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“Air Guitar Nation”‘s Bjorn Turoque

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By Dan Persons

IFC News

[Photo: Dan “Bjorn Turoque” Crane (left) and David “C-Diddy” Jung of “Air Guitar Nation,” Shadow Distribution Inc., 2007]

No word yet from the International Olympic Committee on whether air guitar qualifies as a genuine sport, but to watch the contestants vying for the crown at Finland’s Air Guitar World Championship is to have no doubt. Alexandra Lipsitz’s “Air Guitar Nation” chronicles the events leading up to and encompassing the 2003 contest, with specific focus on the rivalry between U.S. champion David “C-Diddy” Jung and dark-horse competitor Dan “Bjorn Turoque” Crane. Now retired from active competition, Bjo… er, Dan was willing to sit down with me to discuss his life of pretend sex, over-the-counter drugs and mimed rock ‘n’ roll:

Let me understand this. You are an actual musician?

I am.

And you composed the music for this film?

I did.

And there’s footage in the film of you actually performing?

There’s a brief shot of me playing with my band.

So, then, air guitar? What the hell?

Well, I heard about [the U.S. competition], and it was like, “Okay, here’s a chance to play what’s going to be a sold-out show. I won’t have to bring any gear, I won’t have to learn any songs and maybe there’ll be some groupies. It’ll be the easiest gig I ever have to play.” Once I did the first one, I realized it’s not like playing in a band. There’s the live experience of it, there’s the roar of the crowd, but it’s a whole different animal from playing in a band.

So this started as a side gig and eventually built into this whole dark-horse campaign against C-Diddy. How did your friends react?

I tend to put myself out there as the butt of many jokes — so I don’t think anyone was that surprised; it made a lot of sense. My girlfriend at the time found it a little annoying that I kept doing it. Our first year anniversary was during the L.A. competition, and she was like, “This is how we’re going to spend our anniversary, going to L.A. for you to compete in a fucking air guitar competition?”

Did you regard the whole 2003 effort — the Internet campaign and the fund-raising and the talk show appearances — as part of the performance?

In the movie, you can see two different people. Most of the time when I was doing interviews and all that stuff, I was trying to imagine, “Who is Bjorn Turoque? Who is this fantasy? If this is my fantasy of a rock star, what’s he like?” The more times I’d do interviews, the more I got to know him. But there are moments in the film when it’s just me talking. So the whole experience is in some ways a performance, but what surprised me was that, looking back, I actually did get obsessed with it. I always knew it was funny, I always knew it was kind-of a joke, but I really couldn’t stop.

How many of the competitors come out of performance to begin with — musicians, theater, improv, like that?

Most of the people are not musicians, most are just fans. They just love this music, and this is their chance to feel that they’re “Fast” Eddie Clarke from Motorhead. I grew up in the suburbs in Denver, and I’d put posters all over my wall, sit in my room, turn up the music really loud and just rock out to that music by myself.

Air guitar is something that doesn’t really require any skills, it doesn’t require any lessons, it doesn’t require gear that you’ve got to schlep around. It’s like dancing. When you hear the right beat and you’ve had a couple of drinks and you’re somewhere where you feel like doing this [performs an air-lick], you just do it. It’s an atavistic response to music. You hear a powerful E-chord, you just want to go, Rawrrr. It’s a natural response to rock ‘n’ roll.

Is it more than just connecting with the music, though? Every air guitar performance I delivered didn’t end when the music stopped; I had to bask in the adulation of my air-audience.

You know, when I was that kid in that bedroom, and I saw that picture of Led Zeppelin and I saw Jimmy Page — his stance and his swagger and his sense of presence — that’s something I wanted to emulate.

And now, in this competition, you break out of just having the mirror as your audience.

I think there are people that gravitate towards wanting that kind of feeling, of communicating with an audience. But I have been a musician all my life, and I love it. My band has a great show and the crowd goes nuts; they come up to me afterward and say they loved it, and that’s a great feeling. It’s shocking that you can get that same feeling in the competitions. I think that making that leap from the bedroom to the stage is definitely not for everyone, but there’s always the class clown that needs to get up and make an ass of himself, and that’s the kind of person that’s going to be playing air guitar. [Laughs]

How much did your rivalry with C-Diddy extend offstage?

I think it did for a while, but we’ve both retired from competition and we’ve gone to film festivals together, and we air guitar together, back-to-back, so now it’s a mutual appreciation and admiration. I admire his skills, he admires my idiocy and persistence.

Did this whole experience affect you in any way?

It’s revealed something to me about myself: That it’s actually okay to be the second-place guy. It’s kind-of better, in a way; I enjoyed that status and the humor of it. That’s who I am.

“Air Guitar Nation” opens in New York on March 23, Los Angeles on March 30, rolling out to other cities in subsequent weeks (official site).

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