Jan. 07, 2008
If all you need is love, our reporter might have been a hit
It's not Gary Gibson who emerges from the wings to address the screams demanding an encore. After Fab Forever finishes its 90-minute set at the Canyon Club in the Four Queens, I'm the one about to sing and strum two songs representing the Beatles' historic 1965 Shea Stadium concert: "Ticket to Ride" and "I Feel Fine."
The audience, which shelled out $39.99 a seat, reacts like those who remember when TV's "Bewitched" suddenly switched Darrens.
"Who is this guy?!" screams a gentleman up front.
The band -- one of two fab-faux outfits regularly playing Las Vegas -- had its doubts, too.
"You're too nasal," Gibson said after my first rehearsal. "You should listen more to John -- how he phrases things and stuff."
Todd Rainey certainly wasn't ecstatic. Instead of looking me in the eye while executing his hysterically ditzy Paul McCartney facial scrunches, Rainey could see only the top of my mop (and he was crouching).
"Also, lose that," Gibson added, pointing to my midsection, which was doing more of a late Elvis impersonation.
For the next month, I sang along to Beatles CDs and rehearsed before a mirror, mimicking Lennon's early concert stance. (He darted his eyes back and forth, retracted his upper lip and bobbed his body like an anxious parakeet.)
I even dropped a couple of pounds and busted out my old shoe lifts. (Sadly, my hair required nothing but a comb-over to look 43 years out of style.)
I've been down this long and winding road before, too. My high school buddies and I sounded decent enough to land a spot in a battle of the bands at a long-ago Beatlefest in New Jersey. We played "Ticket to Ride" then, too -- the world's first heavy-metal version, because our guitar volume knobs were mistakenly set more to "Revolution."
Yet tepid applause greets my latest stab at the song, which I conclude by singing the wrong verse and dropping my pick. (OK, so we passed that Beatlefest audition because I knew one of the judges.)
Jimmy Pou (fake George) plunks out the familiar guitar riff that launches me into "I Feel Fine," even though I feel considerably worse. Adding to the pressure, I've learned that the hundred-odd unsuspecting witnesses to tonight's charade include two entirely real rock stars: Vicki and Debbi Peterson of the Bangles.
The problem is not that I'm horrible -- although I sing flat on half the verses and resemble Kurt Cobain as much as Lennon. The problem is that this audience has already witnessed Gibson. Raised 20 miles outside the Beatles' hometown of Liverpool, England, this guy looks and sings creepily like Lennon's second coming. Even his teeth match up. The only discernable difference is his eye color: blue instead of brown.
"Are you coming onto me?" Gibson asked as I checked him out backstage.
Incredibly, he doesn't see the resemblance.
"I don't think I look like him," Gibson said.
Yet he realizes that everyone else disagrees -- even those closest to the slain Beatle. According to Gibson, the real McCartney recoiled after meeting him in a press tent at Liverpool's King's Dock in 2003.
"A bit of a shock to him it was," Gibson said.
But not as big of a shock as it was to Yoko Ono, whom Gibson tried to approach while strolling a Manhattan street in 1985.
"She ran away," Gibson said, adding that Lennon's widow waved her hands and screamed, "No, no, no!"
Since 1979, Gibson -- a former train component painter who claims he has never had plastic surgery -- has bounced among a succession of Beatles cover bands. Fab Forever joined the list last year, after another fake John (Peter George) quit to spend more time with his family in Los Angeles.
"You've got to explore all different avenues, don't you?" Gibson said of his decision to accept the offer made by Fab Forever manager Jerry Peluso. (He still officially resides in England, however.)
Gibson calls the impersonation racket -- which pays him less than $100 a night plus a free room at the hotel -- fun but also frustrating because your career is always someone else's. Like most musical impersonators, Gibson writes his own tunes but has no outlet for them.
"I tried doing my own music for a while but it went nowhere," he said. "People said it sounded too Beatle-y. But what do you do? You've got to go with the flow. As you get older, your horizons don't exactly widen, do they?"
Gibson is 53 years old.
"I don't think he's got the job, do you?" the real fake Lennon asks the crowd before taking back his Rickenbacker guitar to lead a note-perfect finale of "Twist and Shout."
"No!" comes the reply.
Vicki Peterson is more diplomatic about the Fab Three and a half.
"It was a psychedelic evening to begin with," she says later. "And when you showed up onstage, the drugs really kicked in."
At least the critics raved about one thing I did right.
"Your hair was wonderful," Rainey says. "You got it dead on."
Fear and Loafing appears every Monday in the Living section. Levitan's previous adventures can be found at www.fearandloafing.com.