John Lennon has been dead longer than I’ve been alive, but never mind that! Death is a non-factor if you’re a Beatle, or a Beatles tribute band, because the music goes on, and on, and on. Kind of like “Hey Jude.” “Naaa na na nanananaaa” times infinity∞. Anyway, Tuesday marks the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ first North American concert, at the Washington Coliseum. Tribute band Beatlemania Now is scheduled to re-create the 12-song set on the same site (now Uline Arena) at the same time (8:31 p.m.) as the original. I talked with the band’s founder, Scot Arch (a.k.a. John Lennon), a couple hours before their sound check.
I imagine there are countless Beatles tribute bands.
Yeah, there are different echelons. There are a whole lot of people who thought, “Oh, if we go out and buy black matching suits and the proper guitars, we could be Beatles.” There’s really a lot more to it than that. And certain things are not by choice. You have to look sort of like the guy. You can put on some makeup, but you have to look somewhat like him before you get started. You can’t be short and pudgy.
As a keeper of the flame, why do you think America is still stuck on this band nearly 45 years after they broke up?
I mean, obviously one of the reasons is it’s great music and a lot of it is timeless. Some of it’s not so timeless, but certainly it sets off memories for so many people. That original generation — they were maybe 16, give or take, and in 1964 they were most hit by it. But their younger brothers and sisters also caught the bug, and after their parents moaned a bit about the long hair they jumped on the bandwagon. But as they got older they played it in their car and house and their kids got into it, too. . . . It keeps getting passed from generation to generation. And let’s face it: Sony/ATV [Music Publishing] now, and whoever owned the rights in the past — there is a new repackaging or a new release of something every year, so they’re very smart in that respect. They keep it in your minds.
How complete is the imitation? Do you strive for total accuracy or do you just have a good time in the spirit of the Beatles?
We go for as much accuracy and perfection as we possibly can. And one of the reasons I continue to listen to them is you get in a different car or something, and all of a sudden you hear some tiny little things you never noticed before.
Tell me about a certain performance tic or habit, a certain move or intonation that you do as a mimicry or homage to Lennon.
You know, he certainly stood in a particular way when he was singing, or even if he was rocking behind one of the guys. There were particular ways he moved, particular angles he held his head. People always seem to notice those. After shows they say, “You move just like them.” And just the way, for instance, you have to hold the guitar. The same height and at the same angle. That’s not necessarily my optimum playing spot. The elbow doesn’t look right if the guitar’s not where it should be. And if it’s not the right guitar — in the early days he always played guitars with weird necks, the Rickenbacker, that had a three-quarter scale neck, made for a beginner. So if you try and do those things with a regular-neck guitar, it doesn’t look right because the elbow’s all wrong.
Your favorite Beatles song?
Well, I have two. My two favorite Beatles songs: “There’s a Place” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” “There’s a Place” is sort of an album cut, a B-side, and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” has all the nostalgia in the world wrapped up in it. That’s what made me want to play the guitar.
The most overrated Beatles song?
There is one that I do feel — not that I don’t want to play it again, but it goes on and on. “Hey Jude.” Everyone loves “Hey Jude.” And if it didn’t go around and around and around at the end, I’d be okay with it. That’s the only part that’s tedious I guess.
Have you ever met a Beatle?
If you did, what would you say to him?
Well, I’d probably say thank you for all the great music. And everything. One of the most important things about our show is I consider it a celebration of the ’60s and, I mean, how can you talk about the ’60s without the Beatles, or how can you talk about the Beatles without the ’60s? That was a great time in my life, and a lot of it was shaped by them, so I’d have to thank them for all those things. I might never have had a chance to wear Cuban-heeled boots if not for them. I’m just kidding.