The New Young Impersonators - Drew Johnson & Richie Lillard

Drew Johnson, Jim Morrison impersonator, sporting MEN’S FITTED TROUSERS.

(WARNING: Profanity used to make a point.)

One of the unique pleasures of living in Las Vegas, besides having friends from all walks of life from everywhere in the world—dancers, really great piano players, even Moravian trapeze artists and contortionists from Mongolia—people who make the average “indie” crowd seem pretty tame, you also get to have friends who are budding impersonators.

I have to admit that when I first moved here from San Francisco I was against this form of cloning, at least as it applied to music. Didn’t consider it art, and even assumed it took something away from, rather than adding something to, one’s appreciation of the original. Imitation being a form of flattery, I guess I considered it a kind of perversion of art with the same motive as flattery: an attempt to get ahead through the use of excessive or insincere praise.

But then the first friend I make when I get to town is Drew Johnson, a Jim Morrison impersonator. And soon thereafter it was Drew who introduced me to his friends, who all became my new group of friends, now as cherished as I’ve had anywhere, ever.

But receiving from him that first day that we met, his answer to the question, “So, what do you do?” was like that moment you first receive notice of someone’s recent cancer diagnosis. Not a serious form of cancer, something treatable. But with someone you don’t know very well, it’s awkward because you don’t know how bad to feel or, more to the point, how much feeling to express.

This is how arrogant I had become from my twelve years of seclusion in the supposed freak capitol of the world, our nation’s shining beacon of open-mindedness. Not that this is typical of San Franciscans, I’m my own person. But even the average San Franciscan, I think, could learn a trick or two from sabbatical in Las Vegas.


And then, most recently, I’ve met Johnny. Or Freddie. No one seems to know his real or full name, but then again once you’ve met him, there really is no other name besides Freddie. With my acquaintance of Freddie came a new level of subcultural awareness about this particular form of art* (*see my argument below), a litmus test for quality or degree of impersonation, which is: If you feel star-struck when you meet an impersonator, they’re good. That’s just all there is to it.

Nearly instantly upon meeting Freddie, after an introduction by my photographer friend, Bryan Hainer, who’d just shot a series of Freddie at various spots downtown and trolling a few karaoke bars, I felt myself lose a sense of Bryan’s presence in the room. I love Bryan, you know, but his voice just seemed to trail off. And in that moment, when confronted with that beautifully mustached overbite of a smile, I just had this rush of things I wanted to say, to tell Freddie.

Like how when I was a child I used to dance in my room to We Are The Champions over and over. And about how when I was in India I discovered that he was their greatest rock star, a true hero, whom everyone admired, and about how it was Freddie Mercury who embodied to me that rarely achieved form of transcendence in men that is the understanding of one’s sexuality beyond the context of gayness vs straightness.

I mean Another One Bites The Dust: this butch anthem, beloved by every asshole I couldn’t stand during my blue collar childhood, from whom I suffered daily persecution. And—jesus—We Are The Champions, which blared over the PA at every football game and pep rally, with these dickheads having no idea who or what Queen was—and if they did they would have wanted to hang Freddie Mercury, or themselves should I catch such a break.

“Do you even know what that song means, Fuckwad?!”

This is about the time I realized, holy shit, I’m star struck. And then suddenly, I lapsed into that familiar counter-response which just solidifies the fact. That moment of bizarre anger that suddenly erupts and if unchecked spews forth upon the object of your, just-a-minute-ago, quite deep affection.

You actually hate that person for their patient understanding. Their warmth in listening to your stupid prattle. The kindness in their smile. You hate them for unearthing this cloying octopus of fearful desires and self-rating which pretty much defines sycophantic behavior. And then you realize you’re being sycophantic.

And that’s when I realized: This guy is fucking good.

Something I’d already recognized long before about Drew. One night with Mojo Risin (still trying to get them to change that name), and even the hardest hipster heart—that callous chestnut—will open.

I guarantee it.

*my argument, I hope, made herein and dispensed with, forthwith.