Monday, August 20, 2007

Air apparent? McNallica finishes fourth in the US

Published as a Web exclusive at

Maybe New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell is a breast man. That’s at least what Jason Jones of The Daily Show implied, as Jones introduced his score for McNallica at the US Air Guitar National Championship, held Thursday at the Fillmore at Irving Plaza in New York City.

But we get ahead of ourselves.

McNallica, the Portland and New England air-guitar champ (who works by day at a Portland mortgage company under the name Erin McNally), had traveled with about a dozen friends and supporters to NYC, after months of practice and performance (see the other stuff we’ve written about her). “I just really want to make it to the second round,” she said, knowing that would make her one of the top five air-guitarists in the country.

She was up against 13 other competitors (12 men and one woman) from around the nation for the US title, which comes with tickets to Finland for the world air-guitar championship in early September. She had prepped in a few special ways for this performance, MySpacing the last US winner in Finland (Sonykrok, from 2004) to “get her blessing,” and getting Jen Moore from Sanctuary Tattoo to bless her fingerless gloves. She was as ready as she would get.

The opening set from New Jersey-based hair band Satanicide warmed up the crowd with such timeless classics of guitar rock as “Pussy and Ice Cream,” a Satanicide original angst anthem about, well, it’s fairly obvious, and “Twenty-Sided Die,” an ode to Dungeons and Dragons.

After a few butterfly-calming PBRs and Buds with her fans, McNallica got serious to prepare for her performance, getting quiet, still, and moving her fingers up and down in the air as if, well, she were playing a guitar. Rhinestones flashed from her arms, and diamond “M”s dangled from her earlobes. “The theme of Finland this year is bling,” she explained.

McNallica went seventh in the first round, introduced by MC Bjorn Turoque, who never won a US championship, but has become the celebrity spokesman for US air guitar. In Boston, at the New England regional championship, he had been a judge and gave her perfect 6.0 scores in each of the two rounds and called her “the future of air guitar.”

This time Turoque reminded the audience that “this woman blew my mind in Boston,” and let her go. She leapt, kicked, fingered, and tongued her way around the stage to Motley Crue’s “Kickstart My Heart,” from the 1989 album Dr. Feelgood.

And then, amid the crowd’s cheers, she awaited the scores. Up to that point, the scores – and the performances – had been dismal, slow, pedestrian, even anemic. But McNallica opened the field, and the judges’ hearts.

Jones and Gladwell (who also wrote The Tipping Point, about the effects of social behavior) were two of the four celebrity judges (the others were Rachel Dratch from Saturday Night Live and Ben Wizner from the American Civil Liberties Union).

Gladwell had given Portland and New England air-guitar champ McNallica the first 6.0 maximum-point score of the night (there would only be one more, from Gladwell to McNallica in the second and final round of competition).

She took the 6.0, and Jones’s dismal 5.2 (which got him boos and the finger from the crowd), a 5.7 from Wizner and 5.9 from Dratch, and squeaked into the five-person second round in a tie for fourth place.

In the second round, in which she didn’t get to choose the song, she went first. But as the five finalists were allowed to hear the selected song for the first time, McNallica went wild. She knew the song, chord for chord: “Get Your Hands Off My Woman, Motherfucker,” by Darkness (off 2003’s Permission To Land). She started playing even just standing there on stage with the rest of the contestants, among whom was reigning US champ Hot Lixx Hulahan.

But despite her best efforts – her extensive and complex fingerwork on the fretboard, her lip-syncing, even her throwing of the guitar and her subsequent catch – it wasn’t enough. The only woman in the final five, she landed another perfect 6 from Gladwell, a 5.7 from Wizner, a 5.8 from Dratch, and a 5.7 from Jones (who had given her the 5.2 in the first round). Her total, 23.2 points, made her the fourth-best air-guitarist in the nation. (There was a tie for third place.)

The other four’s performances included crowd-surfing (exemplified by The Rock Ness Fucking Monster’s effort, in which he stayed standing, supported by a few sturdy new friends), acrobatics that lost their grace and surrendered to drunken uncoordination, and spraying of beer and energy drinks all over the stage and the fans.

But in the end, McNallica was a good sport, applauding – even worshiping – as the new champion was crowned, the man who had the home-field advantage from the beginning: William Ocean of New York City.

Will there be a next year? Will she become a coach for other female air-guitarists? Will she get knee replacements to be able to subject hers to the abuse Ocean gives his (she thinks they’re titanium; we think they’re jelly, at least now)? For the answers to these questions, we must wait.

But McNallica, on her way back to Portland on Friday, rocks on.