The Real Appeal of 'Facsimile Pop'

For years I struggled to understand why nightclubs do bang-up business with performers who merely imitate famous singers, while other musicians who play anything--heaven forbid--original must labor constantly to find a following. Or even a club that will allow them on stage.

I'm not so much of an adventurist that I don't enjoy listening to an old favorite record now and then, but the attraction in watching some unknown singer mimic the hits of Elvis or the Beatles, or even newer stuff by Prince, long escaped me.

Nevertheless, Orange County nightclubs thrive with Facsimile Pop shows.

Every Monday night at the Hop in Fountain Valley, a club founded on the notion that the present ain't what it used to be, singer Tony Rossini offers his "tribute to Neil Diamond" to a rabid, predominantly female crowd. Tuesdays at the Hop have been virtually sold out for three years for a "Rock Around the Clock" oldies revue.

The Courthouse in Santa Ana reports strong response to Chuck Battaglia's Classic Rock & Roll Show, which has been playing various clubs around the county for years. Greg Topper, one of OC's best-known nightclub entertainers, continues to be a top draw with his oldies-but-goodies act, now playing the Airporter Inn in Irvine.

For those wanting to delve even further back in pop history--and apparently there are plenty who do--Bubbles on Balboa Peninsula does SRO business Monday and Tuesday nights with a group billing itself as the Ink Spots. Never mind that the last member of the original Ink Spots, the popular black vocal group of the '30s and '40s, died in 1978. In Facsimile Pop it's the illusion, not reality, that matters.

Now, with "classic rock" radio formats proliferating around the country, these replicant shows are no longer limited to rock's early pioneers as they once were. Jimmy Durante's maxim is truer than ever:

" Everybody wants to get inta de act ."

Grateful Dead fans who just can't get enough have Thursday nights at Pepa's Pizza Parlor in Stanton, when "Club Dead West" night ($4 cover) features Dead videos and recordings--most, in the finest anti-establishment Deadhead tradition, unauthorized--all night long.

The Bandstand in Anaheim recently booked Sammy Atlantic & His New Jersey All-Stars--an ironic choice since Atlantic's model is Bruce Springsteen, whose every musical pore oozes the integrity that this rock cloning subverts.

Even Night Moves in Huntington Beach--one of only two Orange County clubs that regularly hosts local original bands--recently turned over its stage to Wild Child, a band that apes the Doors.

But when it comes to music, I'm from the Accept No Substitute school. We purists tend to rankle at any re-recordings of the classics--even by the same artist, like Chuck Berry's pallid 1960s remakes for Mercury of his landmark 1950s Chess hits.

Some would call that pedantic; some might call it picky; others would call it just plain bitchy. I prefer to think of it as having high standards. So the appeal of these facsimiles largely remained a mystery.

Until I bought my computer.

That's when it began to dawn on me how often we as a culture do willingly settle for less than the best when it suits our needs.

For me, a Taiwan-made clone of the popular IBM personal computer was fine for writing at home, even though I knew that this cheaper look-alike might not perform or endure like the real thing. But at less than half the price of the genuine article, "close" was good enough.

It doesn't take much probing to see that attitude everywhere. Artificial flowers. Reconstituted orange juice Cubic zirconia. Generic champagne.

And Imitation Elvis.

In that context, it's less perplexing to see why all but the most resolute Neil Diamond fans might want to go to the Hop and pay a $3 cover charge to see Rossini emote "Cherry Cherry" and "Heartlight," rather than wait another four years to pay 50 bucks to see the real thing.

A theoretical mathematician might cringe at the thought of using a cheap foreign-made computer like mine. But the same person might find Chuck Battaglia perfectly acceptable to dance and romance to after a hard day of equation solving over the IBM--even if Chuck's rendition of "Oh, Pretty Woman" does sound more like Joe Cocker than Roy Orbison.

At Rossini's show, a guy at the table next to mine leaned over and said solemnly:

"When Tony sings Neil's songs, he's singing my life."

Like many people, he wasn't on a quest for artistic originality--just a simple cruise down memory lane.

And if it gets you where you want to go, why pay for a coffee-colored Cadillac when a Ford Escort will do?

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