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.

The Ukrainian Quintet of Borys Lyatoshynskyy (Український квінтет Бориса Лятошинськия)

Borys Mykolayovych Lyatoshynskyy (22 December 1894/3 January 1895–15 April 1968) was born into an intellectual family in Zhytomyr. His father, Mykola Leontiyovych, was a renowned history teacher; his mother, Olga Borysivna, was a pianist and singer; and his paternal grandfather was a famous doctor.

From a young age, Borys showed himself a musical prodigy, particularly with the violin and piano. However, he didn’t start taking music seriously until he was at gymnasium in Zlatopol (where his dad was director). He played in the school orchestra, studied violin, and at age fourteen wrote several compositions.

In 1918, he graduated from the Faculty of Law at the University of Kyiv, and in 1919, he graduated from the Kyiv Conservatory. From that point on, he was almost constantly composing. He also was a professor at several conservatories including his alma mater. 

A great honour came in 1939, when he was elected chairman of the board of the Union of Composers of Ukraine. Another triumph followed in April 1941, a concert of his music being performed by the Kyiv Philharmonic to great success. Borys himself conducted.

Following the Nazi invasion of June 1941, Borys was evacuated to Saratov, where he taught at the relocated Moskva Conservatory. This city was also the location of the underground Ukrainian partisan Taras Shevchenko radio station, which broadcast from 23 November 1941–10 March 1944. Borys and his wife, Margaryta Tsarevich, regularly participated in these broadcasts. He also was instrumental in rescuing Ukrainian musical manuscripts and transporting them away from danger zones.

Borys wrote many compositions during the war and arranged more than eighty Ukrainian folk songs. Among his musical output was the work which became his central focus of these years, the Ukrainian Quintet, for which he received the Stalin Prize in 1946. The version he débuted in 1945 is a bit different from the later revised version.

The Quintet harnesses melancholia, renewal, pessimism, decadence, despair, anxiety, revitalization, modernism, atonality, polyphonic writing, folk motifs, and a vital driving force.

This version was recorded by Lyashynskyy’s own students!

During the summer of 1944, Borys returned to his homeland and moved into an apartment in the Rolit Writers’ House in Kyiv, where he lived until his death in 1968. He continued to compose just as prolifically as ever, and was awarded the title Merited Artist of the USSR and the medal For Valiant Labour in the Great Patriotic War 1941–1945 in 1945, and another Stalin Prize in 1952.

Several music schools and streets have been named for Borys, and his beautiful music is still enjoyed and appreciated by people of all generations.

The Monkees’ perfect swan song album

Copyright Rhino Entertainment; image used solely to illustrate the subject for the purposes of an album review, and consistent with fair use doctrine

The Monkees’ final album, Good Times!, was released 27 May 2016 and instantly became a huge surprise hit. Many other bands who release albums so far past their peak of popularity, and without having made any albums regularly for a long time, can only dream of such commercial and critical success. Almost all reviewers had a very positive opinion of it, and lauded it as The Monkees’ finest in years.

The album was #1 on the U.S. Billboard Vinyl Albums chart, #10 in New Zealand, #14 on the U.S. Billboard 200, #20 in Australia, #24 in Scotland, #29 in the U.K., #57 in Switzerland, #58 in Ireland, #83 in Belgium, #95 in Canada, and #130 in Japan.

Rhino executives John Huges and Mark Pinkus suggested the idea of an album to celebrate The Monkees’ 50th anniversary, and hired Adam Schlesinger of the band Fountains of Wayne as producer. A few of the songs were written back in the Sixties, but never released, not even on rarities collections. The leading track incorporates an old demo by Harry Nilsson, and to represent Davy, they used an alternate version of “Love to Love” with new backing vocals by Micky and Peter.

Prior to the release of Good Times!, on 28 April 2016, a music video for “She Makes Me Laugh” was released. This was a great choice for the first sneak preview. The song very much evokes their Sixties sound, and the video is so sweet, fun, and adorable. You’d never guess Micky was anywhere close to 71 when it was recorded! He truly is one of the most criminally underrated male vocalists in rock.

The next song to be released prior to the album’s début was “You Bring the Summer,” which is also a really fun, quintessentially Monkees’ song.

Track listing:

“Good Times” (written by Harry Nilsson; sung by Micky and Harry)
“You Bring the Summer” (written by Andy Partridge; sung by Micky)
“She Makes Me Laugh” (written by Rivers Cuomo; sung by Micky)
“Our Own World” (written by Adam Schlesinger; sung by Micky)
“Gotta Give It Time” (written by Jeff Barry and Joey Levine; sung by Micky)
“Me & Magdalena” (written by Ben Gibbard; sung by Mike and Micky)
“Whatever’s Right” (written by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart; sung by Micky)
“Love to Love” (written by Neil Diamond; sung by Davy)
“Little Girl” (written and sung by Peter)
“Birth of an Accidental Hipster” (written by Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller; sung by Mike and Micky)
“Wasn’t Born to Follow” (written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King; sung by Peter)
“I Know What I Know” (written and sung by Mike)
“I Was There (And I’m Told I Had a Good Time)” (written by Micky and Adam Schlesinger; sung by Micky)

Bonus tracks on various editions (none of which I’ve yet heard):

“Love’s What I Want” (written by Andy Partridge; sung by Micky) (Japanese edition, Barnes & Noble 7″ vinyl, and and 10″ vinyl Record Store Day [RSD] Black Friday Exclusive)
“A Better World” (written by Nick Thorkelson; sung by Peter) (FYE edition, B&N vinyl, and RSD)
“Terrifying” (written by Zach Rogue; sung by Micky) (digital download and RSD)
“Me & Magdalena” (Version Two) (digital download and RSD)

My favorite tracks are “Me & Magdalena” (so gorgeous!), “She Makes Me Laugh,” “Love to Love” (though was the Davy vault really that dry they had to use an alternate version of an already-released song?), and “Wasn’t Born to Follow.”

In loving memory of Michael Nesmith

Robert Michael Nesmith slipped the surly bonds of Earth on Friday, 10 December 2021, and joined his Monkee brothers Davy and Peter in the great beyond. Everyone in the fan community is in shock. Though Nez was 78, would’ve turned 79 on 30 December, and had been suffering with heart problems, no one expected to see that news. He hadn’t been publicly sick for a long time, and he and Micky just completed their final farewell tour.

Though Davy has been my favorite Monkee since I fell in love with the band during the 1986 revival, I strongly suspect Nez might’ve been my fave rave had I discovered them as an older teen or adult. Once I moved past the childish idea of choosing a favorite bandmember based on how cute he was, I began gravitating towards the deep, serious, sensitive, complex ones.

My love, respect, and admiration for Nez have grown so much since I became an adult. At first I was really surprised to discover how popular he was among the other ladies I met on my estrogen Who lists (many of whom were also second-generation Monkeemaniacs). As a child, I thought of him as the boring, serious, adult one, not as fun as the other three. My negative opinion wasn’t helped by how my mother explained his absence on the 1986 tour, that he had a job he considered more important than The Monkees.

Now I realize he was the only one with a wide-ranging, diverse career outside of The Monkees, like pioneering the country rock genre, writing songs for other artists, being a music producer under his own record label, forming the Pacific Arts Corporation, helping to create MTV, working as a film executive producer, and so much more. Obviously, the other three had working lives outside of The Monkees too, but their notoriety is tied much more strongly to the band.

Though Nez didn’t always have the greatest interest in participating in reunion tours and albums, since he wanted to be remembered as more than just a Monkee and do other things with his life, he did eventually make peace with that part of his legacy and came to be proud of it. Doing that final tour pushed him to stay alive and make the fans happy, after so many years of seeing The Monkees as an inevitable, inescapable duty.

At last, he saw things from the perspective of the lifelong fans in the audience, many of them second- and even third-generation. Nez understood how beloved the band is, and that they’ve long since gained mass artistic and critical respect (even if that élitist ass Jann Wenner is still keeping The Monkees out of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame). Not only that, he also genuinely grew to love their music himself. The fans’ love and joy reflected back on him so powerfully.

Nez was the one who fought first and hardest for The Monkees to revolt against their handlers and start writing and playing on the majority of their own material. Probably all serious fans are familiar with the story of how he punched a hole through the wall when he told Screen Gems lawyer Herb Moelis he’d quit if he didn’t get more of a say in the band’s music, and Mr. Moelis told him in a very condescending way to read his contract. Nez screamed that that could’ve been his face.

Many of my favorite Monkees’ songs are now Mike’s, like “Writing Wrongs,” “You Told Me,” “Sweet Young Thing,” “You Just May Be the One,” “The Door into Summer,” “Love Is Only Sleeping,” “Tapioca Tundra,” “Listen to the Band,” and “Me and Magdalena.”

May you rest in peace, dearest Mike, and may your beautiful memory be for an eternal blessing. Another part of my childhood is gone forever, but I’ll love, respect, and admire you forever. It was a great honor and privilege to share Planet Earth with you for just shy of 42 years.

Remembering George on his 20th death anniversary, and what he means to me

30 November 2001 is one of those days I shall remember in exact detail from start to finish forever, indelible ink written upon my heart and soul. That was the day the world found out George Harrison had dropped the body and left the material world. Though he passed on the 29th, the news didn’t break until the morning of the 30th.

Everyone had known for awhile that George was dying of brain cancer, so it wasn’t a huge shock, as it was when people like John Entwistle, Davy Jones, and Peter Tork had passed on. One of the ladies on my estrogen Who lists (as we called the all-female Yahoogroups devoted to The Who, almost all of us in our twenties and teens) even had a dream that he was going to die on the 30th.

I just knew it. Friday, 30 November 2001, I went right to the communal TV in one of the little upstairs lounges of the Hillel House, where I lived my senior year of UMass. And sure enough, the morning news was announcing George’s death.

Very appropriately, it was raining that day. I walked to my first class of the day, second-year Russian. I arrived a bit late, but not unreasonably, inexcusably late. All the while, everything felt so surreal, the kind of feeling that can’t be recreated. It’s just something you intensely sense while it’s happening, a particular feeling that only comes this way once and then never again.

All day I thought about George, but I was unable to cry or even get misty-eyed. His death wasn’t a bolt from out of the blue. Everyone expected it, and knew it would be sooner rather than later. Only when I was in the computer lab in the library in the very late afternoon and reading the lyrics of “I Need You” did I finally begin to tear up a little. But even then, I still was unable to properly cry for George for many years.

Before going home, I went to the Campus Center to buy tickets for the upcoming Hillel Semi-Formal. On a wall near the ticket booth, someone had put up a picture of George, with his years lived, one of his quotes, and a thank-you. Everything still felt so surreal.

That night at services, I said Kaddish for George. Though the traditional custom is to only say Kaddish for immediate relatives, I’ve always said it for special people whom I feel a deep and abiding love for. I also say Yizkor for them, and have never understood the Orthodox custom of only saying Yizkor for parents. There are many people we grieve.

That night, I watched VH1 on the communal TV. They were doing a tribute to George, playing clips from a recent appearance he’d made on one of their shows, playing a new song, “Any Road.” That song became the opening track on his posthumous final album, Brainwashed, and one of his signature songs. As the chorus says, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”

Afterwards, I went to my room and wrote in my journal Rael. It was my first anniversary with my fourth Who album, Odds and Sods, and in those days, I always did a special journal entry for my album anniversaries. My thoughts about George came first, and the first few lines of that entry were in all caps. Everything still felt so surreal.

When George passed, John was my favorite Beatle. Paul was originally my favorite, for very superficial reasons, but my attachment to John began manifesting in December ’93, and by the spring of ’94, it was obvious he’d become my favorite. For the next few years, I tried to pretend I had two favorites, but in my heart I knew John was my only favorite. It felt so good when I finally admitted that to my journal Rita in the summer of ’97.

I never, ever expected to change favorites again. For quite some time, I’d considered George my favorite solo Beatle, but still saw John as my favorite overall. John was more than just my favorite Beatle, but my hero, the person I admired most, someone whom I talked to during some of the darkest nights of my soul, almost like praying. To this day, I believe down to the very core of my soul that I might have taken my own life in eighth grade if not for my love of The Beatles.

So it was one of the saddest days of my life when I realized John was no longer my favorite Beatle, and that George had replaced him quite a few years ago. I listened much more to George’s solo work than John’s, and I felt George to be more of a kindred spirit because of our similar beliefs and interests. And let’s be honest, I’ve always been a quiet one myself. People tend to gravitate to others like themselves.

Sometimes your heart also knows something before your mind is ready to admit it.

I truly consider George one of my spiritual mentors. His personal relationship with the Divine was so beautiful and inspiring. Because of him, many times when I made personal prayers after the Amidah (the long, central prayer of Jewish services), I addressed God as “My Sweet Lord.”

It’s hard to put into words everything George means to me, what a truly special, beautiful, incredible person he was. But at the heart of it, he just most deeply speaks to the type of person I’ve developed into. He would never have felt right as my favorite Beatle in my teens or twenties.

And maybe I really am slowly turning into my mother as I get older, since George was her favorite too!

I love George so much because:

He was such a deeply spiritual person, but not sectarian or preachy (contrary to what certain people think). His 1981 song “Life Itself” starts out seeming like a love song to his wife Olivia, and then it becomes apparent it’s truly a love song to the Divine, with the beautiful line: “They call you Christ, Vishnu, Buddha, Jehovah, Our Lord, you are Govindam, Bismillah, Creator of all.”

He did all he could to help the starving people of Bangladesh.

He did a lot of good work for UNICEF.

He proved that still waters run very, very deep.

He had such a beautiful personal relationship with the Divine.

All Things Must Pass and Living in the Material World are some of the most beautiful, spiritual albums ever.

He remained interested in Indian music, philosophy, and religion long after it was no longer a trend. His interest was serious and genuine, not based on popular fads.

He had such a beautiful soul and a kind heart.

He didn’t crave the limelight, and was content to live away from the media.

His 1979 eponymous album is so full of joy, happiness, and inner-peace.

He had so much faith in humanity to do the right thing and positively change the world, and ourselves.

He had such a positive, upbeat attitude.

He did not fear Death at all, and was totally surrendered to and peaceful about his approaching end. George once said, “The only difference between the dead and the living is that the dead no longer breathe.” The soul continues on, just in another form.

May you rest in eternal peace with Our Sweet Lord, dear Georgiekins, and may your beautiful memory be for an eternal blessing. The world is a better place because you were in it for 58 years, and I feel so blessed we shared Planet Earth for 21 years and 11 months.

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