One of my favorite old print photos shows me and a handful of school cross-country buddies jumping around near the bus after a meet, to the music of an 80s band. Though not in an ironic way—this was the 80s. On this occasion, I was the only one air-playing an instrument: the guitar, of course. Todd was busting out his dance moves, Marty was just happily going vertical but looked like he was blocking a volleyball spike, and Allan was just being Allan, the amused observer. I was airborne while striking a power chord, though more often I would take an imposing, focused position to handle the more technical riffs.
I have another favorite pic where I’m working the riff stance among my non-running friend group. Everyone was playing something, Allan again present, a participant this time. A couple of us employed tennis rackets, which is permitted in air guitar, as it doesn’t much affect the sound. We were skilled, maybe even beyond the Eagles, who, now that I think about it, was the band we were mimicking—so more accurately a 70s vibe. Not just pop sell-outs here.
Kids (and adults) still do the low-slung guitar pose from time to time, but not like we did then. It was a go-to motion for most male teens, a reflexive spasm even. It would happen to me often in government class. We were addicted to the illusion and marriage of power and artistry. Especially if one had a tiny bit of actual guitar playing experience, like me. And no girlfriend.
I found that I could translate the coolness into bass guitar as well. The trick was to act majorly aloof, stretch the left arm way out wide, then pluck the strings up real high at the right nipple. Also, to look a bit sleepy. This worked best in contrast next to others who were freaking out.
It wasn’t fair, though, for aspiring keyboardists. There was no cool way to mimic a performance on the banal synthesizer, unless you colored and moussed up your hair like the A Flock of Seagulls’ guy. Or could stand on something that was rotating.
Drummer wannabes could also contribute to the air band quite favorably. One of the guys would do the stick flip in between snare hits, and you could almost see it rotating perfectly. But with air drums, it’s a fine line. If a person wasn’t seated correctly and didn’t go all in, that just dialed back the atmosphere and we found ourselves on the cusp of dorkiness.
I wonder how all this teen behavior would’ve looked in the Scotland countryside. I can imagine a juvenile Scot looking real tight blowing “air bagpipes,” but the distinction is a bit confusing because they that truly play bagpipes literally play air bagpipes.
I’m sure none of this would have happened back in the Renaissance, the lack of recorded music notwithstanding. It would’ve been the same limitation as today for the keyboardist, only a harpsichord instead of a synth. But so much different trying to rock a diminutive lute. “Lyre solo! Take it, William!” And the recorder: nobody in the past (nor with experience in present day band class) would want to be seen shredding on that air gizmo (or on it for real, for that matter). Even the flute, a major upgrade from the recorder, can’t be mimicked without looking like you’re having a seizure. Which is why we avoided Jethro Tull numbers.
I play guitar for real these days, i.e. “in real life” or simply “IRL” as the kids now say, which I could have used in the previous paragraph but didn’t want to do that to you twice. (The fact that I put it in quotes and qualified it with “as the kids now say” affirms that it’s something I should not say.) Anyway, back to real guitar—I’m not too shabby at it. But I don’t expect to ever attain the level of proficiency I enjoyed when those photos were snapped.
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