Remembering John Entwistle on his 20th Jahrzeit

It’s hard to believe the Earth has revolved around the Sun twenty times since John Alec Entwistle, the greatest bass player in rock history, left the material world at the relatively young age of 57, on 27 June 2002. Whereas no one was shocked by George Harrison’s passing seven months earlier, John’s untimely death was a bolt from out of the blue. He seemed in perfect health.

What made it even more shocking and heartbreaking was that it was on the eve of a huge summer tour of the U.S. And though I’ve always felt very strongly that It’s Hard is The Who’s swan song, John’s death made me wish they had put out a new album, one final musical memory of him. (To date, I’ve still not listened to the recent albums Pete and Roger made, apart from a few songs coming up on auto-generated YouTube playlists.)

It was a Thursday, and I had recently, unhappily come home to Pittsfield after graduating UMass–Amherst. While reading the day’s digest of IGTC (a Who mailing list), I saw a message from someone who said he heard John had just died. We thought it was a joke or terrible false news, but confirmation quickly came in, and multiple news and music sources began reporting it.

A big debate broke out re: whether Pete and Roger should continue the tour without John or pack it in and gracefully retire. I thought it was the right decision to play the first night as planned, since they did it in John’s memory, and Pete and Roger (famous longtime frenemies) shared a very emotional hug onstage. But after that, I felt it was wrong to keep touring without John. It’s one thing to lose a single bandmember and find a solid substitute, as they did when Moonie died and Kenney Jones joined them, but it’s an entirely different story when only half of the original band remains.

Almost no one liked John’s replacement, Pino Palladino. How does one even begin to try to fill such mammoth shoes?

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Dezo Hoffman/Shutterstock (155628xa)
The Who – John Entwistle
‘Various’ – 1960

And then we found out about John’s shenanigans with cocaine and a groupie stripper the night before, and we were so disappointed. But I’ve already said everything I needed to say about that matter in the pages of my journals over the years. John is no longer here to explain and defend himself, and we should let the dead rest in peace.

For at least a month following his untimely passing, I wrote about John and the ensuing events every single day in my journal Athena. The fan community’s emotions were so raw, and we needed time to process what had happened. Yes, we didn’t know him personally, but he still meant a great deal to us for so many years. It felt like losing a friend or relative. People who aren’t longtime passionate fans of a band will never understand this.

I said Kaddish for John every week during the period of shloshim (the first thirty days after death), possibly through to his first Jahrzeit (death anniversary). And during shloshim, I finally made the switch from saying mechayeh hakol (who gives life to all) to mechayeh hameytim (who gives life to the dead) in the second blessing of the Amidah. In the wake of John’s death, it felt so comforting to imagine the dead being resurrected in the Messianic Era.

Mechayeh hakol is Reform liturgy, which I just couldn’t get myself to abandon even after I began attending Conservative and Orthodox services. But ever since that summer of 2002, I’ve said it as automatically as I say anything else in the liturgy. Perhaps I would’ve eventually made the switch anyway, but John’s passing hastened that aspect of my spiritual growth and development.

May you rest in eternal peace, dear Junnykins, and may your beautiful memory be for an eternal blessing. I love your bass-playing, your quirkiness, your dark sense of humor, your skeleton suit, your deep Boris the Spider voice, your songwriting, your quiet one status within your band, your stoic state onstage while the other three were going bananas, your handsome face. The world is a better place because you were in it.

Author: Carrie-Anne

Writer of historical fiction sagas and series, with elements of women's fiction, romance, and Bildungsroman. Born in the wrong generation on several fronts.

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