We’ve all done it. I certainly know I have. I’ve done it in the shower. I’ve done it in the car. And more than once I’ve done it in front of 20,000 people at a concert. And so have you. The IT I’m referring to is playing air guitar. Guilty as charged, aren’t you. Well hang your heads, dear readers, because one person in the world does it better than anyone: World Air Guitar Champion Eric Melin.
I’ve been lucky enough to have been able to call Eric a friend and a colleague for over a decade. Like me, he’s a film critic for several outlets, including his own very popular site: www.scene-stealers.com.
I have to admit that it’s much easier for me to interview an Oscar winning filmmaker then it is a friend. Question four, below, came out of my mouth so mangled that we both laughed when I told him “that was a horrible question…I’m sorry. It will look better in print.”
Just back from Finland, “Mean” Melin took some time to speak with me about his title and the future of the competition.
Mike Smith: How long have you been playing air guitar competitively?
Eric Melin: Competitively? Five years. Ironically my work as a film critic led me to it. I saw the film “Air Guitar Nation,” which was a documentary that came out in 2006. I didn’t see it until 2009 when I caught it on Netflix. When I saw the movie I thought, “Oh, shit! I’ve been doing this pretty much all my life anyway. I should try to do it on stage in front of people.”
MS: I was going to say…everyone has at one time or another played air guitar but it’s really a lot more than just miming the pick moves, etc. What all goes into a performance?
EM: There are three things that are judged in air guitar, both in the US and the World Championships. There’s technical ability, which is what you just talked about. It’s not the most important thing but, believe it or not, you want to make it look like you’re actually somewhat playing a real guitar. The second thing is stage presence, which is what I call the “Wow” factor. You really have to come out in character…you have to get the people excited that you’re there. And the third thing they judge you on is air-ness.
MS: When and where did this…I hate to use the word craze…gain notoriety? Where did competitive air guitar start?
EM: The World Championships started in 1996. The event that I just won was the 18th Annual Air Guitar World Championships. It’s been going on for a very long time. As documented in the movie “Air Guitar Nation,” it really got started in America in 2003. What happened was two guys from America – Kriston Rucker and Cedrick Devitt, who are now the co-commissioners of US Air Guitar – found out that there was such a thing as a World Championship in Finland and they went there. They realized there was no U.S. representation! How could the country that invented rock and roll not have a representative at the World Air Guitar Championships? They set up a couple of shows in New York and Los Angeles that year to remedy that and find a champion. By the time I found out about it and signed up in 2009 there were already (28) cities sponsoring events. It expanded from two to twenty-eight cities in five years.
MS: In going through the list of this year’s finalists…they came from all over the world. Finland, of course. Germany, Belgium, France, England. Are the performances influenced by their home countries? You’re very dramatic on stage…a lot of big moves. A lot of Pete Townsend and heavy metal head banging. We’re all of the performances similar?
EM: This was my first year at the World Championships after five years of competing in the U.S. Air Guitar Championships. I learned a lot more about the international style this year.
MS: I know when we spoke earlier you had mentioned that you had planned on retiring from the competitive circuit, win or lose, after the World Championships. Is that still the plan?
EM: I did decide that this would be my last year. But, after winning, I changed my mind so I could fly back to Oulu again next year because I had so much fun! So I will actually compete to defend my title next year!