As we continue getting real here on WMMCM, here’s a genuine obscurity for ya — though not too obscure to appear several times on YouTube:
“Sleeping Man,” from the John Entwistle solo album Too Late the Hero, is about trying to work and be friends with an intractable addict, and it’s pretty unmistakably a reference to the last days of Keith Moon, who’d died a few years before at 32 after a decade and a half of very hard living. Indeed, Moon was a model and example for the hotel-room-smashing, epically self-indulgent approach to existence that brought many a rocker to an even earlier end than his own. (In the biography Moon: The Life and Death of a Rock Legend, author Tony Fletcher makes a case for serious and untreated mental health problems as well. Hard to argue with that, all things considered.)
Whenever you’re with me, make sure it’s still me,
I’ve got to the stage I can’t tell which I’ll be,
The lovable fellow who’ll buy you a drink,
Then, when he’s drunk his, he’ll change in a wink into
Hyde, Mr. Hyde, Mr. Hyde!
One of Entwistle’s better vocals on that song, and, interestingly, a tight and subtle performance from Moon.
Anyway, it was all over by ’78, to the distress of many and the surprise of none, and in 1981 Entwistle revisited the subject with the sorrowful but not especially sympathetic “Sleeping Man.”
Who’s that knocking at the bottom of my door?
Who’s that lying on the floor
Like a fallen meteor?
It’s the sleeping man
Tomorrow just slipped away
Whatever happened to yesterday?
You play, you pay,
It’s the chorus that shows the real frustration of the song, as Entwistle sings,
Sandman, please leave him alone
Let him out of the Twilight Zone
Just once, let him answer the phone
The sleeping man
And the second verse makes it clear who he means:
Face down on the table
Drink in his hand
Doesn’t hear the noise of the band
With a head full of ideas
And eyes full of sand,
Lies the sleeping man
For those who think this is about Pete Townshend, the sad farewell in the bridge’s lyrics settles that:
Sing a ‘lude lullaby to the sleeping man
Grab some z’s, sleeping man,
Say goodnight again to the sleeping man
See you in your dreams, sleeping man
Musically, it’s unexceptional aside from a mismatched bit of California rock guitar — from friend of Moon Joe Walsh — and the earthquake bassline behind the bridge, but Entwistle as a songwriter was always more about the lyrics than about doing anything terribly innovative in melody or style, and as a singer, he was just a solid journeyman tenor.
Too Late the Hero was the last of Entwistle’s notable solo albums, with the others recorded throughout the ’70s. In quality, they ranged from the terrible Rigor Mortis Sets In to the not completely terrible Smash Your Head Against the Wall, but I will say that each of them has at least a few entertaining moments.
I don’t believe MCA ever bothered to release a single from any of Entwistle’s albums, at least in the U.S., but these sorts of zero-expectations side projects were not all that rare in the ’70s. Entwistle cuts a record with his buddies, it’s no huge expense to the label since they don’t have to market it, a few hundred thousand completists and fanatics buy it (I have all the Entwistle solo albums on vinyl), and an artist important to the label has been humored. Even Keith Moon made a solo record in the post-Tommy-movie hoopla. (It’s just about as bad as one might expect.)
“Sleeping Man” could be considered one for the Cheap Irony Department, considering Entwistle’s own drug-related death in a Las Vegas hotel room in 2002. Actually, I wrote the news story on his death for the music paper I was working for at the time — I wasn’t devastated or anything, but it was rather a strange feeling, for a Who fan of more than 25 years.
But that was a long way off in ’81, and this is still an affecting record. It’s one of Entwistle’s better and more memorable solo tracks, in fact — as was the sad and even thoughtful “Ted End” from Smash Your Head. Like other artists with a weakness for oddball humor, Entwistle was sometimes at his best when he wasn’t joking.