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This much I know: Air Guitar champion Justin Howard

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2013 U.S. AIR GUITAR SEMIFINALS

Featuring a special Slayer exhibition performance by Nordic Thunder

When: 9 p.m. July 27

Where: Metro, 3730 N. Clark

Tickets: $14; www.etix.com; www.metrochicago.com

Updated: July 29, 2013 8:11PM



Justin “Nordic Thunder” Howard

Defending Air Guitar World ChampionAge 29

“The ultimate purpose of competitive air guitar is the promotion of world peace. That’s getting really deep with it, because on the surface it’s just a bunch of freaks running around, playing their invisible instruments.

If you watch any air guitar video on YouTube and you look at the comments — the negativity that people spew towards air guitarists — I find it to be kind of funny.

The only thing that bothers me about it is that whoever these people are writing these negative words [about] air guitar and guitarists are lacking a certain amount of fun in their lives. And if they had something that brought them the amount of joy that air guitar brings me and many other air guitarists, I think they’d be on par with it, because it’s just about happiness and radiating joy.

I was contacted by Dr. Pepper last year. They sent me an email and asked if I was interested in partaking in a campaign of theirs, and I honestly thought it was a joke. It just seemed like something one of my friends would do. One thing led to another, and the next thing I know I’m in Los Angeles filming a commercial and recording a radio spot.

When I put my costume on, I’m [still] Justin. But the moment I step onstage, there’s a switch — it’s on. I don’t have to think about it; I just go out and do it.

My character is the opposite of what I am in my day-to-day. I’m just a normal, kind of laid-back, happy-go-lucky guy. But Nordic Thunder is this aggressive, in-your-face, screaming beast.

My costume has never been washed once during the eight years I’ve been competing, and it stinks horribly. After years of sweat and beer and spit and blood, it’s a biohazard.

As sick as it sounds, I get kind of masochistic onstage. I don’t wear any shoes, and I have a signature move I do — the knee slide. I just take off running and slide the length of the stage. After doing that year after year after year, multiple times, you accumulate scar tissue on top of your knees and your feet, and so that tissue just rips open and I’m bleeding onstage. And I’ve done it on carpeted stage. I’ve done it on rubber stages. You name the surface — I’ve done it on that. And before I do it, I know: ‘This is going to hurt, and it’s going to take several weeks before this heals.’ But I’m still going to do it, because in that moment it’s a great release to let out all that aggression in 60 seconds.

In 2008 I ruptured a disk in my back playing air guitar, which required back surgery. Then I messed up my back again and had another MRI, and the doctor told me that the disks above and below the one that ruptured are both herniated. I’ve had knee surgery from playing air guitar. I got a severe infection in my feet last year when I was in Finland. After my performance there, I came back to the States and the wounds on my feet were just not looking so hot. So I went to the doctor and explained to him what I did, which was kind of an awkward conversation.

It’s funny: pretending to be somebody I’m not onstage has led me to this awakening in my life of, ‘I can really just be myself, and open and honest in this community,’ and that has bled over into my day-to-day life. Air guitar has changed my life and made me want to be a better person in this world.

Pain is temporary. Air guitar is forever.”



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