My Friend John
brianinatlanta2001 at yahoo.com
Thu Jul 12 06:05:33 CDT 2007
>From The Daily Mail:
My friend John, the rock star who DID die before he got old
By LESLEY ANN JONES
On the fifth anniversary of the debauched death of The Who's legendary bassist, his close friend Lesley Ann Jones reflects on his rock star lifestyle:
His death, as he himself would have joked, was the ultimate self-fulfilling prophecy: out of his head on Scotch and cocaine, on a bed, under a hooker, in the Las Vegas Hard Rock Hotel.
Not New York, where Sid Vicious had met his end (been there), or like John Belushi, who died in Los Angeles (done that), but Vegas. Exactly the kind of final curtain John Entwistle used to laugh about. It was 'what he would have wanted', to use a phrase he so often uttered himself.
It is five years almost to the day since the legendary Who bassist raved his last. Never one to do things by halves, his demise was about as seedy as it gets. If he really had hoped he'd die before he got old, to quote the Who's most famous lyric, he got his wish all right.
At only 57, he was overweight and suffered from hypertension, with a soaring cholesterol level and one completely blocked artery, for which he was on serious medication. Those factors may have rendered him prematurely geriatric. But 57 these days is hardly one foot in the grave.
Those who knew him well enough to have heard how he died before the news made global headlines, knew that nothing would have pleased him more. When a few of us got together shortly after his cremation, to share the kind of 'John Moments' we couldn't possibly have aired on the day of his funeral, the final chapter was already in the writing.
No one would have laughed harder than John, we agreed, at the news that his own groupie girlfriend had run off with the vicar of his local church - the very man who had just conducted his funeral. That was poetic. That was pure rock 'n' roll.
I met John Entwistle in early 1985, when I was a rock journalist and we were both guests at a music awards ceremony in London where the audience were drunk and restless.
'Beam me up,' said a voice behind me. 'I'd have more fun slurping liquid cement. Burger, anyone? You look as though you could do with feeding up,' he nodded at me. 'Come on then, shake a leg, haven't got all night, and certainly not for this,' he said, nodding at the stage.
The burger joint we repaired to was the Hard Rock Café, Piccadilly, along with John's mum, Queenie, Who drummer Kenny Jones and his wife, Jayney, former Rolling Stone Bill Wyman, his secretary, Karen, and me. There, we were met by Ringo Starr's former wife, Maureen.
I didn't know much about The Who, in those days, having been only eight when the school chums from Acton kicked off as a band.
By the Seventies, though, The Who were as big as The Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Their hits - Substitute, Pinball Wizard, My Generation - were instantly recognisable.
I knew that the windmill-armed Pete Townshend wrote most of the songs and leapt about, that preeny Roger Daltrey was not the greatest singer on Earth, and that their drummer Keith Moon was dead. BUT who knew anything about the bass guitarist they called 'the Ox', quietly getting on with it, hanging back behind his Mona Lisa smile? This was John, a true rock 'n' roll enigma: he was just there.
I must have been welcomed into the Entwistle fold because I got on so well with his mother, Maud.
Everyone called her 'Queenie', and, with quietly regal and dignified ways, she more than lived up to the name.
That first night, I found myself asking her, for want of something better, what John had been like as a kid. Queenie never minced her words.
'A miserable little bugger, if you want to know,' she said. 'Ruined by his Grandad, a real spoilt brat. Academically average, but always very artistic. He was singing from the age of two, precocious little rat.
'I took him to see Al Jolson when he was three. He knew every word of his songs. Afterwards, John did a turn. Stood on a table and sang his heart out, then fell off and ended up in hospital having his head stitched.
'Funny thing, he's never fallen off stage - though I think he walked off once, when he was blind drunk. Too plastered to notice where he was going. I remember the first guitar he had, when he was 14. He made it himself, on his Grandma's fine dining room table. I think I knew it would all be downhill after that.'
That night in Piccadilly, I was the only one who hadn't heard John's stories before. Eyes rolled as he told me about his job as a clerk at the tax office: 'I used to get told off for combing my mohair jumper in the toilet. I was always half asleep and completely hoarse, having been up with the band half the night. I used to nip into the filing room for a kip.
'We were earning nothing, and owed a fortune in smashed guitars and ruined equipment. We started smashing up our gear so we didn't have to do encores. The habit stuck. We were never sentimental about our instruments - just as well. At one point Pete was paying in instalments for six Rickenbackers which no longer existed.'
John told me he had always been the closest to Keith Moon. 'I suppose we were two of a kind,' he said. 'We shared a room on the road and got up to no good. We'd listen to the others getting on their high horses about something, look at each other and fall about in hysterics.
'We dumped what we thought was a dead fan in a wheelie bin one night, only to have him come back to life and appear in our room. We thought he was haunting us.
'And we blew up a toilet in an Alabama hotel room, because they told us we couldn't have room service. We did it with a cherry bomb firework, which wouldn't flush away.
'That toilet was just dust all over the walls by the time we checked out. The management brought our suitcases down to the gig and said: "Don't come back..." '
A few weeks after that first evening, I was invited to my first party at Quarwood, John's 55-room, 42-acre estate at Stow-on-the-Wold in Gloucestershire. Walking into his bar, hung with life-size casts of shark and marlin that he had landed himself, I was confronted by a motley crew including actors John Hurt and Robert Powell, drummers Kenny Jones and Zak Starkey (son of Ringo), Midge Ure, Phil Collins's then wife, Jill, and Jim Diamond - the Glaswegian singer of the worldwide hit I Should've Known Better.
John was behind the bar, inventing cocktails. His favourite, the Link-Up, went down well, being three parts Stolichnaya vodka to three parts Southern Comfort. He'd created it, he said, to commemorate the joining of Russian and American space modules.
He also made Traffic Lights, with creme de menthe and cherry brandy, and the Good King Wenceslas, a recipe he claimed to have stolen from Paul Young - so lethal, you didn't need to know what was in it, just where you would be spending the next three days.
The house, a cross between an eccentric country pile and a museum, contained all manner of collections: teapots, toys, suits of armour, weaponry, especially guns (he adored the Wild West), train-sets, lighters, Disney porcelain, guitars, rugs, fine art and photography. There were also a couple of life-size skeletons and a pinball machine.
He had a chess set where the pieces were famous people rather than kings, pawns and bishops. One was Hitler. There were brandies, wines, cases of Cuban cigars.
He also collected cars - Cadillacs, Thunderbirds, even a Rolls-Royce he'd had converted into an estate car, to accommodate his favourite (enormous) Irish wolfhound, Fits Perfectly - but he never actually bothered to learn to drive. What do you do with them then?' I once asked him. 'I drink in them,' he said.
He told me his motto in life was 'If you can buy one, why not buy three?' Queenie reckoned it was because he'd been born during the war, if only just: 'He's got this thing about panicbuying: if he's not buying something, he's panicking.'
A small framed tapestry on the kitchen wall declared 'Everything Men Know About Women: Please Turn Over'. The back of the frame, predictably, was blank. It was in that same kitchen that I once saw John appear for breakfast at around 4pm, demanding the remainder of the Chinese take-away we'd shared the night before.
I remember once driving John and his girlfriend, Max, to Quarwood in my Suzuki four-wheel-drive. Coming too fast round a bend, I smacked right into a young doe, killing her outright.
'Don't panic,' said John, getting out and putting the animal in the boot, muttering about venison stew.
Further down the road - thank goodness I was sober - we found ourselves pulled over by the police. 'Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear,' mumbled the policeman, happening upon the creature in the back. 'Er, no,' retorted John, 'there's only one of them.'
The night before Live Aid, in July 1985, I stayed with John and Max at their home in Roehampton, South- West London, in a bizarre bedroom filled with Max's china dolls and John's train sets. The next morning,
I was summoned to their room. 'Max has got a problem,' said John, who was lying in bed, wading through newspapers. 'She can't decide what to wear.' All over the bed and hanging around the picture rails, I counted at least 15 pairs of white shorts. Every pair looked identical.
'Damned if I know,' I said. 'Me neither,' replied John. 'Brandy, anyone?' We were sober enough as we climbed into John's Rolls estate to head for Wembley Stadium, me in the boot with Fits Perfectly.
I had never seen a Rolls-Royce that shade of green before, I told him.
'Neither has anyone,' said John. 'I took a arrods carrier bag to the bodyshop when I bought the car, and told the paint sprayer to match it.' As we settled into a comfortable friendship, New Year's Eve at Quarwood became a regular fixture. The occasions did nothing to disappoint.
Neither did joining The Who on the road, which I did four or five times..
When they revived their rock opera Tommy for charity at the Universal Amphitheatre Los Angeles in 1989, 20 years after its premiere, I received a personal invitation. Elton John revived the Pinball Wizard, and the show also starred Billy Idol and Phil Collins, as well as The Who.
At the after-show party, a bouncer refused to believe my VIP pass was real, and barred me from the area reserved for the band and their friends. I asked him to go and get John - who soon appeared with Coronation Street actor Chris Quentin.
The bouncer, a pure jobsworth, still refused to allow me through. John marched through the barrier, picked me up and tossed me over the 10ft fence into Quentin's arms, right under the bouncer's nose.
There are far too many repeatable and unrepeatable stories to include here, but five years ago, on June 27, 2002, they came to an abrupt halt with John's sudden death in Vegas.
At his funeral, on July 10, 2002, there were too many mourners to fit into tiny St Edwards, the gorgeous 12th-century church opposite John's home, Quarwood.
Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey were there, chalk-white and silent with grief. John's coffin was too massive to lift, so they wheeled it in on a trolley to the sober strains of Jerusalem, and The Lord's My Shepherd.
It's hard to explain why certain friendships happen, why people latch onto each other. More than 20 years after meeting John, I am none the wiser, save to say that he and I shared a huge sense of the ridiculous, a love of dark humour, the macabre, an irrational fear of arachnids and snakes and a pathological inability to take anything seriously.
As I stood there in the church, reflecting on the life of this irrepressible man, his mother, Queenie, summed it up better than I ever could. 'It's always the bloody quiet ones,' she said. And it was.
-Brian in Atlanta
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