John Entwistle, 1944-2002

by Alun Thomas
When checking my e-mail last Thursday evening the first thing I noticed was the heading 'John Entwistle' on one of them. Maybe he's available for an interview I thought. I opened it and read the message from a friend. It said 'there's a rumour going around that John Entwistle has died.' Quickly checking Billboards website I learned it was all too true. 'The Ox' was dead of a suspected heart attack at age 57.

I have often wondered how I would react to the death of a member of my favourite band, The Who. I was only two when Keith Moon died, so that doesn't count. I sat around trying to find more information. It certainly was unexpected. Unlike George Harrison who had suffered from cancer, I was not aware of any heart condition of Entwistle's. It's well known that he fancied a glass or two, but who doesn't? The fact that The Who were scheduled to kick off their summer tour the following evening was not forgotten. The news traveled fast. Who fans everywhere converged on message boards united in mourning. I joined them. Entwistle was after all the greatest bassist in rock history.

I've devoted many columns to The Who's greatness, even one for Entwistle himself. What becomes lost in his death is just how influential he was. That he was the least high profile member of the band in their heyday is irrelevant. This mans actions spoke louder than his words. When he delivered that bass riffing and solo in 'My Generation' back in 1965, he made the bass a lead instrument. He made it exciting to listen to. You can listen to a Who album without guitars in the mix and not miss them at all. He played so heavily that I have been fooled many times, thinking it was a guitar. When Keith Moon died they said he was irreplacable. He was. The Who continued anyway. And now Entwistle's passed the now tribute tour should be the last act. His bass style was so unique, that the thought of adding a new player is unthinkable. The mixture of he, Pete Townshend and Keith Moon was so destructive, no one's come close to matching it.

What's forgottten often about Entwistle is that he was the only regular contributor in the bands songwriting aside from Townshend. Fans know John was the one who prefered the offbeat topics heard in obscure classics like 'Ive Been Away', about a man lusting for revenge after being released from prison, or 'Dr Jeckyll And Mr Hide' and 'When I Was A Boy'. You could always trust him to conjure up a rocker or two, especially in the late 70's and onwards when Townshend went soft. Cuts like 'Success Story', 'Had Enough', 'Trick Of The Light', 'The Quiet One', 'You', 'It's Your Turn' and 'Dangerous' are latter day Who at their heaviest. Entwistle was a prolific solo artist also. In the 70's and 80's he released six solo albums varying in quality, but with the trademark sense of humour. The best was probably 1981's 'Too Late The Hero' with a pair of classics in 'Talk Dirty' and 'Try Me'.

Live was where Entwistle was at his best though. It is well known that Enwistle was dismayed by The Who's break up in 1982. More than anyone he lived for the live shows. It was his passion to be out on the road tearing it up. In the many years of inactivity Entwistle was playing sometimes to small crowds in tiny clubs. This didn't affect him. His 1999 live album 'Left For Live' is the only live album worth anything since The Who's 'Live At Leeds' in 1970. Watching him play on old videos is jaw dropping. His wall of noise was inpenetrable. He could blow anyone off the stage.People were too scared to jam with him beacuse he would make them look foolish. When I saw The Who two years ago his bass solo got one of the loudest ovations of the night. He tore the roof off Tinley Park. How many bass players could make a solo interesting? And standing there motionless on stage, laying down an impossible sound, he certainly was one imposing figure. At their live peak in the mid 70's he complimented the others as the roughest and real rock band of all time.

As his death sinks in hopefullyDaltrey and Townshend can finally put the band to rest. I am wary even of their decision to continue the tour, but if it puts a seal on it, that's acceptable. The Who continued to speculate on recording new music just days before Entwistle's passing. In an interview he remarked that he was excited at whathey could create, even at this late stage. Of course we will never know now. If Townshend and Daltey pressed on they would have to adopt a jaded moniker such as 'The Townshend-Daltrey Project'. Fortunately Entwistle has left so many great memories that it will seem like he's still here with us.

When you've grown up with someone and their music for half of your life- nearly every day, there is certainly a sense of loss. Even if you didn't know them personally, you felt like you did. With John Entwistle's music I felt that way. So did a lot of people. It cannot be underestimated just how much of a legend he was. He helped The Who become the greatest rock band in the world. As much he was more than the best bass player ever. He was the only one.