Margaret Hair: The Fab Faux
February 8, 2008
Steamboat Springs — Not so secretly or subtly, I am hoping John Lennon impersonator Tom Coburn answers his phone in character. I picture him sitting in his Salt Lake City home, wearing a “Sgt. Pepper’s”-era matador outfit, humming along to “Getting Better.”
But that’s not what Coburn – who has played Lennon in the Beatles tribute band, Imagine, for 15 years – is doing. He’s pouring himself a cup of coffee, taking some time off from his character to file his taxes. It’s a little disappointing that Coburn is not only not as crazy as I had wanted him to be; he is completely normal, save his knowledge of three-part harmonies.
Sure, he watches “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help!” at least once a month. He owns live concert footage to study up on Lennon’s mannerisms.
But he also admits to slipping out of character and into his Southern California dialect when he gets carried away on stage, and he doesn’t know what album his favorite Beatles song, “I’ll Be Back,” is on.
“I think it’s on ‘Beatles ’65’ – I’m not a Beatles trivia master,” Coburn says.
“I’m from Southern California, and especially when I get really excited I tend to get into the surf dude part instead of the Liverpool part. Of all of the guys in the band, I’m the most likely to slip out of character,” he says.
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Coburn is an actor, and he knows it. He doesn’t pretend to be a scholar of early rock ‘n’ roll. And he’s a little bit disappointed, in retrospect, that his parents wouldn’t let him see The Fab Four, even though all of his cousins got to.
“We’re actors, basically. I think we’re all gifted musicians, but truly we’re putting on a show,” Coburn says about his band. Anecdotes and onstage interaction are what makes Imagine a tribute, not a cover band. And because not many people got to see the Beatles – because they stopped playing concerts in 1966 – the interaction is likely what people hold on to.
After 15 years and more than 800 shows, Coburn calls the music itself “muscle memory.”
He can talk about everything the Beatles did with authority, from early singles to psychedelic world music. He blows off the notion that songs such as “I Want to Hold Your Hand” are simple garage rockers, pointing to three-part harmonies that take some serious dissection to recreate.
But when he’s asked why Beatles songs continue to capture every emotion a song can capture, Coburn turns elusive.
“I could go through all the cliches – they really do bridge the entire generation gap. My mother and father were born in 1911 and 1916, and they loved it, but they wouldn’t listen to Elvis,” he says.
“But really, I don’t know. You can’t turn on a radio station today – any radio station – and not hear a Beatles song. I wouldn’t even pretend to guess why that is. But their appeal is so great that we’re one of probably 20 nationally touring Beatles acts, and I don’t have any problems getting work.”