The bass player from the Who, John Entwistle, died in a fashion any self respecting rock legend would be proud of: from a heart condition brought on by taking cocaine during a night of debauchery with a Las Vegas stripper.
The 344-page book is divided into three parts, the first about John’s early years, the second about The Who and his role within it, and the third his sad, ultimately tragic decline as Townshend and/or Daltrey put The Who on hold, leaving their brilliant bass guitarist to drift aimlessly. It came about after Rees wrote a profile of Entwistle for Classic Rock magazine for which he interviewed Alison, John’s childhood sweetheart and first wife, and Christopher, their son
His prologue lays out the character we’re dealing with:
”These details stack up without comment, presented alongside remarks from people such as the Who’s former tour manager John “Wiggy” Wolff saying Entwistle was “very moral, very upstanding”. If we are meant to read more between the lines, it isn’t clear: in 2020, it just reads as depressing and obsolete.
John Entwistle’s early life was far from comfortable. An only child, he was 18 months old when his parents separated. He took an instant, everlasting dislike to his mother’s next partner and money was tight, which might explain why when he became rich he insisted on a preposterously high standard of living that would forever strain his finances.
The impression is given that Entwistle often provoked Moon in this and that he felt it was his duty to protect him, as if Keith was the little brother John never had. Moon’s death clearly affected Entwistle more than he let on. “I saw vulnerability in John when Keith died,” says manager Bill Curbishley. “There was something taken away from him that couldn’t ever be put back.”
Although it was not enough to cause death by overdose, the coroner, Lester Maddrell, concluded that the effect of the cocaine on a pre-existing but undiagnosed heart condition had been enough to kill Entwistle.The court heard that the 57-year-old musician had spent the evening before he died in the bar of the hotel with friends and groupies . The group, notorious for living life to excess during their heyday in the 60s and 70s, were on the eve of a US tour.
John was an enigma. That he was the best bass guitarist of his generation is not in dispute, but because of the peculiar demands placed upon him by The Who he wasn’t a bass player in the accepted sense of the term because he didn’t play bass like anyone else, any more than Keith Moon played the drums like anyone else or, for that matter, Pete Townshend the guitar. “His playing was so dextrous and inventive that he was often indistinguishable from a second guitar.
The crux for Entwistle came when Townshend brought the curtain down on The Who for the first time at the end of 1982. ‘To Entwistle, Townshend’s decision was a personal affront,’ writes Rees. ‘Initially, he was despairing, but soon enough this turned to a seething, burning resentment.’ “He would have toured and toured,” adds Curbishley. “That was his life.”
Serially promiscuous, John divorces Alison – who is heartbroken – and takes up with Maxene, a nice LA girl who before long realises that keeping up with John will kill her and joins AA, only for this to put a wedge between them. She is followed by Lisa, a bad LA girl, who matches John glass for glass and toke for toke and who is ultimately blamed, at least by Christopher, for killing his father. “It was Lisa that truly fucked him up,” he says. “And I hate her for what she did to him.”
“I have to say as a guitar player, I prefer working without John,” he admitted regarding the loss of the Who’s masterful bass player, John Entwistle, who died in 2002. “When John died, there was a hole in the sound onstage and I was able to grow into that and find space.”
After a break of seven years Townshend agreed to tour again with The Who in 1989, but he stipulated that because loud noise had damaged his hearing he would do so only if John significantly reduced his on-stage volume, a condition that required The Who’s stage personnel to be substantially reinforced. With Simon Phillips now on drums, they were augmented by a further 12 musicians, all to compensate for John turning down.
“The only way we could add [John’s] harmonic richness,” said Townshend, “was to add brass, second guitar, acoustic guitar, two keyboards, backing vocals and people banging gongs, because that’s what John used to replicate.”
“He had a technique that was light years ahead of everybody else at the time,” said keyboard player Rick Wakeman, who studied at the Royal College of Music. “Nobody played like John.” “Best bassist in rock ’n’ roll,” added Lemmy. “No contest.”