The Ox: The Authorized Biography of The Who’s John Entwistle
by Paul Rees
(Rock-n-Roll is) the absolute ultimate vehicle for self-destruction. -Pete Townshend
I am a huge fan of The Who, but when I heard there was going to be a biography of John Entwistle, I thought “why this guy?” While Pete Townshend was smashing his guitar, while Keith Moon was detonating his drum kit, while Roger Daltrey was prancing on stage swinging his microphone like a lasso, poor old John Entwistle would duck towards the wings of the stage clutching his collectible bass to his chest. He was the unshakable anchor of the band. The “Quiet One” who never moved and the best rock bassist ever. But really…a bio on him? What does he have to say?
For Who fans, Paul Rees covers a lot of ground already trodden on by other sources and interviews. He follows suit in rising up the ghost of Keith Moon and dusting off his legend to Homeric proportions. He quotes from both Who I Am by Pete Townshend and Thanks a Lot, Mr. Kibblewhite: My Life by Roger Daltrey. He pulls from recorded interviews with Entwistle as well. What is new for Who fans is that Rees had access to copious notes Entwistle wrote towards publishing his own autobiography. These notes shine a light on a different side of the Quiet One. He looks back at his own life with humor. He’s straight to the point but not mean-spirited. His notes allow insight into a man who staked his reputation on being enigmatic and stone-faced.
What Rees shows us is a man with a wicked sense of humor who pulled all the strings on Moon’s antics and received none of the consequences. He knew how to push Daltrey’s buttons, too, often creating a volatile situation within the band. Daltrey has physically battled with both Moon and Townshend knocking them both unconscious. Yet, Entwistle manages to walk away unscathed.
We also learn of the great respect Townshend had for the Ox (a nickname Entwistle chose for himself. He hated being known as The Quiet One.) John was a real musician playing in his school’s orchestra and moving on to playing trumpet in a big band combo. This lead to jazz and skiffle gigs. Upon hearing his first Duane Eddy single and feeling the power of early rock and roll, he moved to electric bass. He became an innovator of this new instrument and turned the bass into a second lead guitar.
Townshend relied on Entwistle’s knowledge and experience to help guide the Who recordings. It was John who produced the soundtracks to Tommy and Quadrophenia. He had a large role in The Kids Are Alright and compiled the songs for the Odds and Sods album.
John always appeared to be the stone-cold sober one. The drug exploits of Keith Moon are well known. Pete Townshend’s alcohol problems are also public record. What Rees reveals is Entwistle’s own entanglement with drinking and cocaine bingeing. Interviews with his friends and handlers show the lengths John took to hide his cocaine habits. He was a stoic keeping the truth of his addictions secret to all but a few close friends. His cocaine use came to the surface in the mid-Seventies, but it appeared pale in the face of Moon who snorted mountains of the stuff in one day.
This book could appeal to people who are not rock and roll fans or ever heard of The Who. Rees details John’s upbringing and his early foray into drinking hard liquor. How sudden fame lead him to drugs. John was a huge collector of clothes and other items including guitars and knights in armor. Although he had a quiet and somber demeanor, his desire to be flashy and to own lots of things spiraled out of control spending more money than The Who was taking in. What was he compensating for? Turning to sex and drugs seemed a normal next step for him. Although it lead to divorce, separation from his son and ultimately his life.
Some other notes of worth: This book is very British. If you don’t know a quid from a bob, you might get lost in some of the passages dealing with how much a mountain of cocaine costs in 1976. The interviews are kept in their colloquial tongues. Also geography might be an issue. He gives an extensive listing of their early tours. How far they traveled to get to a gig from London and back every night meant nothing to me because I don’t know every little shire in the UK.
Also, Rees really makes Roger Daltrey out to be a total tool. I’ll have to read his autobiography Thanks a Lot, Mr. Kibblewhite: My Life for a balance.