Air Heads

     I shall now reconcile the irreconcilable – or maybe not.
     I just heard a long interview on National Public Radio with a “professional air guitarist.”
     And I’ve just finished reading a biography of Antonio Stradivari.
     A fellow named Dan Crane, who performs under the name of Björn Turoque, spoke on the radio about the “sacrifices” he made to become an air guitarist.
     He talked about “becoming a conduit” for the music that he pretends to play, on a nonexistent instrument, for his audience, which is actually listening to recorded music that other people played long ago.
     Crane said he has a “natural talent” for air guitar.
     He talked about the “air guitar circuit,” which is holding “championship” contests in California this week, leading up to the Air Guitar National Championships in San Francisco on Aug. 8.
      And he said that there are air guitar groupies – women who want to have sex with men who pretend to play the guitar.
     To recapitulate: Women want to have real sex with men who pretend to have a talent they do not actually have. Other people pay money to see men pretend to play a guitar.
     Almost all air guitarists are men.
     Moving right along, Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737) made Stradivarius violins, violas and cellos. A good Stradivarius violin sells for well over $1 million today, when one comes on the market, which is seldom. But the fancy price does not suffice to convey the value of the instruments, which are generally thought to produce the most beautiful tone of any string instruments ever made – a sound that is the model for every violin maker around the world, and has been for a long time.
     In his lifetime, Stradivari probably made more than 1,000 instruments, of which 600 or so survive – including two guitars.
Stradivari learned his trade as an apprentice to Nicolo Amati. He was Amati’s apprentice for 25 years.
     After learning his trade for a quarter of a century, Stradivari began turning out instruments under his own name. He could make fiddles pretty well by then.
      It took Stradivari about two weeks to make a violin.
     These violins are not beautiful instruments because of the two weeks that Stradivari spent building them. They are beautiful because he studied his trade for 25 years before he went to work for himself. He made some of his great fiddles after working at his trade for more than 60 years.
     The thought that someone could make money by pretending to play an invisible musical instrument, an instrument that the person cannot actually play, would surely mystify Antonio Stradivari.
     It mystifies me.
     Try as I might, I cannot understand why it is that anyone would think playing air guitar is a talent; that it is worth watching; that it is worth paying for; that people can be judged, and given a “championship” for a talent they do not actually possess.
     And I certainly do not understand why a woman would take her pants off for a guy like that.
     Music is an art that requires more than talent. It requires discipline and years of study. People who master the art are sometimes handsomely rewarded. But usually not. Many musicians of tremendous talent and discipline toil in obscurity their entire lives, sometimes in poverty as well. That’s how it was in Stradivari’s day; that’s how it is today.
     Perhaps someone could explain to me why it is that our society rewards people who do not have talent, who do not have the discipline necessary to learn to play an instrument even moderately well, but who only pretend to have the talent.
     Perhaps you could explain why some people think these people are admirable, and worth rewarding.
     The air guitar seems a pretty good metaphor for U.S. culture today, and perhaps the best metaphor yet for the state of U.S. politics: a bunch of no-talent fakers pretending to have expertise about things of which they ignorant, pretending to do things they cannot actually do.
     We know they are ignorant, we know they cannot do what they say, but we watch them, and applaud, and give them money, and we make them our champions. And then we take our pants off for them and bend over.

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