What I feel inside I can’t explain. That John Entwistle should die in his late fifties is totally unthinkable. He was the indestructible one. He was the rock. He was the island. He was the fulcrum on which it all hinged.
John was the best. He made “My Generation,” along with the other lads, one of the greatest records of all time.
I think John was the pivotal member of the most exciting rock band to emerge on the British music scene in the Sixties.
Now, as I was recently reminded, there is a Zen expression that the way to go through life successfully is to “move like a cow” …or, in this case, an ox.
Forever surrounded, at least on stage, by the testosterone-soaked circus which were Messrs. Townshend, Daltrey and especially Moon, it could often be too criminally easy to overlook The Man, The Myth, dare I say The Ox which was, and forever shall be, John A. Entwistle. In more ways than one he was the George Harrison of The Who I suppose, yet Entwistle never ever took a musical back seat to his more prolific – or at least pushier – bandmates: Employing his mighty four strings to not so much play songs as ATTACK them, he deftly ballbusted his bottom-end up to an indisputable place of sheer sonic equality within the critical Who picking order.
In that process John became, it’s been said, the Hendrix of the bass guitar.
For one, the man’s abundant compositional skills remain nothing to be sneezed over. Sure, we all know and love “My Wife,” “Boris The Spider” and my own personal favorite slice of backyard blue-balling, Ox-style: “Someone’s Coming” (given new life recently by the Pearlfishers’ own David Scott). These, along with the brace of less immediately recognizable Entwistle gems, always served to deflate with a wry, macabre smirk – just as Moon that Loon would off record – any and most every lofty pretension emanating from that Townshend corner of the band’s equation. Prime example? Without Uncle Ernie or Cousin Kevin, Tommy would play as just yer standard Jesus Christ: Pinball Star, now wouldn’t he? Suffice to add as well, any singer/songwriter waging the Rock Star Wars out there today need never look any further than Entwistle’s Who By Numbers masterpiece “Success Story” whenever grappling with the beauty, the splendor, the wonder bread which is what remains of the music bizness: “I am your fairy manager,” our anti-hero devilishly declares therein. “You shall play the Carnegie Hall.” Indeed.
Then again, outside of The Who’s stadium-approved confines, John’s grim tales took on even more devious hues and cries. In fact, I for one would wager far more people perished within the verses filling Entwistle’s solo albums than anywheres this side of a vintage Johnny Cash long-player. To whit, Teddy “Ted End” Greenstreet (prophetically?) passes in his sleep, the titanic trysters of “Love Is A Heart Attack,” you guessed it, succumb to a joint carnal coronary upon “setting their pacemakers to a boogie beat,” and sweet young dolly-dancers quickly become the death of the party as they innocently begin to Do The Dangle (well there’s a brand new dance with a brand new angle; it’s the very last waltz and it’s called The Dangle. You tie a rope round your neck and stand on a chair, and you kick it away and you’re dancing on air!). My, but we can perhaps only imagine just what these three selections alone could have become if only they’d first surfaced in the prime of our YouTube’d age.
Oh! And did I mention too the limey-poor but ever-industrious young Entwistle was forced to build his very first bass guitar from scratch? John was probably rock and roll’s very first – and probably last – French hornist as well, plus his octave-bounding voice never feared soar from the operatic heights of (the Rolling Stones Rock And Roll Circus rendition especially of) “A Quick One While He’s Away” deep down to the menacing, arachnophobic rumble of the aforementioned “Boris.” The guy was also one skilled artist and particularly caricaturist to boot (again, check out the utterly underrated Who By Numbers for starters), and was even reportedly eight chapters into producing his too-long-awaited autobiography (like all bassmen, from B. Wyman to D. D. Ramone it seems, John was his band’s resident archivist / historian) when, alas, Ted End came knocking on his Vegas hotel-room door smack dab upon the eve of yet another Who Redux Tour. Damn!
Of course Pete and naturally Roger continue to carry things on without either end of their original rhythm section left standing (“John would’ve wanted it that way,” as the Press Release went). But The Who without their Loon, let alone Ox isn’t a matter, legal or otherwise, I’ll care to turn either ear towards anymore. For wasn’t it superb Moon biographer Tony Fletcher, for one, who pointed out the gnawing chasm separating a Good Band from A TRULY GREAT Band? Or, in the words of no less an expert on the subject as Crawdaddy founder/publisher Paul Williams, “Great rock groups are miracles of human chemistry. Without the solidity and musical instincts and unique personality of John Alec, we would not have had the outrageous creativity and genius and maximum rock and roll of Keith and Peter and Roger …or The Who at all. So we must thank him for making modern music as we know it possible.”
Yes. Thank You, John. And remember: You only die once in a lifetime.
(Gary Pig Gold)
In his songs The Ox spent a lot of time playfully – and not so playfully – mapping types of hells, but that’s just to say that beyond question his real place is in Heaven.
RIP John Entwistle, I hope you are dancing somewhere with Peg Leg Peggy right now.
John Alec Entwistle. October 9, 1944 – June 27, 2002