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Remembering John Entwistle

Thoughts on John Entwistle

“I’m sure by now you’ve heard the news about John Entwistle.” The voice on my cell phone belonged to my old friend, Ron Wolfe. We had been e-mailing each other furiously over the last several days in breathless anticipation of the upcoming Who concerts to which we each had tickets. He was to see them Saturday night in Irvine with his two brothers and our other good friend, Greg. I was to see them next Wednesday up in Mountain View with my two brothers and one sister-in-law, Leslie. And no, I had not heard the news of the death of the Who Bassist until this moment, as I drove to pick up my 14-year-old stepson from his basketball practice.

I first saw the Who in December, 1973, as a high school senior. It was December 3rd, to be exact, the day of the release of their newest rock opera, “Quadrophenia.” My friends and I rushed out that afternoon to buy the album, ran home and devoured all four sides, then trudged off that evening in the snowy weather to Boston Garden to see the whole thing performed live. I will never forget the way the opening chords of their traditional opening number, ‘I Can’t Explain,’ pounded me into ecstatic submission. I had been a fan for years already at that point, owning every album, even trying to make a film of ‘Tommy’ way before Ken Russell. I got as far as buying the super 8 film stock and casting a few of the lead roles with my high school class mates.

A Who concert for me was a religious experience. I was immediately drawn to drummer Keith Moon, who was a brilliant clown as well as the most dynamic drummer in all of rock. I remember how, when the sound effects of rain came over the sound system, he pulled an umbrella out and held it over his head. (A few years later, in my own band, Small World, I was known by the stage name of Steve Moon.) The stoic Entwistle, “The Ox,” was not without his own sense of humor. The third song in the band’s set was his composition, ‘My Wife,’ which began with these words:

My life’s in jeopardy
Murdered in cold blood is what I’m gonna be
I ain’t been home since Friday night, and now
My wife is comin’ after me….

A year after high school, I was living in Los Angeles and working as a buyer for the Wherehouse Record Stores. Because of that, I had the opportunity to meet John Entwistle at a private party celebrating the launch of a tour with his own band, Ox. He was very gracious in chatting with me for a few minutes, a teenage fan shaking in my boots at meeting one of my idols. At his concert the following night, he opened with ‘My Wife.’

I saw the Who twice more, during my San Diego State University years. That is where I met my friends, Ron and Greg. More than best friends during my college years, they were also affiliated with my band. Ron was one of our managers, and Greg did our sound mixing. It was Ron who broke the news to me in 1978 that Keith Moon had died that day. We were in the Small World Band rehearsal studio at the time. How appropriate, then, that it should be Ron, 24 years later, to tell me about Entwistle. During our college dorm days, Ron and I spent many hours listening to Entwistle’s solo album, “Smash Your Head Against The Wall,” a classic collection of songs that I highly recommend if you can still find it. I’ll be playing mine a lot this week.

The phrase ‘Small World’ would have great resonance for me long after the band of the same name broke up. My life has been an endless parade of small world coincidences too bizarre to believe. It was one of these small world stories that reunited me with Ron and Greg after nearly twenty odd years of lost contact. The short version: at a business meeting at an architectural firm in Santa Monica, it turns out that one of the partners was at SDSU during the years I was, although he didn’t know me or any of my friends. But as I rattled off a long list of names, his receptionist, a woman in her 60’s who had been eavesdropping, came running into the room. “Did you say…?” Turns out, she’s best friends with the mother of one of the guys I knew… Next thing I know, I’m meeting my old buddy, Ron, at a bar in Seal Beach. He hooks me up with Greg, and now we’re all back in touch and it’s great.

Recently, Greg tells me that he is joining Ron and his brothers to see the Who in concert in Irvine. I’m jealous. I haven’t seen the band since Keith Moon died. I never wanted to after that, but thinking about it now, I was ready. More than ready, I needed to hear those opening chords of ‘Can’t Explain’ again, now more than ever. I turned 46 this week. Then, my own brothers turned out to have a ticket for me to join them at a Who concert days later at the Shoreline Amphitheatre. It was all falling into place so nicely. I would see the Who once more! I bought a plane ticket. I was reconnecting to the music of my youth. Long live rock!!

Then came the call from Ron. We reminisced about the old days. We quoted lyrics. “Hope I die before I get old.” Too late, old buddy. We are officially too goddamn old.

Steve G.

(Published: Sun Feb 03 2019; Hits: 65)

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