Despite giving the world such fine actual shredders as Eddie Van Halen and Randy Rhoads, the United States didn't enter the international air guitar scene until 2003. More enlightened countries like Finland had been rocking the air competitively since the mid '90s.

The 2006 film "Air Guitar Nation" documented this first U.S. foray into the Air Guitar World Championships, further popularizing the musical sport stateside. Suddenly, an impromptu activity practiced in front of the bathroom mirror or next to the jukebox emerged as an legitimate art form.

So, where is Madison's air guitar champion? Local culture/news Web site Dane101 wants to find out. It is hosting an air guitar competition next Wednesday, March 18, at 9 p.m. at The Frequency, 121 W. Main St. Each contestant gets 60 seconds to turn air into pure rock.

Judges for the contest include Kenny Jay of Q106 FM, local rocker Adam Schabow and Gordon Hintz, state representative for Wisconsin Assembly District 54 in Oshkosh.

Hintz finished second at the first annual U.S. Air Guitar National Championships in 2003, is a member of the American Air Guitar Hall of Fame and appeared in the early scenes of "Air Guitar Nation."

77 Square spoke with Hintz recently about his performance approach, air guitar's connection with politics, and that elusive je ne sais quoi of air guitar called "airness."

Why did you decide to compete as an air guitarist?

Well, I think I have the gift. I've done a little karaoke in my past and was in high school orchestra, so my finger work is pretty good. And, you know, I was raised on metal in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. I thought I'd see how I would stack up against the nation's best.

What was it like to see "Air Guitar Nation" premiere at the South By Southwest festival in 2006?

I was running for office at the time, and I wasn't sure how the movie was going to impact my political run.

Maybe it even helped.

Well, I think most people here know that I take my job very seriously and don't take myself as seriously. And, look, I'm from Oshkosh, Wisconsin. We have a lot of classic rock fans, and we have a great summer music festival that brings in David Lee Roth and Night Ranger and Loverboy and Joan Jett and plenty of other great rock bands.

Do you think the movie left out any important details about the world of air guitar?

I still think there's better talent out there that hasn't been reached yet. It's something that's in all of us.

What's your own approach?

My basic rule has always been, 'How much rock 'n' roll can you squeeze into 60 seconds? Can you capture the essence of rock 'n' roll through your looks, your performance, what you inspire out of the crowd?' That's a real challenge, you know.

What song you choose is gonna matter. As I get older, I notice that my favorite songs don't change. I'm more likely to reference the 1978 to 1991 era. So, early Van Halen, Poison, Ozzy, Def Leppard, Motley Crue. Those are the songs where I think you saw guitarists stretching the boundaries from guitar playing into some circus tricks and what was actually possible with the guitar in terms of noise -- and in terms of what the human body was able to do.

Mostly, it's about good times.

Your stage name, Krye Tuff, was inspired by Poison, right?

It's a double meaning, actually. Certainly, "Cry Tough" was a song by Poison, for the true fans out there. But the "Tuff" -- T-U-F-F-- there was a metal band from Oshkosh (with that name) that had one song that made it on MTV in 1991. It was a nod to my roots. I'm sure about 2 percent of all music fans out there captured both the Poison reference and the Tuff reference. I was originally going to stick some unnecessary umlauts on there, as well.

Does your political life ever intersect with your life as an air guitar star?

You're putting yourself out there, whether you run for office or you get up onstage without an instrument. I think there are times when every politician feels like they're playing without a guitar.

Do you play Guitar Hero?

A couple of times. I don't have much time nowadays. Given how much I would probably enjoy it, I'm careful not to start a new hobby that would probably start consuming me. But I'm a big fan.

It seems like air guitar takes more creativity.

It does, in that you don't have anything in your hands. It takes a little nerve and guts to get out there with nothing in your hands and attempt to create the essence that we call "airness" in the air guitar world. Usually, we grade on originality, technicality and airness. Airness is sort of that third variable: You don't know what it is, but you'll know it when you see it.

You used to practice air guitar an hour a day in preparation for competitions. What moves were you most proud of?

I was big into jumps, the splits, sliding on my knees. My big move that cinched it for me was my guitar toss, which was documented in the movie. There was cutaway from the guitar (solo) in Motorhead's "Ace of Spades," and I know I had time to toss my guitar in the air and catch it just in time to grind out a massive chord.

Would you like to see another musical instrument get "aired"?

As a former drummer, I've been known to play air drums and air bass. There's always potential, but let's be honest: The coolest guy in the band is usually the lead guitarist. Air guitar gives you at least 60 seconds to attempt to live that.

Why should people participate in this contest?

If people are even on the fence about whether they should try something like this, they probably should. I think it's good for everybody, especially those of us with very little talent, to come out of the closet and share that gift with the world.

And I guess you don't know if you have the gift unless you try it out.

That's true. But what a great opportunity the folks of Madison (have). I always enjoy watching people find that inner gift with the masses.

Do you possess "airness"? Dane101 is still looking for contestants. Find out more by e-mailing info@dane101.com.

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