Wednesday, July 17, 2002 :::
Point size is becoming a problem
::: posted by Brian at 3:17 PM
::: posted by Brian at 3:05 PM
::: posted by Brian at 10:37 AM
Tuesday, July 16, 2002 :::
::: posted by Brian at 11:14 PM
“Up in the sky is a place where you go if you’ve done nothing wrong”
The book commentary will be taking a short breather.
John Entwistle is dead.
Not news anymore, but history. Still. A lot of people’s history. Musical history. Bass guitar history. In paying him respect some people used the mistaken term “influential” for John’s style. But that’s not really right. He was sui generis; few tried to emulate him, because few could. And few bands could handle his style other than the Who, that uniquely strange band that rumbled and rolled often without any steady rhythmic center; and that frequently relied on the guitar for such center as there was. No other band was big enough, would have the tensile strength not to burst at the seams trying to contain his hyperkinetic rumble.
We’ve all read all the obituaries. A thing that frequently wasn’t mentioned in them: John had a wonderful, edgy but yearning voice; when given “sensitive” material to work with (not often--his lyrical taste, as was often [correctly] noted, learned toward the whimsical, dark, absurd, or, in later days, declamatory), like on his only lead vocal on the Quadrophenia project (the outtake “We Close Tonight,” available on the reissue CD of Odds n’ Sods) he could get across the young geek’s blues as good as ol’ Townshend—listen to the keening edge of “How can I explain how I feel? I’m like a little dog running at her heel”.
His solo albums (the ones I’ve heard—I’m sadly missing Rigor Mortis Sets In and somewhere lost my 8-track of Mad Dog [and the 8-track player] and everything since Too Late the Hero I never picked up---in typical sorry motherfucker style, I intend to now that he’s gone, to make up for the fact that I never did go see him play solo the many chances I had in LA, and never managed to even run into him drunk at a club—as did my pal Brink Lindsey once in Japan, and he wrote about it well at brinklindsey.com the day after John died.) were also strong and most typically Entwistle, even if strangely muddy and dark in sound. (Most every song on his first two solo LPs is better than “My Wife,” and “My Wife” ain’t shabby.)
What can we say, we who miss him? Not a damn thing. I even went to see Pete and Roger do their thing, play their old Who chestnuts, four days after the only bass player they ever had was dead, his body still in a Vegas morgue. Pino Palladino, pace Pete, did indeed seem to try to play like Entwistle, but did a weak and tentative job of it, leaving lots of empty space in the arrangement for Pete to fill. And Pete tried hard, and it was sometimes inspirational to watch him. But we all knew that, despite the business problems, the tour would have been cancelled had either of them died and it hurt those muso fans among us who understood and appreciated the absolute centrality of his playing to the Who sound.
Sadly, they probably played exactly the set they would have had John been there, minus “My Wife.” Roger tried some sort of train-sound vocal solo to fill the traditional space where John would provide the thunder for jaw-dropping minutes during “5:15”. The show leaned too much, like all Who shows for past 25 years, on the huge and anthemic, giving short shrift to the aspects of the band that were lean and hard, silly and spastic, or just good, solid, wonderful pop/rock n’ roll. It’s just very hard to get me to feel anything from “Won’t Get Fooled Again” or “Who are You” or “Behind Blue Eyes” or “Love, Reign O’er Me” or “See Me Feel Me” anymore. Much rather I’d hear, say, “Out in the Streets” or “Tattoo” or “However Much I Booze” or “Athena.”
“Sea and Sand” made me shiver as it frequently does (my very favorite Who song, and unexpected in a mostly unadventurous set list—Palladino emulated the part for the record with consummate professionalism. Sadly, playing bass in the Who requires not skilled professionalism but inspired madcap genius.) Roger dedicated the set to John, “the spirit of rock n’ roll who lives on in the music we play” blah blah. Pete, I was afraid would just clam up in the face of the possibly hopelessly crass task he was engaging in. He referred to an old friend who disappeared from the front row for 5 minutes. “I was afraid she left because it was just too difficult,” he said, mentioning that “tonight will seem strange to those who have followed this band for a long time.”
“And it is difficult,” he admitted, adding that even without “the usual huge harmonic noise I’m used to from that side of the stage” that they still sounded alright. Maybe. Much like in 2000, it was ragged, frequently not there musically, somewhat tedious in song selection.
But what I loved about it then, as someone who lived and sweated and drama of the Who and its music through some very “sensitive” years (between ages 14-16 I listened to almost nothing but—the blank cassette with Who’s Next and Meaty, Beaty got played almost once a day, every day, for two years) that I was enjoying the nostalgia of these men trying to pay homage in a decent and spirited way to what they had accomplished. It made me feel good to think they still cared. It made me still care about some things I had lost.
But this was something different, and its creepiness and emptiness was hard to miss even as the crowd seemed to try its best to. (Like all expensive rock show audiences, this one confused me. I wouldn’t pay $50+ prices for anything less that a band I was fanatical about, but as always I was surrounded by people who seemed like they’d just as soon be in their living rooms and who knew or cared about only those songs that they might have heard on the radio on the way over.) When they did the extended, soft “Kids Are Alright” with new lyrics in 2000, Pete went on and on about youthful gangs, about how he’d been in a gang since before he was 10. “And I’m still in a gang,” he sung-spoke. “And it’s almost the same gang!” He and Entwistle had been friends most of their life. He didn’t sing that part this time.
John had strangely little to do in persona with the sense of the Who’s music, particularly post-Quadrophenia. Lifelong friendship or no, they were, except in the way their playing styles clashed/meshed, almost impossibly different types. I always sort of figured that John probably didn’t even like most of the songs Townshend wrote. He did grumble about how ever since Quad they’d swear they were going to start rocking harder and simpler, but then only his songs would stick to the rock verities. By the Who’s recording end he wasn’t even being very funny, though “It’s Your Turn” and “One at a Time” still have more life and crunch and verve than most of Pete’s contributions to It’s Hard.
Pete had at his command one of the greatest tools in rock with John, Roger and Keith. Even before that tool became blunted with Keith’s death, Pete began losing sight, I think, of that tool’s strengths. While I adore The Who by Numbers and even most of Who Are You, I can understand why “classic” Who fans might think them irrelevant. The band had to learn some new tricks; it was still awkward with them.
Even post-Keith, Entwistle still played the bass huge and unusual and breathtaking, even as the tone got treblier and chunkier and more like a huge strange guitar. He did what he did amazingly, uniquely, and left so many, many people shattered and bereft when he died, shocked into remembering how very many wonderful, wonderful gifts he had left us with. He was sardonic, he was most excellent, our lives would not have been the same without him, and he’s gone gone gone.
I did not start listening to all his most wonderful performances after he died. For the most part, I’d rather not hear him for awhile, til I can listen with something other than the sound of the silence he’s left behind in my ears. But I’ll be whipping out Whistle Rymes after awhile to smile at “Who Cares?” and get misty over “Apron Strings” (one of his best sad, yearning vocals). And the Who’s live versions of “Heaven and Hell” and “A Quick One” will again turn me into a spastic idiot around my bedroom. Next time I play the bass, I’ll be throwing in a few more notes than usual. His spirit was too big for anyone but John Entwistle’s body and fingers to contain it. Maybe now just little bits of it will generously spread themselves out to the rest of us.
“The whole world is full of people living lives of worry/What’s the hurry/Who cares?”
::: posted by Brian at 11:04 PM