the power of a logo that is formulated to rehydrate and replenish fluid, carbohydrates, and electrolytes. Beisdes having sweet air guitar chops, he’s got a unique style which lands him on this list.
9. The Shred a.k.a. Lance Kasten
The world’s oldest professional air guitarist broke his ankle jumping from the stage at the 9:30 Club in 2008, but that didn’t stop him from winning Washington D.C.’s coveted title for three years (including last week’s big win against an insane amount of raw air talent. I couldn’t find the video for the infamous breakage, but I did find this sweet video from Brooklyn that year, where he shows off a little air bass and air drum aptitude as well.
8. Sanjar the Destroyer a.k.a. Chris Paxton
This guy impressed the hell out of me last year at the D.C. National Championship. Besides tying with local legend The Shred for the D.C. title that year (a seemingly impossible task), he ended up in the final round that night in second place. The second round is where you have to air guitar to a song you haven’t prepared for and, let me tell you, it ain’t easy. When it was his turn, Sanjar waltzed right up to the front of the stage, put on a blindfold (the cocky son of a bitch), and rocked the Queens of the Stone Age to perfection. Check it.
7. Stryker a.k.a. Ryan Layman
Is he Stryker? Is he Dreamcatcher? Well, he’s been both. I just know he’s a badass who won Dallas in 2007, Detroit in 2008, and Nashville in 2009. I saw him in Kansas City last year do the funniest bit where he kept taking air bong rips in between verses of Sabbath’s “Sweet Leaf” and getting slower and slower. Here he is doing his patented two-beer explosion during Anthrax’s version of Joe Jackson’s “Got the Time,” complete with an oversized Public Enemy clock.
6. Airisol a.k.a. Cami Phillippi
Wow. This is why they videotape these competitions. After this three-time Minneapolis champ’s routine at Nationals last year, the judges were so impressed with some of Airisol’s moves that they asked her to do them again. Here they are: About 1:09 into this video, the reigning queen of air guitar does an upside-down kick flip that defies gravity. She then follows it up with a body-crushing back flip that lands her on her back…and she gets up! Wow. Lucky for the rest of us competitors, she’s taking a year off this year to create a little future air guitar champion.
5. Rockness Monster a.k.a. Fatima Hoang
How cool do you have to be to be picked as the star of a music video that lasts four minutes and consists of nothing but one single, slo-mo shot the entire time? Well, if you’re 2005 National Champ the Rockness Monster, it’s all part of a day’s work. I wanted to include this video of the Old 97′s “In the Satellite Rides the Star” so you could get an idea of Rockness’ infectious, unbridled energy. What makes it even better is that the song is a ballad.
4. William Ocean a.k.a. Andrew Litz
Mr. Ocean has a bye this year, since he was 2009′s U.S. National Champ and tied for second place overall in the World competition last year as well. That left the door open for Ricky Stinkfingers to swipe Ocean’s NYC crown this year. Well, we will see him and his theatrical brand of air guitar in the Nationals as he defends his title in July on his home turf. I, for one, am scared to see what all this free time might bring from the man who spends much of his time hoisted atop his fans’ shoulders and who pioneered the in-audience spotlight. Sick. William Ocean for President!
3. Bjorn Turoque a.k.a. Dan Crane
What can you say about the man who is most widely known in air guitar circles as the perennial second-place finisher? This: He competed in 11 air guitar competitions, wrote the book “To Air is Human,” appeared as himself in and scored the Earth-shattering documentary “Air Guitar Nation,” (well, it shattered my Earth), hosted numerous U.S. and World air guitar events, invented Aireoke (and gave me permission to host my own Aireoke events in Lawrence, KS–thanks man!), and even delivered a TEDxTalk on how air guitar can save the world. Is there any better ambassador for the power of air guitar than Bjorn? I think not. Here he is at the 2005 World’s in Finland doing his signature song:
2. C. Diddy a.k.a. David Jung
Probably the single most famous clip of anyone air guitaring anywhere is this one of “Air Guitar Nation” star C. Diddy, who came out of nowhere to claim not only the U.S. crown but also the World Championship in his first year. The arch-nemesis of Bjorn Turouqe, Diddy has the nimble fingers and expressive facial tics of a world champ. This performance is so good it almost made me like Extreme. Almost. His outfit and this song have become iconic; so much so that last year The Fro repurposed the song for his own first-round victory in the Nationals. Like all of the top three performers on this list, sadly, C. Diddy has retired from the competitive world of air guitar and passed on into legend.
1. Hot Lixx Hulahan a.k.a. Craig Billmeier
Simply put, 2008 World Champion Hot Lixx Hulahan is the best around. That’s why it was such a shock when he announced last month that he would retire, leaving many tear-stained kerchiefs in his wake, but going out while at the top of his game. (George Lucas could’ve learned a thing or two from Hot Lixx.) Here’s the deal: Hot Lixx is a master of taking the big and making it bigger. He doesn’t so much “air guitar” as he does make his own blend of experimental performance art. Take this clip, where Hot Lixx gets to stretch out for a full three-minute mash-up of everything from Tenacious D to Slayer to Pat Benatar and Queen. His shoulders accent drum fills, his guitar suddenly sprouts two necks for a Brian May double-guitar lovefest, and he lapses into jazz guitar just to keep everyone on their toes. Genius.