By Greg Hanlon
As anybody who grew up in the 1980s knows, the most popular instrument was not the drums, synthesizer, or even the electric guitar, but rather the air guitar. Unencumbered by the limitation of actually knowing how to play the instrument, the air guitar lends itself to the best of head-banging, knee-sliding, stage-diving, and all other kinds of stage histrionics. And there is no better air guitar player in the United States than Andrew Jackson Litz, a 28-year-old East Village resident and the defending champion of the annual National Air Guitar Competition held each August. Yes, there is such a thing. The national contest is entering its seventh year, while the international contest, held each year in Finland, is going on thirteen. Litz, who goes by the stage moniker “William Ocean” – a nod to ‘80s rock star Billy Ocean – is a corporate event planner by day but a rock and roll god by night, despite the fact that he doesn’t know how to play the non-air version of his instrument. Already established as a great solo artist, Ocean is looking to form a band. Starting in Brooklyn’s Luna Lounge on March 25, he is launching an audition tour with the goal of putting together the world’s best (and only) air band. The two-month tour – which is being sponsored, appropriately, by Sparks, the caffeinated alcohol beverage – will take Ocean down the eastern seaboard as far south as Baltimore. Along the way, he will search for an air drummer, air bassist, air keyboardist, and air lead singer. “This will be the first of its kind. All my friends are like, ‘I like air guitar too, but I’m a drummer,’ or ‘I play the keyboard,’” Ocean said of the competition, billed the tagline: “10 shows. 5 cities. No instruments. All rock.” “We want to take this underground movement of air guitar and put together the greatest air instrumentalists. If air guitar competitions are any indication of the excitement surrounding this, we’ll have a great turnout and some great talent,” he said. Those who audition must be 21 years old or older and be available to be in New York on the weekend of May 21st, when the band will make its debut performance at Manhattan’s Knitting Factory. Prospective air rockers will each play a 60-second routine, the standard in air guitar competitions, from a song taken from the Air Band Songbook. They will be judged by on the “3P scale,” which measures Precision, Presence, and “Plus,” described in the promo material as that intangible quality that can “blow minds, melt faces, and possibly cause an AIRection lasting longer than four hours.” Ocean has been playing the air guitar since childhood. His first music memory is listening to Bob Seger’s “Hollywood Nights” with his parents in their Canton, Ohio home. Like many children of his era, music led him in and out of many identities and phases, including the ubiquitous “hair metal stage,” as he put it. “For as long as I can remember, whenever I heard a great song, I would take out the air guitar and start playing it. My mom has pictures of me playing the air guitar,” he remembered. But this lifelong amateur enthusiast only started competing three years ago. Since then, he has taken home three regional championships and last year’s national title. “It’s really performance art,” he described. “What wins a competition is your mastery of the guitar and the show – like if you have some big power strums, or throw the guitar up in the air and catch it. You’re basically trying to embody the spirit of rock and roll.” As a reward for his heroics in air guitar competitions, Ocean has sometimes won real guitars, something he considers “ironic and kind of funny.” “I have these great guitars sitting in my house. Every now and then I think, ‘Maybe I’ll take a lesson.’ But I haven’t gotten around to it yet,” he said. He prefers to stick to air guitar, where his legend is growing. “I’ve been playing air guitar for three years and I just played a sold out show at Irving Plaza. Why would I want to learn an instrument, practice with people, and go through all that work?” he said. “For those of us that love rock and roll but don’t play an instrument, this is our outlet to take it onstage. It feels like you’re a rock god for 60 seconds. It probably looks ridiculous to most of the people who are watching, but you get that feeling for one minute.” The Air Band Tour will kick off at Luna Lounge (361 Metropolitan Avenue) on March 25. From there, it will go to Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Boston, before coming back to New York City for auditions at Manhattan's Club Midway (25 Avenue B) on May 6 and Brooklyn's Trash Bar (257 Grand Street) on May 8. Those who audition must be 21 years old or older. To sign up to audition, go to www.AirBandTour.com.