Mock and Roll 2: Oh Baby!

Photos by Andre Gagne

“Andre! Andre! Andre!”

They shouted my name through a fine scented mist of beer, perogies, beer, onions, a hint of bacon and beer. The last power chord from my Chuck Berry red Gibson ES-355 still lingered above their heads. My stance was statuesque –the rhinestone studded spandex caressing my skin never glimmered brighter, my bleached blond locks never more feathered–, a frozen rock and roll Adonis hoisting up his guitar as though offering it back to the very gods who bestowed it upon him with the sole purpose of bringing forth the thunder of music.

That task was complete and the rabid mob of adoration surged towards me like a Serengeti stampede. Ever louder their chants grew, starving for more guitar glory and I oblige shredding unheard licks composed by a band of fallen angels. The crowd melts like ice cubes on a summer sidewalk. Jennifer Lawrence stops me in mid-slice for a wild, wet embrace as Scarlett Johansson looks on radiating the beautiful heat of jealousy. Errrr, annnd Audrey Hepburn was there too!

“Andre! Andre!…”


I open my eyes. Standing in front of me is a man dressed like an octopus. Nothing snaps you out of a dream sequence quicker than a man with tentacles. The crowd is gone. The beautiful groupies, like my guitar, are invisible.

Jesus, I hope I didn’t just kiss this octo-man, I think to myself trying to deduce if I have the taste of calamari in my mouth.

Nope, still just Beeferoni. Phew!

It’s unclear who said my name. I look around the small room we’re all crammed into. Along with octo-man there’s a mime, a well groomed but shirtless business man, a skull faced demon girl with spikes around her eyes, a large Mexican luchador, a possible time traveler from circa Girls, Girls, Girls era Mötley Crüe roadie, a neon clad aerobics instructor with optional fanny pack, Pikachu, Darth Vader and me. I’m a pirate. Yarrr!

I’m either back at the Canadian Air Guitar Championships or have wandered into a rejected Batman villain’s convention. Outside the room a crowd was getting ready for all of us to rock them like a hurricane. Well, at the very least, a breeze strong enough to overturn a lawn chair or two. Soon, my darlings, soon there would be music, liquor soaked floors, giant metal shaped phalluses and gyrations that would make Caligula blush but, right now, something was missing. My gut needed booze and my hand needed that perfect accentuation to my costume that was sure to make my rock and roll dream a rock and roll reality.

Best get ready to pucker up, J. Law!

And who was to provide this costume accouterment? Well, obviously, Pikachu I choose you!

“Andre,” the Pikachu who calls himself Sandy says again. He looks disappointed. When a Pokémon sighs it’s never going to be good news, folks. “I’m sorry. I didn’t bring the hook.”

If you caught last year’s tale of air guitar madness, you’ll know that I walked into this hot mess of awesome sauce the coldest fish in the pond. Ooooo frigid barracuda! No costume and no clue, that was me. Still, there was something oddly appealing about not getting arrested for flailing about publicly as though I had weasels in my pants, just one of the things that drew me back here for another round. I’d like to say that, this time, given a year to prepare I spent it under the tutelage of some air guitar Mr. Miyagi or at least downed a couple of eggs and ran up some stairs Rocky-style but mostly I just watched old Facts of Life reruns. Would it have hurt ya’ to have picked up so much as a ukulele, Tootie?

Practicing or no practicing, last years’ experience did provide me with the insight that air guitar is just as much about image as it is your ability to master an invisible first real six-string you bought at the Five and Dime. Like a good Halloween party you need the perfect costume, something that screams rock and roll like the window shattering screech of Sebastian Bach.

You can weigh your plethora of options by flipping through back issues of Hit Parader. You could go all out gender-bending glam like Bret Michaels. You could perm puff your hair out and don some steel studded leather like Kip Winger. If you got a budget you could just go full KISS. Orrr, if you’re a clueless rocker who just got your ticket to the dance, you could pilfer through a box a few minutes before hitting the stage and pick out a bad wig, some glasses the size of Idaho and a plastic hook. Ok, it wasn’t much to look at last year and didn’t really hold up to the outfits of an even more demonic Wednesday Adams, Marcel Marceau’s less talented cousin and an overripe banana but this time I was packing a few surprises courtesy of ye’ ol’ Dolleramma.

Pirate hat? Check!
Striped shirt? Check!
Sash? Check!
Bravado? Oh freakin’ check!

By the time I changed I was feeling mighty good. Sure, my fingers may not be as well-oiled a machine as they could be but, let’s face it, Oz never did give nothing to the Tin Man! I had a look, a cheap look, but a look nevertheless and this time I sauntered up to the registration table and signed that waiver with style. I signed it in the wrong place at first but I signed it in the wrong place with style!

INHERENT DANGERS? I eat ‘em for breakfast!
HAZARDOUS? It’s my middle name!

Yeah, I knew the risks but like a wise sage once said: every rose has its thorn. I was cool. I was calm. I was…

“And what’s your stage name?”

I was Captain Nummy Muffin Coco Butter and I was ready to rock!

(Ok, seriously, I just wanted to hear them announce it.)

At the height of this trance-like euphoria along came a Pokémon to upset my apple cart. My hook was MIA. Shot through the heart and Sandy was to blame. He’d brought his other Tickle Trunk to this party. Damn. My chest seized up and my face contracted inward as though I’d been sucker punched or had just downed a barrel of Sour Patch Kids. I looked at my naked, hookless hand and felt a deep pang of sorrow for what could not be. Cinderella was right, folks, you don’t know what you got till it’s gone.

I quickly scanned the room. This was House of Targ, after all, a place that had vintage arcade games, a coffin and that decapitated Dr. Zaius over on the bar. Surely they would have something hook shaped in this place. Above me were plastic coat hangers. That might do. There was that plant hanger screwed into the ceiling, too, but knowing my luck I’d wrangle something loose from the one place that prevented the entire arcade from crumbling down and killing us. Best to leave the venue trashing to the professionals.

Instead, I fell back on the advice a teacher once told me. It has always served me well in dark times such as these: “We’ve gotta hold on to what we’ve got / it doesn’t make a difference if we make it or not.”

A hook does not a great air guitarist make….or something. Besides, I just had to remind myself that no matter what the outcome this was all for a good cause. Funds collected for the event all go to Right to Play, a group of rock stars in their own right looking to empower kids to rise above adversity and hardship through play.  And that’s one to grow on!

I also had the advice of one of the greats to guide me, my not-as-green Yoda’esq guitar guru Tim “Glen Airy Glen Rocks” Evans. The 2007 Canadian Champ slipped me his top three tips for anybody looking to set the world of air guitar ablaze.

“Don’t be shy, love the music and imagine everyone naked,” he said.

I looked around the room and mentally amended his mantra to: “Don’t be shy, love the music and imagine everyone naked except maybe that guy by WrestleFest.”

“The crowd loves to see people giving it,” continued Evans. “The variety is also part of the spectacle. There really are no two air guitarists who are the same. We're all a bit like snowflakes that way. There is a bit of one-upmanship that is fun to watch. Who will take the performance farther, more savage, more technically pristine?”

Last year it was some one-upwomanship that rocked harder than a 1978 Twisted Sister concert! Her name was Genevieve LeBlanc and her homemade costume, flaming special effects and Baby Metal performance mesmerized the Targ crowd until they were chanting her name. From where we stood there was nothing stopping her from shredding her way through the Nationals and making it all the way to the World Championships in Oulu, Finland.  Alas, it was not to be.

“I placed fourth overall and was plagued with technical problems. I built these amazing wings with my brother that I unfortunately didn't have the time to test and therefore had some issues on stage. Even my fire wasn't working for me that night, so it was just messier than I would have liked,” she told me.

Despite feeling embarrassed by her performance on the bigger stage, LeBlanc was not willing to let it bury her. This year she was back with a whole new look –something right out of a Día de Muertos zombie apocalypse– and a name symbolic of her journey. Last year she was Gen “the Geek Girl”. This year she was The Phoenix.

“I felt like that this was worth giving another shot,” she says.  “Not gonna’ lie, a big part of it is that I really want to go to Finland and represent Canada.”

I wondered what song she was going to do this year while looking over the track selection sheet for my own cut. Getting there early this time ensured all the good jams were still there to kick out. While a few tunes would have served the pirate theme better –“Raise a Little Hell”, “Born to Be Wild” and even a song with “bones” in the title– I opted for something sure to please the crowd. As Gen left to apply the last of her makeup I selected Nirvana’s grunge-anthem “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. If she was nervous she didn’t show it. She was so laid back she was practically reclining.

Given the fact that I was dressed in a dollar store pirate outfit about to hopefully channel the ghost of Kurt Cobain in front of a crowd of strangers I was feeling pretty calm myself. Not quite Fonzarelli cool but still chill. Then the Targ ground crew started moving chairs around the performance area, the judges filed into their seats and the crowd started to form. Some of the others had friends there to cheer them on. Gen’s family where right there in the front row. I lacked a spirit squad. They were all strangers to me. I didn’t even have the marvelous Terry Steeves in my corner this year. The Blonde Terror was nowhere in sight.

“Here I go again on my own,” I whispered, my nerves weirdly working themselves into the shape of a kindergarten Play-doh project.

I thought of how I must have looked last year when I first walked up to face the crowd, wig askew, forgetting the routine I had planned ten seconds prior. Nevermind looking like a deer in the headlights. Deer can at least gracefully bound off the road. I looked more like a hamster in the glow of an oncoming semi.

The crowd began to swell and soon they’d be laughing at me, not with me. Well, that’s kind of the point. For one, it isn’t easy to laugh while trying to keep your innards from jutting out of your mouth for the minute you violently play the air and, two, the more fun the crowd is having the more fun you’ll be having. Really, an intoxicated Sasquatch was now staggering throughout the vicinity and we were all going to be playing in front of the suggestive stage props from a band called Thünderkok. How seriously should I be taking this?

Free’s “All Right Now” began to pump out of the overhead speakers and I started to practice my strumming. Better late than never. Besides, I wasn’t the only one who had come to wing it.

The already rock and roll named Mark Slater –who goes by the more hybrid microwavable food sounding name Whiskey Pockets– landed in Toronto back in 2013 looking for something new to do, something adventurous. An ad for the Air Guitar Championships caught his eye. He already had a look that came right out of a Warrant cover band and figured what the hell.

When asked what he put into his minute of mayhem, Slater told me it was really a mixture of “last minute panic, picking a song , procrastinating for weeks on end until it’s a few days before and then remembering I have to do a routine. I just take it from there.”

“Last year was my first time,” said Brandon “the Couch Potato” Moss, telling me how he also opted for very little prep for his second go round. “The crowd is with you, you get pumped up. You just have to have a good time!”

I’d have a bit of time to stew on my good time with my round going later on in the evening. Of course, I didn’t know just how long that stew would be boiling. For the time being, however, I was doing double duty as the event’s photographer and I settled into a reserved seat in the front row. It wouldn’t take long to discover the folly of my proximity. Much like Sea World and World War 2, being on the front lines at an air guitar show is not the wisest of choices.

One time Canadian champion Jason “Thurst” McNeely lived up to his name when power sliding across the floor with his crotch aimed at my face. He then clutched my camera in a death grip strangle hold. Though he was moving at breakneck speed I saw what happened next in slow motion. His tongue slithered out of his mouth and licked my camera lens coating it in a fine layer of sludge.

He…he slimed me! I felt so funky!

Was it going to be ok? What does human saliva do to a camera? What’s that smell?

There was no word on the box about this kind of situation. The lens protector company probably wasn’t factoring man-tongue glop into their marketing. I fared better then the judges, though, who would later feel the full force of Thrust when he leapt onto their table and proceed to do it like they do on the Discovery Channel. Beer and hair was everywhere. As for my camera, thankfully, a quick tissue pat down removed the McNeely juice contaminant and I was able to continue photographing.

And photographing…

And photographing…

It did seem like I was waiting awhile for my name to be called. Well, at least there was entertainment. Gen’s performance was predictably amazing. It included a sort of Steam Punk jimmy-rigged IV that shot flames out of a can and enough speedy shredding to reduce an entire produce section to a heap of colourful thread.

Snap, went the camera.

The Space Mime Continuum was back as well showing just how many ways silence can be golden.

Click. Click.

The man-merged-octopus became a Rock-tapus, tentacles flying while playing what could be a 8-necked ax.

Snap. Click.

I was getting pretty antsy by the time the Big Foot started putting everyone’s agility to shame with Olympic level jumping skills. Seriously, if you’re less limber than a Sasquatch it’s probably time to hit the gym.

Click. Click.

Mexican wrestlers, that dude in neon who worked in an invisible guitar handler, somebody who mistook playing guitar for wrestling an irate gator and a section of duets all came and went. My name still hadn’t been called. I was beginning to think they had forgotten me. As I sat there seeing more and more acts outmatch me before I even stepped into the arena I figured that ending my night with a slightly damp camera and underused pirate outfit looked like a win in my liner notes..

72-year-old Mr. Bob, however, provided words of inspiration that had me reinvigorated to wait this thing out. The former scuba instructor has been there since day one and is billed as the “oldest and most awesome active air guitarist in the world”. Once he dreamed of being on stage with Elvis. If you’re going to reach why not reach for the hand of Kings?

“You’re never too old,” said Bob. “You get to stand up here and look absolutely crazy! Where else can you get your 15 minutes of fame?”

Without breaking the law and getting into politics, this was probably as good a place to claim your Warhol prize as any though right then and there I’d have settled for a single minute of lame! Then Sandy announced that there were only two more guitarists to go. I started to stand up. It was time for Captain Nummy Muffin Coco Butter to do his thang!

“You’ve heard of air guitar. This is Air’rin!”

I sat down. Ok, apparently Captain Nummy Muffin Coco Butter was going to do his thang dead last. Well, I’ve sat through everyone else. What’s one more, right?

Who else have they got?

Then what else they had walked onto the stage. She was tiny, she had anime cute eyes and she was very VERY pregnant.

A few hours before Erin Wicker finished reading her toddler a bedtime story, left him with grandma, slapped on a bandana and headed to House of Targ. She didn’t have any intention at first to become a member of the crazy bunch, happy to sip cranberry juice and watch the show. Near the end of the night she was suddenly struck with the urge to join. She'd been…she'd been…

….thunderstruck! 35 seconds before hitting the stage she signed her waiver, picked a song and threw caution to the wind.

That wind became a Mega Mom tornado before everybody’s widening eyes as Erin proceeded to wreck the competition with her impromptu routine that had the crowd gasping at how a woman in this condition could rock so hard. How she thought of it so quickly I’ll never know but Erin pantomimed a birth in which the child came out holding a mini-guitar for her to play. With each new move, each twirl and twist, the crowd grew louder. You’ve think you’ve seen it all and then you see a pregnant woman play an invisible guitar held by her invisible unborn child while flanked by giant metal penises.

When it was over we all stood to applaud, our hearts racing just as fast as the two inside Erin’s now sweat drenched body.

“Did we just see that?” I yelled at the woman beside me. “That was amazing. Game over, man. Mic drop. This contest is over.”

I pitied the poor fool who had to follow that performance.

“And now, Captain Nummy Muffin Coco Butter!”

Wait. What now?

Swept up in the mad-skilled majesty that was Erin I had forgotten that the poor fool I was pitying was me!

Awww, come on! You expect me to follow that? Are you there, God? It’s me, Andre. Thanks. Thanks a lot!

Well I didn’t come to this dance to be a wallflower. With the writing already firmly etched on the wall foretelling how this was all going to end I now had nothing to lose. The adrenalin surged through my vains My fingers began to rapidly flick. I was so ready I could taste it! No, wait, that was still Beeferoni! 

The familiar guitar licks of a song that defined a generation began to play. Here they were now, I thought. Entertain them!

I busted out all the pirate tricks I had been brewing up while watching the night unfold. I gave my best Jack Sparrow bow, I stole the judges whiteboard and gave myself a ten, I thieved some guys beer and downed it all while forming my fingers into a limp hook to thrash away at my fading hopes of victory. I did it all with a mammoth wedgie and that, my friends, is what this is all about. You live in the minute, your minute, and become the rocker you always wanted to be before life and lack of talent got in your way. If you’re lucky the crowd will lap up your lunacy like ice cream. If you’re really lucky the guy won’t kick your ass for stealing his beer. If you’re me, you’re just happy to score higher than a plate of perogies. Sometimes, kids, that’s all you can ask for.

To nobody’s shock but hers, Erin was crowned Queen Mother of Ottawa Air Guitar. When I walked up to congratulate her it was all still just sinking in.

“I fed off the energy of the people and just got up there. I was kind of on autopilot,” she told me surprised to see the high scores that would push her into the second round forcing her to make a frantic phone call to her mother to try to explain why she wasn’t coming home on time.

“People told me I had to do it again and I was, like, damn I have to get home and take care of my other baby,” she says bursting into the kind of elated laughter one has when the surprise of winning an air guitar competition finally overtakes them.

When asked what she had planned for the competition come July at the National Championships, like her stature and personality, Erin kept it short and sweet:

“Mama’s coming to get ya’!”  

By my math, she’ll be eight months pregnant by then which means, if she wins and somehow finds a way to Finland one month later, she could very well rock, rock till she drops. If she does, I’m willing to bet a once used pirate hat that the kid comes out rocking a wicked Van Halen solo while a proud mama looks on.

Shine on you crazy diamonds!