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.

How my amazing journey hit a short-lived snag

Twenty years ago today, 30 November 2000, I got my fourth Who album, Odds and Sods. Based on all the glowing reviews at thewho.net (whose review section is now only viewable through archive.org), I was prepared to instantly love it.

But instead I hit an unexpected snag which left me wondering if I’d made a mistake. For a brief while, I had second thoughts about continuing my amazing journey with more albums.

That day, I had to go into town for an observation project for my child psychology class. Since I hadn’t a car, and didn’t know my way around Amherst well enough to trust getting on a bus out of the immediate vicinity, it had to be a place I could reach on foot. And none of the daycares and preschools I found in the phonebook were within walking distance.

Luckily, I found a church with a preschool whose teachers were more than happy to let me come over and observe. It was either First Church Amherst on Main St. or Grace Episcopal Church just off of Main.

Even that fairly short distance from campus seemed a long way to me! When you’re not familiar with a place, and are by yourself, you have little choice but to stay in a straight line if you don’t want to get lost, and not to go too far down any side streets.

After the conclusion of preschool, I decided to go into Newbury Comics on Main St. I’d wanted to go for awhile, but was held back by not being sure how to get there. Did I feel stupid when I realized how easy it is to get there! Approaching it from the other side provided a lot of obvious perspective.

Was I thrilled to find Odds and Sods in the CD section! I bought it with the cash I got from a recent study I’d taken part in for social psychology class credit. The checkout guy seemed kind of surprised by my purchase, though I never figured out if it were positive or negative.

This seems so hypocritical coming from someone who’s never cared what others think of me and who takes great pride in being different from the others, but for years I was held back from buying classic albums in stores because I was afraid the cashiers and customers would make fun of me for liking older music.

And now we have all these Gen Z kids on YouTube patting themselves on the back with comments like “Teeheehee, I’m only twelve and I love [band/singer from an earlier generation].” What do you want, a cookie and adults praising you as so much cooler than your peers?

That night in my single room in Chadbourne, I sat down to play O&S. Right away I was greeted by the shocking harmonica jolt of “I’m the Face.” I wouldn’t describe it as bad shocking, just not the type of sound I was expecting.

Because O&S is a compilation of, well, odds and sods, instead of a studio or even live album, the songs seemed kind of random and inconsistent. I didn’t think they were bad songs, just presented a bit confusingly.

Having both CD and vinyl now, I prefer the track order of the vinyl. It feels like more of a deliberately arranged album, odds and sods though the songs may be.

The CD remaster presents the songs chronologically, which gives an entirely different listening experience. After twenty years, I’m obviously more than used to it, but I can’t help but wonder how it’d sound if it were arranged as the original album plus bonus tracks.

Because of my experience with O&S, I always write album reviews as though a newbie is reading them. Some fool on Amazon once mocked me because I always mention if an album is ideal for a new fan or more for established fans. Why do so many people write reviews as though only longtime hardcore fans are reading them? I had serious second thoughts about getting another Who album because none of the reviews I read mentioned how O&S, while great, isn’t the most ideal album to get so early in one’s amazing journey.

I got my fifth Who album, The Who Sell Out, on 6 December, so I obviously wasn’t derailed for that long. Had O&S been my first Who album, however, it might’ve gone a lot differently. Tommy was challenging enough as my first.

But as Fate turned out, O&S was my fourth, and it just feels right. I couldn’t imagine any other album as my fourth.

My Quadrophenia story, twenty years later

Though I first listened to Quadrophenia on 18 November 2000, my history with the album truly began in 1993. I’d been looking at my parents’ fairly paltry vinyl collection since I was a kid, but I wasn’t drawn back to it till I was thirteen and getting into classic rock and pop. Since we no longer had a record player, I had to make do with reading the story booklet and looking at the photos.

Being that classic kid who read too much and understood too little yet again, I twisted myself in knots trying to figure out just what the title meant. I thought it was a real word whose definition eluded me!

A certain lyric in “Doctor Jimmy” also greatly unsettled me for years. When you only read lyrics instead of hearing them actually sung, let alone in the context of a complex story being told through a rock opera, you tend to miss a lot of important details.

Jimmy isn’t really saying he plans to rape a virgin. He’s reached the end of his rope and isn’t thinking straight by a long shot. There’s so much clutter swirling in his head, with the four warring parts of his personality. Jimmy’s angry, confused, a hot mess who needs help.

That lyric is also nothing next to some of the jaw-dropping awfulness featured on The Rap Critic’s Worst Lyrics episodes. The all-time worst I’ve heard is the Lil Wayne guest verse in “Karate Chop,” comparing rough sex to the beating of Emmett Till.

17–19 November 2000 was my very first weekend staying on campus at UMass instead of obediently going home to Pittsfield like an overgrown little kid with no life. It’s no fun being a victim of learnt helplessness, even if in my case it wasn’t the result of deliberately malicious intentions. I also only transferred after two years of community college. While that saved lots of money, it didn’t do my emotional, psychological, or mental maturity any favors!

That Saturday afternoon, I walked into town and went to Mystery Train Records. What luck, I found Quad in the used CD section for only $16! I was hungry for a third Who album after Tommy and Who’s Next, and had heard so many people on my lists highly recommending it as one of the best albums to get early in one’s fandom journey.

Was I blown away when I got back to my single dorm room on the first floor of Chadbourne! I loved Quad so much, I played it twice that day, and many more times in the coming weeks. Love at first listen. When I finally quit trying to overanalyze the story and title, and just listened without prejudice, I got Quad.

This album would’ve meant so much to me during junior high. It’s a story just about every adolescent who’s ever lived can deeply relate to—not fitting in, being different from the others, feeling alienated from everyone around oneself, not getting along with parents, being bullied, feeling on the verge of cracking up if one more straw hits the camel’s back.

Each of the four bandmembers is represented by one of the warring aspects of Jimmy’s psyche. Roger’s theme is “Helpless Dancer” (a screen name I’ve used at a few message boards), Keith’s theme is “Bell Boy,” John’s theme is “Doctor Jimmy,” and Pete’s theme is “Love, Reign O’er Me.” The themes appear as instrumentals in the title track and “The Rock.”

In “Quadrophenia,” they’re played separately, signifying how fractured Jimmy’s state of mind is, at war with himself, wanting and trying to be so many disparate things to so many different people.

In “The Rock,” they initially appear individually, but gradually start merging, faster and faster, until finally they emerge as one and Jimmy makes peace with himself in “Love, Reign O’er Me.”

Twenty years later, Quad is still an emotional tour de force every single time. It’s been with me through half of my life and counting, and never lets me down. Words shall never express my deep love and gratitude to this wonderful band and all they’ve meant to me for so long.

Happy 45th birthday to The Who by Numbers!

Released 3 October 1975 in the U.K. and 25 October in the U.S., The Who by Numbers was the band’s seventh studio album, and my tenth Who album. I bought it together with Who Are You at Newbury Comics on Amherst’s Main Street, 15 March 2001. Being only 21 at the time, the album didn’t resonate with me on the same deep, personal level it does now (though I still loved it).

WBN has been called a musical suicide note (which thankfully was averted!), written when Pete was on the cusp of his 30th birthday and feeling really alienated from the current musical climate. This was also the guy who famously wrote the line, “Hope I die before I get old.” He really meant it. That wasn’t a mere metaphor, but the genuine wish of a 20-year-old who didn’t want to become old, boring, and irrelevant.

The songs of WBN aren’t the kinds of songs that could’ve been written in Pete’s early twenties. By the time he began writing material for this album, he’d gone through more of life and was now facing down the sobering, depressing reality of hitting middle age.

Pete has said he felt empty and was crying his eyes out when he wrote those songs, “detached from my own work and from the whole project.”

The band took turns designing their covers, and WBN was John’s turn. His artwork cost all of £32 to make, in contrast to the exorbitant £16,000 of the previous cover on Quadrophenia. Probably unsurprisingly, Pete chose the Quad cover!

WBN reached #8 in the U.S., #7 in the U.K., and #29 in New Zealand.

Track listing, with stars by the bonus tracks:

“Slip Kid” (released as a U.S. single but didn’t chart)
“However Much I Booze”
“Squeeze Box” (retch) (#1 in Canada, #2 in Ireland, #10 in the U.K., #11 and #16 on two U.S. charts, #26 in New Zealand, #45 in Australia)
“Dreaming from the Waist” (the B-side of “Slip Kid,” one of Pete’s least-fave songs to perform, and one of John’s fave songs to perform)
“Imagine a Man”
“Success Story” (John’s song)
“They Are All in Love”
“Blue, Red, and Grey” (sung by Pete)
“How Many Friends”
“In a Hand or a Face”
“Squeeze Box” (live at Swansea, 12 June 1975)*
“Behind Blue Eyes” (ibid.)*
“Dreaming from the Waist” (ibid.)*

My fave tracks are “Slip Kid,” “Dreaming from the Waist,” “How Many Friends,” “Success Story” (full of John’s trademark dark, quirky humour), and “Imagine a Man.”

Twenty years of awesomeness

It’s finally here. My porcelain anniversary with Tommy, my very first Who album. How did twenty entire years pass by already? That’s half of my entire life gone! Half of my life loving The Who. I became interested in them in ’93 and liked them since ’94, but ’twasn’t till 2000 that I finally made the transition from a casual lawnseat fan to a serious, passionate, hardcore fan.

I detailed the story of my amazing journey on my crystal anniversary in 2015. Now that milestone anniversary seems an entire lifetime away. Most people don’t like reminders they’re getting older and that their youth will never come this way again in this lifetime!

When I turned forty at the end of last year, my first and primary thought was, “I’m now as old as John Lennon lived to. At my next birthday, I’ll have outlived him.”

The Who have been a huge part of my life for half of my life, roughly equidistant between my 34 years of being a Monkeemaniac on the highest end and a bit over nine and a half years of being a Duranie on the lowest end. In September 2000, I had no memory of anything that happened twenty years ago, and now I can remember as far as 37 years ago (plus my first, fuzzy memory of 38 years ago, seeing E.T. in the theatre).

Every time with Tommy is like the first time all over again. I’m swept back to that wonderful visit to Mystery Train Records with one of the few good roommates I’ve had and being twenty, my entire life still ahead of me, no idea what the future held. And then listening to the first three songs in Pittsfield after coming home for the weekend the next day, and listening all the way through the next night.

Side note: I really began blossoming and becoming a full part of the UMass Hillel community after I finally started staying on campus every weekend late in my junior year. I was held back so much by almost always going home prior, to say nothing of attending community college the first two years and missing out on formative underclass experiences. Learnt helplessness is very difficult to escape.

Proud lifelong tomboy I am, I take special pride in being a Who Rottweiler, the nickname Pete gave my fellow female fans. There are so relative few serious female fans of hard rock and metal bands, but I’ve never been interested in stereotypically girly trappings. Becoming a Who Rottweiler was a logical outgrowth of that.

Though as I came to discover over the first year of my amazing journey, I’m not as gender-defiant as I thought. I found myself loving songs a lot of guy fans slag off, like “Sunrise,” “A Man Is a Man,” “One Life’s Enough,” and “Our Love Was.” Many female fans swoon at those songs!

And while The Who have never been known as Tiger Beat pinups for teenyboppers, I also was (and remain!) quite physically attracted to the boys as they were in their prime. The music comes first and foremost, but Hashem (God) blessed all four of them with good looks. Perhaps a bit unconventionally handsome, but handsome nonetheless.

Pete’s vulnerability re: his appearance, esp. his nose (which I never found that big), increased my attraction and solidified my choice of him as my fave rave. He’ll probably be the first to tell you he hasn’t always been the easiest person to be around, but I admire his brutal honesty, and adore his sensitive soul.

It’s also fairly unusual I’m particularly physically attracted to a guy with blue eyes. I’ve always been all about brown eyes. (Fun fact: There’s no such thing as true black eyes. People described as having black, raven, sable, etc., eyes have VERY dark brown eyes that merely appear black.)

I’m so glad I finally bit the bullet and bought a Who album already, after about nine months of hesitation and longing. Sometimes we have to take a chance and try something new, and songs will never become familiar if we stick to greatest hits collections and the radio.

I owe so very, very, very much to this wonderful band. Pete is one of the principal writers of the soundtrack to my life, and his music, both in The Who and as a solo artist, means the world to me. I couldn’t imagine not having his songs in my life for so many years.

And it all started in Amherst with the story of a blind-deaf mute boy.

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