Our Gods are Not Exempt

by John W. Herbert

Our gods aren’t supposed to die.

But fate/God/kismet/whatever has that annoying habit of reminding us that our time is finite, and the price we pay for our scant few years of precious life is the knowledge that in the end we all owe fate/God/kismet/whatever a death.

Whether high-born or low-life, there is a cost for our brief journey in this reality that, in the end, is equal for everyone. In a sense, we are only renting a pocket of space-time for only a short moment.

Even our gods are not exempt.

I am a bass player. John Entwistle was my god.

With The Who, as Pete Townshend, Keith Moon and Roger Daltrey slashed, smashed and strutted, Entwistle stood immobile, save for invisible fingers that powered and drove The Who’s massive sound. The Who was not the usual band with the usual line-up of a guitar and a bass/drum rhythm section. They were a band with three lead instrumentalists in constant competition, always flashing their chops, always veering off into the unknown. And beneath it all, Entwistle somehow kept it in control, yet let it soar. He was thunder to Townshend’s lightning.

His songs were tiny, humourous nuggets almost lost against Townshend’s epic canvases. Yet Entwistle’s writing could cut to the chase and make the same thematic statements in 3:30 that took Townshend four album sides.

I saw The Who live only once, in Vancouver in 1989, during what I call The Who’s “Las Vegas” period as a 17-piece band (as opposed to their original four-piece version. And the six-piece version that was starting a four-month tour tomorrow night).

The rumble that poured from Entwistle’s stack of Trace Elliot amps and A.S.S. speakers felt like it was slowly cracking my ribs. He abandoned his usual trade-marked bass runs in “My Generation” and he served up brand new riffs with techniques and skills that to this day I still can’t figure out.

He stood rock still the whole night, of course, and thunder slipped off his fingers and the long steel strings of his bass as if from a shy Norse god.

My bass, as always, is nearby, but I can’t even look at it tonight. Tomorrow, I’ll plug it in and try to conjure some thunder of my own. But my bass is silent tonight, as is my god’s.

John Alec Entwistle
October 9, 1944 -- June 27, 2002

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