Sweat soaks Eric Melin's black T-shirt as he shouts out cues to eight men and women wailing on imaginary guitars. Melin, known in the world of competitive air guitar as Mean Melin, bounces around the room, fingers working an invisible fret board, hand strumming. The CD player blares Bon Jovi, then the Scorpions, then Jet, Rage Against the Machine and Van Halen.
Melin is rehearsing inside Salva O'Renick, a sales and marketing firm on Cherry Street in the Crossroads District, and working on choreography with a pack of newbies for an air-guitar flash mob at the upcoming First Friday. He calls for dive-bomb moves and the defiant throwing of rock fists. This is boot camp, and everyone in the room is trying to keep up with the two-time regional air-guitar champion (2009 Kansas City and 2010 Las Vegas).
Since winning last year's Vegas regional and competing in the U.S. Air Guitar Championships, Melin has acted as a bi-state air-guitar ambassador, hosting Aireoke nights (think karaoke but with air guitars) in Lawrence and competitions in Kansas City, Lawrence, Manhattan and Topeka. He even has taught fourth-graders at a Boys and Girls Club how to play air guitar.
Melin has persuaded U.S. Air Guitar to return to Kansas City this year for the KC regional (one of 17 stops on the championship tour), which is being held Thursday, May 19, at Crosstown Station. The winner of the regional flies to Chicago to shred at the national finals on July 23. (The U.S. champion gets a trip to Finland to play the Air Guitar World Championships.)
Melin's local advocacy has generated a field of invisible-guitar players who want his crown. The Pitch talked with Melin and nine of his stiffest challengers.
The Reigning Champion
Name: Eric Melin
Air-guitar alias: Mean Melin
Day job: Marketing manager at a start-up social-media software company called Spiral16
The Pitch: Who is Mean Melin?
Melin: Mean Melin has evolved over the last couple years into a tireless advocate for acting like an idiot and self-expression through air guitar.
Who is your guitar hero?
More than anybody, Ace Frehley informed how I played air guitar, because I played a lot of air guitar with Kiss masks on growing up.
What's your practice regimen?
I have a little bike in the basement that my sister loaned me, and I've been doing 30 to 45 minutes every morning at 6 a.m. and trying to spend at least three hours a week air-guitaring in front of a mirror. It turns out that air-guitaring is actually a better workout than just riding the bike. So it's really been a challenge to keep up the air-guitaring because I really wear myself out. Every bone in my body is killing me when I'm done.
What's on your training table?
I worked up two songs this year. I worked up the one that I'm doing, and then one by the Cult called "King Contrary Man," from their Electric album, which is amazing. It's the best AC/DC album that AC/DC never made.
Do you actually have a guitar?
I've never owned a guitar.
What's your secret weapon?
The last two years, it's been the blood....This year, I've vowed not to do it. Really, everything you see this year is going to be a new vibe for me, a little bit. I think my secret weapon for me, besides the blood, specifically is just intensity and aggression, and I learned that from Hot Lixx [Hulahan].
What's your go-to air-guitar song?
Megadeth's "Wake Up Dead/Bad Omen," which I edited on the end. That album, Peace Sells ... But Who's Buying?, is — no joke — the best air-guitar album for me of all time.... I could just stand there and air-guitar the whole album. And in 1986, I did.