Four o'clock in the afternoon is midmorning on Rock Standard Time. A bright Friday sun is about to start its hour-long disappearing act in the streets of Georgetown, but one of rock's illustrious sons is still a little sleepy around the edges.

John Entwhistle, 33 and for 16 years bass player for The Who, is creaking into action after a long night that only began with a sold-out performance at the Capital Centre.

Elsewhere in the hotel, lead vocalist Roger Daltrey is about to head out for the National Zoo. Guitarist Peter Townshend and drummer Kenny Jones are nowhere to be found, though they are expected to turn up later at a Who party at the Polo Club.

Entwhistle sinks into a couch in his huge suite at the Four Seasons Hotel. The thick curtains keep out most of the daylight, but flashes dart across his face from the soundless television turned to the silent madness of "The Krofft super Star Hour."

Entwhistle, too, is dark. He's dressin in black except for a silver necklace. Despite hs Machiavellian demeanor, he is soft-spoken, weighing each answer carefully. He pauses at one point before saying very deliberately, "The thought didn't cross my mind not to do the concert the next night."

The tragedy that marred the group's Dec. 4 concert at Cincinnati's Riverfront Coliseum (in which 11 people died in the crushing crowd outside the arena) led to specualtion that The Who would cancel their remaining dates, and might even retire for good.

But, "I don't think we could have [canceled] if we'd wanted to," Entwhistle says. "We were contracted to play. I didn't place any of the blame on the band anyway, because I remember walking off stage [from the sound check] at five minutes to 7. I'm pretty sure the doors were opened dead on 7 o'clock, which is the time they were supposed to open."

The band did insist on more-stringent security arrangements on the remainder of their tour, which winds up at the Capital Center tonight in a last-minute substitution for their canceled Providence, R.I., date.

(About 70 persons were arrested Saturday night at the group's New Haven concert on charges ranging from breach of peace to disorderly conduct to assault. A police spokesman said the arrests were "nothing unusual from what we've come to expect at certain concerts.")

In The Who's long and remarkable history, Etwhistle has represented an island of sanity, a balance to Townshend's acrobatic power-chording, Daltrey's athletic histrionics and the late Keith Moon's whirlwind destruction around the drum kit (and elsewhere). Through all that, Entwhistle has always stood at the edge, an imperturbable static presence in the electrical storm.

"I don't like people to think I'm quiet," he protests. "I'm not at all. It's an image I've had for 15 years. Sometimes I encourage it, sometimes I hate it The truth is, I'm concentrating on what I'm playing and what it's sounding like. I try never to play the same part twice."

Entwhistle is trying to relax on this off day. But his doorbell keeps ringing. A waiter brings food that runs cold before it finally gets a few nibbles. A tour publicist comes in with an offer of a cover story in a rock publication if Entwhistle will join Daltrey, Townshend and new drummer Kenny Jones in the bar for an interview later.

But Entwhistle wants to hear the other votes before he'll commit himself. One problem is Time magazine's cover story on The Who last week. Mention of it brings a "My God!" laugh that quickly turns to irriation."Not much of what we said came out in the article. I think the amount of talking we all did seems a little bit wasted."

The Time story -- drawn from interviews with the group during its series of fall concerts at Madison Square Garden -- accented te frequently volatile nature of The Who's turbulent history: Daltrey's touring in "Tommy" with a nose broken courtesy of Townshend; Moon's frequent destruction of hotel rooms as a key to his physical and mental deterioration; the ever present groupies and threatened breakups. All these served as counterpoints in a series of acrimonious, barbed comments individual members seemed more than willing to make about each other.

"We all continually say things, whether in group or individual interview, to annoy each other," Entwhistle says lightheartedly. "I was annoyed by a lot of things they said in the article, and most likely Roger was annoyed by things that I said." What emerged was a portrait of four musicians whose musiclal wedding in 1963 produced an immediate and probably lasting seven-year itch.

Although the group has remained together and even survived Moon's drug-related death last year -- ("i think of it as something in the past," says Entwhistle, "something we got over. I'm concentrating more on the new band now") -- its energies have been less directed. Daltry, Townshend and Entwhistle seem as involved with the world of film as with the rock wars these days.

Since Ken Russell's filming of their seminal rock opera "Tommy," they have moved into their own productions. Those include a documentary, "The Kids Are Alright," a just-completed thriller called "mcVicark," (starring Daltrey, who has already appeared in four films besides "Tommy") and the realization of their second rock opera, "Quadrophenia," which is slated to open here in the next few weeks.

Eniswhistle has become something of a musical director. For "Quadrophenia," a dramatic rendering of the group's working-class origins in London, the bassist had to re-record many of the tunes so as not to conflict with the original album's salability.

"I changed almost every bass part -- that was the easiest thing for me to do," he explains. Some songs were dropped, others added, "and we brought up different instruments that we noticed had disappeared in the original. What I set out to do was make the whole thing a lot meatier."

Whether American audiences will respond to the film's thick Cockney accents and setting in the Mod England of the early '60s remains to be seen. Early reviews have been very positive, and Entwhistle has a simple solution to overcome the accents: "See it two or three times," he laughs.

For the fifth time in 15 years, Entwhistle is working on a solo album. The only one of The Who ever to actually tour separately with his own band (Ox), Entwhistle is teaming up in Los Angeles with Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh and super-session drummer Joe Vitale. "Most of the album is uptempo, and it's got an American feel to it."

There will also be a new Who album by the middle of next year, the first to feature new drummer Jones and keyboard player Rabbit Bundrick. And The Who have lent their name to a new line of Mod fashions just coming out in England.

The constant shifts between rock energy and rock enterprise often catch Entwhistle off guard. He recalls the first American "Tommy" tour as the point at which the group's life style and attitude changed: "Suddenly we were making more money. And then in 1974, it became a business because the British income tax laws were changed.

"We had just finished the 'Tommy' film, we were going to be millionaires -- and then we had to pour all our money back into assets."

Like many major rock groups the Who are now also a large corporation with a huge staff of lawyers, accountants and hangers-on. Their crew on this tour numbers 52.

"Luckily, it hasn't affected the music, except that a lot of our meetings are for business instead of musuic," Entwhistle says.

"I try to get sick when we do that sort of thing."

The Who's longevity in the rock business is a rarity. With energies split between film, family and music, the inevitable question arises: How much longer can the band continue? "I don't think any of us foresees The Who ceasing to exist," Entwhistle says. "It depends how long we carry on touring . I don't think I could tolerate another two years off the road." o

And what of The Who's contribution to rock? "I probably don't feel it as much as someone on the outside," Entwhistle shrugs. "I've been in on the action. I know what The Who has contributed to the rock business, how it's influenced tens of thousands of musicians to change.

"I prefer to read someone else's idea of what The Who have contributed to rock 'n' roll." There is another slight pause, and then a comfortable, knowing laugh: "'Cause I can never quite remember it."