Last night at Sauna World in Oulu, I was delighted to share my research with the international air guitar community. I’m surprised at the amount of interest that the presentation generated and happy that everyone packed into that small room to listen. I gave a little air guitar prehistory, moving from the 1980s (the first golden age of air guitar) backwards.
Here’s a list of the media examples with links:
- Puttin’ on the Hits (pantomime, lip-syncing show from the mid-1980s)
- newspaper clipping from air guitar contests in early 1980s
- Joe Cocker’s Famous Air Guitar Performance (1969)
- Damita Jo DeBlanc’s “Silver Dollar” (1965)
- Jerry Lewis pantomimes in Cinderfella (1960)
- Bill Reed & the Diamonds on Steve Allen Show (1957)
- Elvis playing air guitar (oldest known video of someone playing air guitar)(1956)
- newspaper clipping from pantomime world series (1922)
- a few newspaper clippings about mental illness and air playing (late 19th C, early 20th C)
In most academic contexts, I find myself spending a lot of time justifying air guitar as a form of music interpretation and expression. This is always an uphill battle, which often begins with me feeling that I need to somehow validate air guitar before I can analyze it. Last night, it was so great to be in room where the validity of air guitar was never in question. There was no need to clear the air, so to speak.
As with all histories, it’s a challenge to construct a history of air guitar, since inevitably it involves selecting things I deem relevant to air guitar history and omitting others. Is air guitar simply a footnote in the history of dance? Is air guitar part of karaoke history? What should a proper history take into account: technology, people, cultural sensibilities, economics, organizations, music, etc.? Is air guitar a genre? A gestural vocabulary? A metaphor?
I am grateful to have the privilege to think through these ideas and humbled by the wealth of knowledge from others. I had great talks last night with people from Finland, Sudan, Japan, Russia, Germany, U.S., Canada, and Taiwan. We spoke about interpretive dance, countries without a concept of air guitar, human vs. instrument drum battles, and air guitar how-to manuals. These continuing conversations will definitely shape future research.