M. Giant's
Throwing stuff at the internet to see what sticks

Monday, July 01, 2002  

I know two people who’ve died in as many weeks, but it’s not my place to go into much detail about it here (not to mention that anything I might say would suffer in comparison to Omar's well-written tribute to his great-grandfather). That grief belongs to the families, one of which I’m part of. The death of a third person I never met is also a tremendous loss to his family, but since he was a public figure, it seems less inappropriate to talk about him in this slightly more public space.

I’ve been gladdened by the tone and volume of the John Entwistle tributes and eulogies that have been floating around. I suspected that when my favorite bassist died, he’d get about the same fanfare that some non-John-Fogerty member of CCR would get. The Who is over, people might say, and he was just the bassist anyway. So it’s been heartening to see the zeitgeist’s reaction. Aside from VH-1 suddenly becoming “The Who Network” over the weekend, there’s been a lot of talk about the event, not to mention the unusually high concentration of Who tunes coming out of the jukebox last night at the bar (only half of which were picked for me by my wife).

Say what you will about the Who (and God knows some of you will), but their influence on rock & roll is undeniable. Some people hear “the Who” and all they think of is a bunch of guys smashing their instruments onstage. Some bands could just be lifted clean out of music history, but not these guys. Pete and the guys contributed, to varying extents, to the invention of heavy metal, punk rock, 80’s synth-pop, long-form rock composition, and MTV Unplugged. Chances are you like at least one of those things, and if not for the Who you’d probably be doing without it right now. There may be some parallel universe where the Who never existed, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

Pete gets most of the credit for that, and he should. Any musician could be forgiven for just hopping aboard the Townshend genius train and just holding on for dear life. Doing what Entwistle did—i.e., doing for the bass guitar what Eddie Van Halen did for the lead guitar over a decade later—was well above and beyond the call of duty.

That’s one of the things I respected most about the Ox: he never coasted. The man who invented the rock bass guitar solo in 1964 could do things in 1989 that he couldn’t do in 1975, and he could do things in 1997 that he couldn’t do in 1989. I was lucky enough to see him perform live on a couple of separate occasions, and each time was all but a religious experience. The bass isn’t the most conducive instrument to high-speed playing, but the way Entwistle handled it, it was like watching someone bang out a hundred words per minute with a chisel and stone tablets. His fingers moved over that unwieldy fretboard so lightly that he didn’t seem to be playing the bass so much as using it to cast a spell, effortlessly flinging out notes faster than mere mortals could even hear them.

I’m not saying the man was a god. One hopes that if gods exist, they didn’t dress so hideously in the seventies, or write songs that alternate between the two modes of “pedestrian” and “silly,” or wear a large spider necklace to remind people of all of their hit. But I will say this: in college, I dedicated several months to learning how to play “Won’t Get Fooled Again” like John Entwistle did on The Kids Are Alright soundtrack. Thirteen years later, I still don’t have it down. I might still be a bassist if it weren’t for John Entwistle. I’m certain I’d be a much worse one.

Pete and Roger are going ahead and touring; with refreshing honesty, Pete’s not claiming to be doing this because “John would want it that way.” No, he’s doing it out of a sense of duty to the fans, the promoters, and everyone involved with the tour (translation: “We’ve got bills to pay and it’s too late to back out now”). I feel bad for John’s family and friends, but I also wouldn’t want to be the guy who’s going to be “replacing” him. That poor dude’s going to have to fill some big, big, ugly-ass boots. There may be better bass players than John Entwistle, but there are none greater.

* * *

If you’re going to be in Minneapolis on Thursday, July 11 and you want to hear for yourself just how far under Entwistle’s shadow I am, come check out the band I’m in. We’ll be playing at Mueller Park in Uptown, on 25th Street between Colfax and Bryant. We’re going on between 7:00 and 7:30 p.m. Love to see you there.

posted by M. Giant 7:35 PM 0 comments


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