Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Air Guitar & the Birth of Harvey Wahlbanger

“Wait…what?  That’s a real thing?”

If I had a dollar for every time I was asked that over the last few months, I’d be rich.  Yes, air guitar is a real thing…and it is glorious!  I performed in my first two competitions over the last couple of weeks and it was one of the greatest, if not also one of the most unique, things that I have ever done.  I am excited to do it again and again.  Before we get into that, though, I thought a little history of my story would be good.

The Genesis

Just a few years ago, I was just like you.  I had never heard of a real air guitar competition.  Obviously we’ve all done it, whether in the car or in front of the mirror, but never in front of an audience…and never being judged in competition!  This wasn’t even a real thing…or is it?

I first heard about the competition a couple of years ago at, of all places, my son Marshall’s day care.  He had taken a liking, and somewhat protective role, to a new girl in his class.  Lily had just moved from Chicago and was struggling with the adjustment to a new day care.  Marshall decided that she needed the one thing that makes him comfortable every morning; fruit snacks.  Every morning, without fail, Marshall would bring a bag of fruit snacks for her and try to make sure she was okay.  After a couple of weeks, I ran into Lily’s mom, Tina.  We introduced ourselves and explained the story behind the fruit snacks she kept receiving.

Flying Finn - My Mentor
This was all very sweet, but how does this bring us to air guitar?  Well once I met Lily’s dad, it all started to come together.  Andrew, better known in the air guitar community as Flying Finn, and I met and started talking.  As always, it starts with very basic conversation, but then transitioned to air guitar once I saw his shirt.  I was intrigued, yet was completely befuddled at what he was describing.  As soon as I got in front of a computer, I started to look him up on YouTube.  I also started pouring through the US Air Guitar website.  It started to blow my mind and I couldn’t look away.  I started considering it, but had yet to fully commit to it all.  During the summer of 2013, Andrew mentioned that he will be hosting a qualifying round in Des Moines and encouraged me to attend.  Unfortunately I had softball that night and was unable to attend, but was starting to consider it more and more.

All it took to push me over the edge to compete was beer, Cards Against Humanity and professional wrestling.  We went over to hang out with their family and, while the kids played downstairs, we started playing cards and drinking.  Eventually the conversation turned to air guitar and Andrew was in full recruitment mode.  I think he saw my rising interest and continued encouraging my participation.  He said one thing that sealed the deal, “It’s a lot like pro wrestling…”  I didn’t hear the rest of the comment.  As a 30 year wrestling fan, that was all it took for me to buy in.  That moment I committed and was ready to roll.

Choosing A Song and Finding My Character

As soon as we left that night, my mind immediately started searching for the perfect song (round one is a one minute song of your choosing, round two could be anything).  Every time I got in the car or played on my iPod, I was listening for anything to jump out.  Then, while watching WWE, it hit me.  Cult of Personality, CM Punk’s entrance theme, hit and I immediately knew this was it.  It was a song I knew, loved and could really get into.  It was comfortable enough for me to feel confident when I hit the stage for the first time.  Andrew was able to cut it down to a minute for me and I was on my way.

The next part was finding the character.  You see, everyone in air guitar has a character.  Whether it is Nordic Thunder, Bjorn Turoque, Lieutenant Facemelter or the many others…there’s always a character.  Ryan Wahl isn’t stepping on stage; someone I create and portray will be.  I began by thinking of words that associated with my last name.  Rock Wahl.  Brick Wahl.  Great Wahl.  They all were fun but too basic for my taste.  Then, my excessive drinking history from college came into play.  It hit me like a ton of bricks…Harvey Wahlbanger.  The name just resonated with me.  It was fun.  It was crazy.  It was easy to chant.  Boom!  We have a name.

Harvey Wahlbanger's
first appearance
In all honesty, creating an image was the most difficult aspect of the creation phase.  Finding a song and creating a name is easy.  You just have to think a little bit and let something hit you.  Creating the image that you’re known for is complex and difficult to figure out.  The one thing I knew is that my attire would likely be inspired by pro wrestling.  So I went to a local craft store and just started walking around, looking for inspiration.  Then it all started coming together:

Shorts with my name down the leg.
- Sleeveless jacket with a bunch of sequins, a combination of the Macho Man and Chris Jericho.
- Feather boa inspired by Jesse “The Body” Ventura.
- Sunglasses
- Bandanna
Custom Guitar Picks…yep, that happened.

The only issue was finding my color.  Flying Finn had yellow.  Iron Dragon had purple.  It just went on and on.  Looking into it I realized that no one had orange, which is my wife Rachel’s favorite color.  So as homage to her, that became my color.  After hours of work, my costume was complete.  Harvey Wahlbanger was complete and ready to unleash into the air guitar world, but how would he get introduced?

Introducing Harvey Wahlbanger

Yet again, Andrew came to my rescue.  He’s really been my mentor and guide through this process.  I feel somewhat guilty relying on him so much, but you use your resources, right?  I received the following e-mail:

Old school wrestling-style interview video of you calling out current Des Moines champ.

I got giddy!  This was right up my alley.  I immediately sat down and wrote out three promos, all themed to call out the current champ.  I donned the full costume for the first time and jumped in front of the camera.  Rachel recorded them, each in one take, and I prepared to release them to the world.  I e-mailed the champ, CorpAIRation, and told him what I was doing.  I was introducing myself to a new community and didn’t want to rub anyone the wrong way.  He was all for it and we were off and running.  I started off with one titled: Ignore the Call.

During that time, the champ injured himself but still qualified in a different city qualifier.  So, instead of using the pre-written videos, I started filming new ones.  I put the costume on, sit the camera in front of me and just went.  The response I got from these was awesome.  Posts and e-mails from air guitarists around the country started to come in.  I even received two videos coming back at me!  The fun had started and I had yet to step on stage.

Debut Performance

I was set to make my debut performance on Friday, June 6th in Des Moines.  If I finished in the top 3, I would move forward to Chicago and perform in the Regional Semi-Final.  As a rookie, this was my goal.  I wanted to make, not just one, but two steps in the competition.  On a selfish level, I wanted to perform CM Punk’s entrance theme in his hometown.  As a lifelong wrestling nerd, it was just something cool I wanted to do.  I met my competition when I arrived, and even did some fun stare-down poses with the two (Iron Dragon and Stackhammer) that sent response videos to me.

As time drew near, I was overwhelmed by the support of friends that came out to see me.  My friends Jason, Ryan and Marc all created custom t-shirts to support me.  It was awesome to see and very humbling.  It really made me appreciate the people I have around me.  I threw down a couple of Pabst Blue Ribbon beers to take the edge off, knowing that I would likely “be in my head” if I went out for the first time sober.  When my…excuse me, Harvey’s name was called for the first time, I burst on to the stage to a roar from my “fans”.  What a rush.  The venue was small, but it still felt amazing.  Here is what happened…

The performance went well.  I was pretty happy at the end and soaked in the chants of “Wahlbanger” that I might have encouraged my friends to chant.

Between rounds one and two, I made a rookie mistake.  Given that the second round song (at least the particular cut of it) was one I wasn’t familiar with, I made the mistake of mingling with friends rather than focus on the performance.  It definitely showed.  Due to that I finished in fourth place by 0.4 points.  My dream of Chicago was finished, but the fun and lessons I learned would stay for future performances.  We ended the show with the traditional group getting on stage and jamming out to Freebird.  During that, the crowd can join the performers on stage and just have a great time with us.  It was really cool watching everyone jam out and have fun together.  It really made me appreciate how something as “outside of the box” as air guitar is, really bring people together.

The rest of the night was filled with stories, advice, laughs and quite a bit of beer.  I woke up the next morning on the Finn’s couch excited to air next season.

The Resurrection

Nordic Thunder
I was finishing up packing for a trip to LA on Sunday night, when I got an e-mail from Andrew.  He simply asked if I had checked my e-mail lately, which I had.  Within 30 minutes I received an e-mail offering me a Wild Card position for the Chicago performance!  I was elated!  I ran upstairs to make sure Rachel was cool with it (she was) and I responded quickly to lock in my spot.  The next hour was a whirlwind of filming a ten second intro, a video telling Chicago I was coming and securing my ticket.  I was going to carpool with the Finn’s up to Chicago so week was locked in.  Fly to LA on Monday morning.  Fly to Des Moines Thursday night.  Drive to Iowa City Friday morning and meet up with the Finn’s.  Jump into the car and drive to Chicago.  Perform.  Drive back to Iowa City on Saturday afternoon.  Grab the car and drive home Saturday night.  Quite the insane week, but I was all about it!

The Chicago performance was awesome.  Performing at The Metro, just down the street from Wrigley Field, was an amazing experience.  I performed on the same stage as The Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana and The Ramones; to name a few.  As we dropped off our stuff, we ran into legends of the air guitar community.  Nordic Thunder, Hot Lixx Hulahan, Mean Melin and Bjorn Turoque were all right in front of me and could not have been more welcoming.  It was a really cool moment for me.  After watching these guys on YouTube and the brilliant documentary Air Guitar Nation, this was a big moment for me.
The Chicago Semi-Finals

As a wild card, I was one of the first participants of the night.  I ended up going third overall and was pleased with my performance.  The scores weren’t what I had hoped for, but going third overall may have played a factor in that.  My favorite on stage moment is right after the first judge gave his score and the Chicago crowd, most of which had never seen me before, started to boo.  They had enjoyed my performance and that alone gave me a moral victory.

Regardless, it was almost more rewarding to be able to sit back and watch performers who have been on stage for years, absolutely impress everyone in the crowd.  I got to watch world champions perform.  I got to watch national finalists perform.  I realized that there was a whole new level of performance I have yet to achieve or even consider.  These performers were amazing and watching them was an honor.

The End of the Beginning

It’s been a whirlwind and surreal experience for me.  I met such an amazing array of people over the last few weeks.  I’m not going to name them, since I’ll likely forget to type someone, but what a spectacularly supportive group of people.  While we are all competing for the same goal, everyone was ready with a compliment and words of encouragement.  It really is a family feel and one I am ecstatic to be part of.

I’ve got one last gig this season, a joint performance with Flying Finn at the Apple Tree Day Care, and then I’m done.  I’m excited to perform in front of the kids and then spend the offseason working on everything.  Season two will hopefully feature new songs and an improved costume for Harvey Wahlbanger.

As crazy as all this is, it’s great to be part of something so unique and special.  Yes, this is a niche thing but it’s a niche that can grow and grow.  I mean who doesn’t love music and fun?

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The LA Clippers Debacle

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver
It’s a monumental day in sports, namely the NBA.  Recently installed commissioner Adam Silver responded with a heavy hammer against Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, after the owner made blatantly ignorant and racist statements in a recording made by his girlfriend.  Silver reacted by banning Sterling from the NBA for life and a $2.5 million dollar fine (the maximum allowed).  Additionally, Silver will do everything in his power to force Sterling to sell the franchise.

The punishment was quite severe, and rightfully so, but I have mixed feelings on the subject.  I’m not sure anything below will be concise in reflecting my thought process, but in a confusing situation, confusion takes hold and makes points difficult to make.  We’ll give it a try, though.

I am not a fan of censorship.  Whether we agree with someone or not, they have the right to their opinion.  I’m disgusted and deeply offended by Sterling’s racist comments.  I was offended by ESPN reporter Chris Broussard regarding comments he made in 2013 against homosexuality.  Heck, I’m offended whenever anyone uses terms like “white trash” and other ignorant and foolish statements regarding sexuality or race.  The simple fact is, as long as we live in a free society, people are allowed to express their opinions.  I’m doing it right now.  Every time you look at Twitter or Facebook, someone is stating an opinion.  The great thing about social media is that everyone has a voice. The worst thing about social media is that everyone has a voice.  As a society, we can’t pick and choose when it is okay to state an opinion (ignorant or not) and when it is not.
I wish everyone thought like Kenneth Faried does

I can’t help but wonder if the backlash would have been so severe if his comments weren’t racist, but homophobic instead.  Leagues are trying to cut down on the negative words thrown around the fields or courts our sports are played on, but they’ve never done anything as extreme as what we witnessed today.  They’ve previously fined players who used an offensive word, but nothing near the level we saw today.  Hate speech is hate speech, regardless of it being racially or sexually motivated.

One question that keeps coming up in my mind is why did it take so long for the NBA to address the issues and clear racist background of Donald Sterling?  Rumblings and federal legal cases have been around for years with this guy and not once has the league stepped in to do anything about it.  Take some time to review this timeline from Bleacher Report and you’ll see that this isn’t a new issue.  It’s the straw that broke the camel’s back, but if you continue to allow an owner to act like this, things will get worse and worse.  It’s no different than allowing a child to act a certain way and then, out of the blue, deciding that they can’t do what they’ve always done.  The rumors all have legitimate facts behind them.  Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.  It should have been addressed when it was a small trash fire and not a raging inferno.

Carmelo Anthony confronts Kevin Garnett after
Garnett makes comments about his wife
I’d like to know if the NBA will follow suit with the NFL and work to ban certain words from being said on their playing field and not just off.  There is a lot of trash talk in sports, most of it is good natured, but there are some who cross the line.  Kevin Garnett is notorious for making crude and offensive remarks to opponents, yet no one has ever stepped in and stopped him.  The problem is they shouldn’t just ban one word.  There needs to be a code of conduct for the court and field that addresses the type of language used.  Racist (no matter what race) and homophobic slurs have no place and should be treated as such.  Fines, flags and technical fouls could all be used to curtail the use of this foolish behavior and language.

In regards to the forced sale; I’m not sure how the league can do that.  How can an outside source force me to sell something I own, whether they like me and my stances or not?  Quite frankly, I would like to see one thing happen with this sale.  No, I don’t want Magic Johnson and his buying group to purchase and take over the team.  I’d much rather see Chris Hansen, the hedge fund manager, purchase the team and relocate them to Seattle.  Let’s completely wash the stench of Sterling off this franchise and return basketball to the Pacific Northwest.  Seattle would completely embrace this.  Yes, Los Angeles loses a franchise but I think they’ll survive as they already have one in place…and one that they love far more than the Clippers.  Let’s admit it, the Clippers don’t exactly have a history rich in tradition.  They’ve been a joke and laughingstock for the majority of their existence.  Let’s wipe the slate clean.

Take the Clippers to Seattle
The one thing that really bothers me about this “punishment” is that all Sterling will do is profit off of it.  In 1981, Sterling acquired the franchise for a price tag of $12.5 million.  If he sells it for their current market value, he’ll be selling them for $575 million.  Someone tell me how making a profit of $562.5 million is a punishment.  So he can’t go to games anymore?  That just doesn’t seem right, but it’s not like the league or anyone can tell him to donate those funds to charity.  He’ll just go his way, with his heart and head filled with ignorance while his bank account gets larger by the day.

There are just so many layers and questions from this, and most of which aren’t related to sports.  It’s all hard to comprehend.  The players, owners and employees of the NBA will applaud Silver and the direction he took.  They should be proud that he stood up for what he and most level headed individuals believe in.  However, does this open Pandora’s Box?  What is going to happen if if an opinion that isn’t the norm is put out there?  It can be a very tricky situation.

Is the step taken today by the NBA the right one?  I think so.  It shows that they are like any other employer/organization in country and have set a standard their owners and employees must live up to.  At the end of the day, though, he’ll profit from it.  The NBA is probably looking at years of litigation with Sterling.  We’re just seeing step one of a very long walk.  For the NBA, it’s the right step.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Social Media What If...

The irony of this post is that I’m kind of going after social media.  Yet here I am, on my blog that will be posted on my Twitter (@wahly22) and Facebook page.

In the wake of the Richard Sherman situation, not the interview, but the horrible things directed at him on Twitter; I couldn’t help but wonder what if the social media existed in other eras.  Can you imagine what would have been said to these people if the access to them was then, what it is now?  Let’s sit back and play a little sports game.

What if Twitter, Facebook and the 24 hour news cycle existed when:

…Magic Johnson announced he had the HIV virus.

…OJ Simpson’s ex-wife was found murdered and he was in the Ford Bronco.

…Isiah Thomas made racial remarks regarding Larry Bird.

…Allen Iverson’s “practice” rant occurred.

…Kobe Bryant was alleged to have been involved in a rape in Eagle, Colorado.

…Michael Jordan was at the peak of his game, yet was womanizing and gambling excessively.

John Carlos
…Wilt Chamberlain was scoring more off the court than on it.

…Steve Bartman innocently attempted to catch a foul ball.

…Chris Webber called a timeout they didn’t have.

…Scott Norwood missed the game winning field goal in the Super Bowl.

…John Carlos raised his fist at the 1968 Olympics.

…Muhammad Ali was in his prime and speaking with an aura of confidence frowned upon nowadays.

Can you imagine the hatred, anger and vitriol that would have been aimed at the people above?  Twitter almost exploded at an athlete for being speaking excitedly ON THE FIELD!  It’s crazy what people will send to another person with total disregard for their feelings.  Instead of finding the back story as to what happened surrounding the events, they make an immediate reaction in 140 characters without thinking.

Next time you tweet or post something about an individual, whether you know them personally or not, relax.  Take a minute to think and realize that just because you have anonymity online, it doesn’t mean you have to abuse it.  Treat others how you want to be treated…you know, the Golden Rule.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The 2013-14 NFL Playoffs - Some Musings...

The Super Bowl has been set!  My beloved Denver Broncos are back in the dance against old AFC Rival, the Seattle Seahawks.  I haven’t written during the season, but figured it might be fun to put out some random thoughts from the playoffs.

- The most overlooked aspect of the Broncos this season has been the outstanding play of the offensive line.  Despite a new center and losing (arguably) the best left tackle in the game, Ryan Clady, they gave up the fewest sacks in the league.  Given that Peyton Manning attempted a league leading 659 pass attempts, the line only gave up 18 sacks.  To give you a little perspective, Matt Ryan attempted the second highest number of passes with 651 and was sacked 44 times.  Astounding.

- In the lead up to the Broncos-Patriots AFC Championship game, I was surprised that there wasn’t much made of Josh McDaniels returning to Denver for the first time.  While his tenure in Denver was rocky, at best, he was the individual that drafted three key pieces to the offense; Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Knowshon Moreno.  Those three players accounted for 288 yards, which is over half of the offense generated by the Broncos on Sunday.

- There’s a lot of chatter about Wes Welker hitting Aqib Talib early in the game.  Bill Belichick even went so far to call the play dirty, saying that it “was a deliberate play by the receiver to take out Aqib”.  Funny that he’s not mentioning that his offense just did the exact same thing to Broncos corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.  It was a natural pick play, one run by both teams during the game, and not malicious.  Belichick just has sour grapes.

- Andrew Luck is an exceptional quarterback, but will need to work on his decisions.  The Colts tend to fall behind frequently due to this.  While it gives us exciting comebacks, including a tremendous AFC Wild Card comeback against the crumbling Chiefs, it’s not a recipe for long term success against quality teams.

- Every year there are a couple of teams that end the season with a great record, but once the playoffs hit, reality steps in.  The Panthers and Chiefs were the Illegitimate Champs this year.  For the Panthers, 9 of their wins were against non-playoff teams.  Their 3 wins against playoff teams were by a total of 9 points, including a controversial win against New England that should not have happened.  They simply got the benefit of football luck.  The Chiefs beat 1 playoff team, and that was the Eagles who had yet to switch to Foles at quarterback.  Then again, most of their wins were against back-up quarterbacks so this was par for the course.

- Is there a more dislikable coach in the NFL than Jim Harbaugh?  I am all for passion but how can the head coach, a leader of men, continue to throw temper tantrums and stay respected?  It’s clear from the players he’s coached and is coaching, that this sort of behavior is influencing them.  Don’t believe me?  Check the next bullet point.

- The world has completely lost their minds over Seattle Seahawks (and former Harbaugh player at Stanford) cornerback Richard Sherman.  In case you missed it, listen to his interview and come back.  Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

Welcome back.  Entertaining, right?  Was he a bit out of control?  Sure, but he didn’t cross a line.  He just made a play that clinched a Super Bowl berth for his team.  He gave an impassioned speech just moments after making the biggest play of his career, against a team that is their biggest rival.  Emotions run high in these games.  He had time to calm down and was on the podium for Fox after and didn’t say anything crazy.  We’re focused on 30 seconds after the biggest moment of his professional career.

I constantly read that professional players don’t care enough.  Here’s a guy who clearly showed he cares and is getting racked over the coals.  You have to have a level of arrogance to play professional sports.  If you don’t believe you’re the best at what you do, then what are you doing there?

Look, we know maybe 5% of the story between him and Michael Crabtree.  These two have gone back and forth in the offseason, during games, and after games.  They clearly don’t like each other.  What we heard from Sherman is likely the PG version of what goes on between players during play in every game.  Don’t like it?  Change the channel.  Pretty sure, though, you’ll be tuning in to the Super Bowl whether you’re cheering for or against him.

I can’t help but wonder, why did Erin Andrews hunt him down for the interview?  Oh wait, I know why…because he’s a great sound bite!  In a world of boring sports clich├ęs, he gave us some reality and true emotion.  We get bored hearing the same stuff over and over, but get angry when someone speaks his honest opinion.  Can’t have it both ways, kids.

- I said it months ago, and was surprised to see Mel Kiper agree, but the Houston Texans have to draft Johnny Manziel.  Is he the “best player on the board”?  Probably not, but sometimes intangibles need to come into play.  The guy is pure magic.  If this team based in Texas, drafts this kid from Texas, you’re looking at an increase in ticket and merchandise revenue.  Plus ESPN and NBC will come knocking and want to feature the Texans during primetime.  Manziel equals money, and above everything else, the NFL is a business.

- I really wish the media would stop harping on “legacies” while players are still active.  I hate to break it to them, but one game during their careers does not make or break the fans’ view of them.  If Peyton Manning would have lost to the Patriots, does that mean he didn’t have the greatest statistical season every?  Rings don’t define greatness.  If you don’t believe Peyton Manning or Barry Sanders or Dan Marino are some of the greatest to ever play the game, I will never understand you.

Is it February 2nd yet?  I’m ready for the Super Bowl and hopefully another Lombardi trophy in Denver.