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What Kind of Air Guitar Do You Play

Picture of kid playing air guitar

The new Air Guitar Center at the mall has a fifty-foot wall lined with 200 air guitars, with a placard identifying the name, model and year of each riff machine. There are two air guitar techs—one named Buzz and the other named Wire—who are on hand to discuss anything and everything related to the ersatz axes.

The Air Guitar Center has a stage surrounded by mirrors. At the back is just a normal reflection. But on the sides the “rocking glasses,” as Buzz calls them, are funhouse mirrors. It costs $8 to play a song on the stage, with the air guitar of your choice. A kid comes into the Center and asks to try the 1967 Flying V air guitar with the cherry red finish. Buzz slides a ladder over and carefully brings down the air Flying V. “This is really nice,” the kid says, pulling the air strap over his head. The kid goes onto the stage and Wire hits some switches on the mixing and light boards. “What do you want to play, dude?” Wire asks. “‘Back in Black,’” says the kid. “We heard that four times today. Choose another.” “Aw, come on. I paid my eight bucks!” “Read The Air Guitar Center rules, dude. ‘In accordance with Geneva Convention rules against torture, no song shall be played more than 4 times in a day.’” “‘More Than a Feeling.’” “Jesus Christ,” says Buzz. “Okay,” sighs Wire. “We’ve only heard that twice today.” The kid starts out rough. The younger ones always do. They don’t have the chops, the smoothness, the hours of mirror time you need to be a great air guitarist. Wire cuts the music in the middle of the greatest acoustic intro north of “Stairway.” “What?” says the kid. “You’re playing it too high, dude. Adjust the strap. The air Flying V looks stupid up high. Unless you want to look like the nerdy guitarist in Cheap Trick. Do you want that?” The kid shakes his head and lowers his hands. “And remember, don’t freak out during the intro. It’s sensitive.” The kid gets it. He’s air finger picking, which is much cooler than using an air pick for this part of the song. He’s swaying his head, which is the appropriate melodic move, as opposed to bopping his head up and down, which usually works better with a chorus. Then he stops air playing right before the Boston singer closes his eyes and slips away. “What?” asks Wire. “I should be playing a double-neck, so I can switch between an acoustic and a six-string.” “You have a point,” says Buzz. “But these days, we can just process your signal with FX on the board, dude. Wire will handle it with a harmonizer.” “But —” “Look, kid, we had the air guitar you are talking about. But yesterday this older guy wanted it for ‘Pinball Wizard.’ He went all early Pete Townshend on us and smashed it to bits. We had to call the cops.” “Come on,” Wire says, cuing the Boston song. “There are other people waiting.” The kid air finger picks and sways, then knee slides across the stage while hitting the song’s epic pre-chorus lead. Dowh, dowh, dowh-dowh-dowh. Dowh-dowh-dowhdowhdowh DOWH!! Then he’s on his feet, bouncing up and down and mouthing the backing vocals on the chorus until it’s time for the first solo, which he plays with the air Flying V behind his head while doing fast-twitch hip hop footwork. “Nice!” says Buzz. “Air dancing!”

— An excerpt from "What Kind of Air Guitar Do You Play, Or the Question of Reality," a chapter in Metaphysical Graffiti.

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