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Big-Screen Farewell for Who Bassist

Hollywood: Showing of films featuring the band attracts Entwistle's fans and their memories.

July 01, 2002|RANDY LEWIS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A film festival created to celebrate the Who, then hastily transformed into a memorial for the veteran British rock group's bassist John Entwistle, turned into an emotional wake Sunday for the influential musician, who died last week in Las Vegas at 57 on the eve of the band's new U.S. tour.

Some 200 fans gathered at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood as much to mourn the loss of Entwistle, who apparently died in his sleep of a heart attack, as to take in three movies featuring the dynamic group best-known for its rock opera "Tommy" and such hits as "My Generation."

"Seeing them live was pretty much of a religious experience," said Erica Childs, 32, of Burbank, outside the theater, shortly before the screening of the first film, the 1979 Who documentary "The Kids Are Alright."

Childs, wearing an "I The Who" tank top and the surname of each band member tattooed around her ankle, agreed with the decision by Who guitarist and songwriter Pete Townshend and singer Roger Daltrey to continue the tour, after an initial announcement that it would be canceled. The first show is tonight at the Hollywood Bowl.

"There should be closure for them, their loved ones, their friends and the fans," Childs said. "They shouldn't take away something beautiful because of this."

Traci Moore, 44, of Valencia, nodded in agreement, adding, "I don't have any tattoos, but I have love in my heart for this band. I feel like they were part of me. There's something in me that comes alive, a part that's missing. But when I see them, I'm 100% alive with their music."

Inside the Egyptian a few minutes later, fans were greeted by a photo of Entwistle on a stand in front of the blank screen. Many openly wept as festival co-organizer Martin Lewis read statements from Townshend and Daltrey, the two surviving members of the original quartet. Drummer Keith Moon died in 1978 of a drug overdose.

"Unfortunately, it is a fact of life that as we get older, more and more of our friends disappear from our lives and death is like an ever-encroaching shadow on us all," Daltrey's statement said.

Recalling the band's performance at Madison Square Garden at a benefit shortly after Sept. 11, Daltrey's statement continued, "It proved to me once again what I have always believed: that music, of any kind, has the power to lift people out of their grief and earthly problems....I just hope that God has got his earplugs ready. Whatever happens, he'll have to reinvent thunder, as it simply won't be loud enough any more."

Townshend's seven-sentence comment said, in part, "Pray for us John, wherever you are. My immediate mission is to complete this tour in good heart, and to remember John in my quiet and private times. It is easy for me to smile when I remember John. I loved him unconditionally."

When the movies began, a cheer went up when each band member first appeared on screen in "The Kids Are Alright," but it was loudest when the camera turned on Entwistle in a clip from a late-'60s appearance the Who made on the Smothers Brothers' musical variety show.

The other Who films shown Sunday, part of a two-week "Mods & Rockers 2002" series of British films of the '60s presented by the American Cinematheque, were director Ken Russell's 1975 screen version of "Tommy" and "Listening To You--The Who at the Isle of Wight Festival," a documentary of the group's performance at that 1970 British concert.

The more musically attuned in the crowd noted Entwistle's innovations as the instrumentalist who, along with Motown bassist James Jamerson, lifted the bass guitar out of the musical background, often giving it a prominence rivaling that of the lead guitar, drums, and sometimes even the singer. Entwistle created the first prominent bass solo in rock in the Who's 1966 single "My Generation."

Other fans expressed as much sympathy for what Townshend and Daltrey were going through as for their own feelings of loss.

None of the fans surveyed criticized the decision to continue the tour, for which British session bassist Pino Palladino is taking over for Entwistle.

"It's their decision, not ours," said Steven Spieczny, 37, of Santa Monica. "To the extent they still want to share their music, I respect that decision."

"I'm so impressed," added Moore. "That's the spirit of the Who. They're survivors."

Much of the shock fans felt at Entwistle's death stemmed from his stoic, Gibraltar-solid stage presence that firmly anchored the band as Townshend slashed at his guitar and leaped through the air, Daltrey preened and swung his microphone like a lariat and Moon bashed his drum kit in a madman's frenzy.

In an interview two years ago, Entwistle had turned the Who's signature rallying cry, "Hope I die before I get old" around when he told The Times, "I always used to think that way....Now I hope I'll get older before I die."

Responded Moore: "So did we."

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