Thursday, December 09, 2010

On John Entwistle

John Entwistle, bassist for The Who, will be remembered by rock historians for four things: his superior playing skills, his skeleton suit, his cocaine-and-hooker induced death at 57, and his statue-like performance style, the final piece of The Who’s much-imitated, impossibly awesome on-stage aesthetic.

When we were kids, my sisters and I would often play Band. Our role-plays involved costumes (such as head bands and leather vests), make-up (for mascara beards and mustaches), and props (tennis racket guitars, chair drumsets, desk keyboards etc.) I have two sisters, leaving us one member short of the full Who line-up, so when we played The Who, an ironing board would stand in for Mr. Entwistle. After viewing a particularly blistering performance, my mother, in her review, described the board’s performance as “spot on.”

I first became aware of Entwistle’s still style while watching the epically awful film version of Tommy. He first appears, wearing a religious robe, as a musician in the entourage of Eric Clapton, who plays the part of the head preacher at a church where Marilyn Monroe is idolized as a god (as I said, the movie is epically awful). As he’s walking down the aisle behind Clapton to kick off mass, Entwistle, with impeccable posture, keeps in perfect step while ripping some absolutely deadly bass licks during a bluesy version of "The Hawker." I found this approach really, really funny. I still do.

What made the whole minimal motion schtick work, of course, was Entwistle's ridiculously, hilariously mad bass skillz. Where the rest of his body barely inched, Entwistle`s fingers raced up and down the strings like a pack of wild rhinos. And where Pete, Keith and Roger appeared more than willing to bleed for rock and roll, with their windmills, orgasm faces, and swinging microphones, Entwistle never broke a sweat, though he did occasionally crack a grin. He was the quintessence of effortless cool playing in the hottest live band of the 60s and 70s. May Marilyn bless his soul.

Isolated bass from "Won't Get Fooled Again" in 1978. The little breaths he takes before the big runs are hilarious.

Entwistle's piece de resistance, "The Real Me," from The Who's 2000 comeback show at The Royal Albert Hall. Don't love the bass tone, but wow could the dude wail on that instrument.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

You think that the film version of Tommy is awful? Youre awful!

2:57 PM  

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