Javier Parisi

In 2019 Finnish Beatles fans Antero and Ville (aka “Two of Us”) launched The Helsinki Beatles Weekend, a yearly event that grows stronger every year and features a multitude of passionate Beatles tribute bands and musicians from around the globe. One of them is Argentinian Javier Parisi, an incredibly dedicated impersonator who not only looks and sounds like John, he embodies him. We indict him into the honorary Helsinki Heroes Hall of Fame and ask him what’s it like to imagine giving peace a chance.

Welcome, Javier! How did you end up being one of the world’s top John Lennon impersonators?

Often people assume I do this because I look like him. But the truth is I discovered The Beatles when I was 8 years old, and then told my mom I wanted to play the guitar and learn to speak English. So it was because of the love of their music that it all started, not because of the physical resemblance.

During my teens I put together my first Beatles tribute band. My goal was, besides honoring their image, to sound as close to them as possible. Of course I couldn’t expect to find a Paul clone that sang like him or had a bass like his, but I did my best. With my modest gofer salary I bought my first guitar, then instruments for the other band members, who were friends from my neighborhood. Expanding the wardrobe and other stuff we slowly grew, while playing in bars and other small venues. Then, when I was about 17, I let my hair grow long. We were watching the video of “Something” where John has long hair, and a friend says “wow, you look like John so much!” And then I started to notice. But I hadn’t been chasing that image at all. In the mirror I saw Javier, not Lennon. Besides, when I was a teen I had short hair, was using gel, completely different vibe. What I mean is, until I let my hair grow long, nobody (not even me) had noticed any likeness.

So yeah, about six or seven years ago I began to consciously focus on the characterization, the movement, the gestures, and to work exclusively on being an impersonator. And then I started to get signs from abroad. I was contacted, supposedly, by the BBC, who were looking for John lookalikes to produce a Christmas special in Manchester. I asked my friend Sergio to check if it wasn’t a scam, and he confirmed it, it was the real deal. So I thought “abroad they’re seeing something that I’m not seeing, and the people around me aren’t seeing!” Once these things began to happen, I started to focus more and more on developing the character.

Javier at the Scandic hotel, and at the Kallio church in Helsinki, May 2022.

You sing and play really well. What’s your musical background?

When I told my mom I wanted to learn guitar, she sent me to a private teacher who taught me music theory and sight-reading. She had this music group for children, but it was folk music! We would wear ponchos and play zambas and chacareras at folk events and retirement homes… I remember grannies and grandpas coming to ask for our autographs, grateful for a merry moment we could give them. So that’s how my musical formation began. But time was running short and whenever I asked the teacher “I want to learn Beatles songs!” she would reply “no, no. Learn theory and sol-fa!” So I had to do my own research to learn The Beatles repertoire.

How do you handle the shift between John and Javier?

Today, a musician who plays in this festival told me “it was nice to see you at the hotel having breakfast in the morning, because I could tell you handle really well the difference between yourself and the character.” I came down for breakfast as Javier Parisi, long hair, Lanús Team shirt, and moving around as me.

The thing is, I’m not a madman who thinks he’s Lennon reincarnated. What I’m doing is, I’m re-creating someone who’s been my idol since I was eight. I’m wearing his image, and therefore I must look after it, I can’t afford to act in a careless manner. For example, let’s say I’m in character, eating at a table. If somebody comes asking for a selfie I will get up and let them take it. It’s different from an actor who portrays a character in a movie. After the shoot he gets paid, goes home, and that’s it. I differentiate carefully between everything that belongs to the character (how he would think, feel, act, in each moment) and me, Javier, who is a completely different individual.

Is it something you can switch on and off at will?

Yes, it’s like a switch. Here’s Javier, here’s Lennon.

A deep work of analysis.

That’s what it is. Understanding what is it that people recognize in an unconscious manner. How he used to squint (he was short-sighted) or chew gum, which I don’t do in my private life. People ask me “how can you chew gum and sing at the same time?” I had to learn it and now it’s part of the character, it’s integrated and works on its own, that’s what matters. If an impersonator exaggerates the character, he’s over-acting. When I studied acting, they told me “you must recreate his image, his mannerisms, ALL THE TIME. First exaggerated, and then more and more subtly, until it starts to become organic”.

When people see me on Instagram they tend to think my daily life is being John all day, even when I make myself some coffee, because my imitation is so natural. If I overdid it they would notice and say “ah, he’s imitating”.

The actor Peter Sellers comes to mind. He could uncannily imitate the mannerisms and speech of anybody, after five minutes of meeting them. But when he had nobody to imitate, he would lack a self-image and get depressed.

You’ve got to be very careful with that. I tell myself “time is up, here the character ends, it’s over”. I withdraw from Lennon’s image so I don’t find it in the mirror. That way, I can recharge it with positive energy for the next time.

Your work is not only musical, but theatric.

Yes. And as I mentioned, it began after the offers I was getting from abroad. An English band contacted me to play with them in the center of Liverpool, and they recommended me to watch this or that video, to pick up gesticulations and movements. Then I got to meet Helen Anderson, John’s personal friend who designed his caps and other clothes for him (Helen’s friend, Cynthia Powell, was John’s first wife). Through all this I got to learn how young people used to walk in the 60s and 70s, throwing back the shoulders.

And speaking of acting, I recently finished shooting a movie in Argentina (which, God willing, will open in September) where I play two different characters: John Lennon and Norberto, a cleaner that looks like Lennon. The director told me “the Norberto character has to be completely different from the Lennon character”. So I had to work inventing the other one. How would he think, and feel? That interplay also helped me improve my work on the Lennon character. Acting is play and fun, it’s a chameleonic thing, to wear different personalities.

How do people who knew him react to your character?

It is intense. Helen, Lennon’s friend, asked me for a photo wearing the cap she made for me. I sent it and she said “I can’t believe you look like him so much!” She published the photo, and then Julian Lennon wrote “I LOVE HIM!” and started to follow me. In fact, I just uploaded a video of me here in Helsinki and he hit Like. I think all these things happen because these people appreciate the work I put into it. They know I’m from Argentina and English is not my mother tongue (lots of British imitators can mimic Lennon’s speech much better than I can) and how I focus in the study of the character. All those little things people don’t see at first sight, but perceive. Sometimes imitators don’t even physically look like the character they’re portraying, but their attention to the mannerisms and gestures compensates. It happens a lot with friends, or people who are together a lot: they end up looking alike, because they pick each other’s gestures, speech patterns, even the way they think.

How’s your English?

I started when I was eight. But yeah, language is something you learn all the time. The more you practice and travel to English-speaking countries, the better it gets.

Does the friction between Argentina and Britain due to the Falklands / Malvinas conflict in ’82 affect your work?

Not really. English people have given me nothing but affection, love, and respect. During my time there I got all that and work opportunities, through The Cavern Club and other places. I’m super-grateful to them.

And Argentina… You know how they say it’s difficult to be a prophet in your own land? I had been doing the Beatles thing for twenty years, then some more with the Lennon imitation, but in Argentina they started to pay attention when they heard news from abroad. It always happens, they say “hey, this guy is OURS!” and then comes the recognition. Another thing is that I write a lot in Instagram, and I do it in English because what I do is for the world, so that’s the language most widely understood. Then someone asks “why don’t you write in Spanish?” Well, because most of my followers won’t understand! Just by pressing the “Translate” button you can read it in your own language.

Other things sadden me a bit too. For example, I live in Argentina, I’m always there. During the pandemic, a difficult time for everybody, all of my work came from abroad, through streams and so on. I would have liked, considering I live there and I don’t need to pay for trips or lodging, to be told “here’s a venue for you, come to perform!” Things like that.

And how did you end up playing in Finland?

I first played here with my band in 2009, in Tampere. I kept in touch with the organizers, and they also kept following my progress. In 2019 I was in England and was going to come over, but the pandemic started… So that’s the Finnish connection. I’ve got several followers here, and in other places far away from Argentina, and they write to me daily. It’s so nice to meet them face to face. They say “wow, you’re really real, here you are!”

What did you think of Peter Jackson’s “Get Back” documentary?

It made me see the story from another perspective; what I thought I knew was not so. I loved Julian Lennon’s reaction when he saw it: “after seeing my dad in that documentary, I understand a lot of things, and now I love him more than before”. John was going through his heroine phase, and other things, it was very difficult for him and he did what he could. He was always late, and Paul would ask him “time’s running out, mate. How many songs have you got?” “Two,” he would reply. He could barely deal with his own stuff, and Paul, watching the ship sinking, was frantically trying to keep it afloat.

After Epstein, it was not possible to continue like before.

Brian was sorely missed, and they needed a new manager. They kept talking about the guy managing the Rolling Stones… But beyond the arguments, it can be clearly seen how they care about each other and about their friendship. When Lennon is late, and Paul is waiting for a call from him like a kid, with teary eyes. It’s incredible, they’re The Beatles! And he’s crying because his friend is late… I’ve always thought they were much more mature, but the truth is that they were kids, it’s fascinating. Paul and Ringo also commented that they had their own sad memories of the event, but they re-evaluated everything after seeing the documentary. A more constructive vision of the whole thing.

It’s amusing how the documentary shows The Beatles playing up there in the roof, while Londoners walk down the street, oblivious to the historical event that’s taking place. Because nobody did what they did, influencing music at such level. There’s a before and an after The Beatles.

Would you like to meet Paul?

My life is pretty wacky, and beautiful things happen to me all the time. Fate will decide, I’m sure. I believe in fate.

Do you believe in God?

I believe in me.

In Yoko and you.

Ha, ha! As a kid I was baptized, took communion, and so on. But growing up, I started to read, understand certain things… I could say I believe in Jesus, but I could also believe in Buddha. Why do I have to pick only one person to believe in? I believe in the universe and I also believe in myself, that if I don’t make things happen, they won’t happen. I wake up every day with a goal, and I chase it, and the goal itself is also a dream. That’s my god, because it’s within me, and I don’t need to go to a church so a man can tell me what I should and should not do, because he himself is a man of flesh and blood, like me. There are books, like the Bible, that could be a very well narrated tale, and lots of things out there, and each person chooses what to hold on to. If it helps, great. I think we generate things from the inside out, that’s why we shouldn’t blame other people when things don’t go the way we want.

Is there life after death?

I’m not sure. I’d definitely like to have the reassurance that yes, this goes on and there’s something after this. We miss so many people who are gone, family, friends. But I believe they’re gone if we forget about them. I live alone, and I’ve got plenty of time to connect with myself, with people dear to me, with my dreams, with lots of things. Every night I have dinner with my grandparents, or I talk with somebody, which recharges me with a special energy. Before each presentation I feel I get an embrace from the people who love me. I may be physically far away from them, but I’m really close. Besides me are the people who care for me. Therefore, no matter where I am, I’m never alone.

What would John tell you if you met him?

First he would laugh his head off (I know, because I have studied his life and his idiosyncrasy). Then, he would say something like “I’m glad that your love for me has given you work and the means to live”. Because he was like that. His family told me, and I have read it as well. He used to do this: he knew his friends and acquaintances, and knew who would ask him for money and who wouldn’t. Then, for example, he would give away a first edition of one of his books to a friend, and tell him “when you need money just sell the book, and I’ll be helping you”. He used to do that a lot. When Cynthia, his first wife, auctioned some of John’s clothes, they told her “how dare you sell his clothes? Aren’t you ashamed!” And they were wrong, because Lennon helped the people he cared about in exactly that way. This also ties in with homages and such: if it’s properly done, with love and respect, it continues to project his image to the new generations. To me is great that a kid comes to tell me “after I saw your show I bought a Beatles album!” To continue a legacy is important because today it’s rare that young people hear about John, or The Beatles. It would be great to give exposure to other bands also, like Led Zeppelin and so many others, so the young can go to the roots, see where everything begins. Lately in my home you can hear more and more classical music, tango… It’s like going back in time!

Photos from Javier’s Instagram © the respective owners. You can follow Javier on Instagram, and Facebook. This is the Helsinki Beatles Weekend page and this is their YouTube channel. Special thanks to producer Sergio Schuchinsky.