Sunday, June 19, 2011

And Last But Not Least...

I hope you had a chance to see it. I hope you weren't one of those people who thought it wasn't for you or who never had the money or couldn't find the time. Because it's gone now. And it's never coming back.

The Big Man has left a big hole.

It's a big hole in the hearts of all who knew and loved him. Not a small group, it appears. But I never met the man. Only imagined I had. And loved him all the same.

No, I don't have memories of inspiring his tremendous smile, shaking his giant hands, jamming in the studio or hanging out in his den watching whatever it is he watched on TV (For some reason, I imagine it was lots of "CSI: Miami").

Instead, what I've got are permanent marks where blasts of saxophone scorched my soul.

Which is an odd thing for a white Jewish boy growing up in the suburbs. Because it's not like the good kind of saxophone music gets taught at school or played much on the radio. John Philip Sousa marches, Kenny G, and that guy from the Tina Turner band that looked like Fabio didn't exactly inspire much more in me than some kind of a brain rash.

And I didn't discover the likes of Coltrane and Sonny Rollins until much later.

But it was clear from the first time I heard a Springsteen record that Clarence Clemons provided something urgent and necessary to The E Street Band. A brassy bellow that called back to the Stax and Motown sounds Springsteen carried into the 70s even if his audience remained largely monochromatic.

Clarence meant everything. This was an integrated band. This was a brotherhood. It was no thoughtless happenstance that led Bruce to pose with Clarence on the cover of "Born to Run," beaming with giddy pleasure. It was a statement of purpose. As ballsy and unabashedly sentimental as the music on the album that finally answered every dare he ever made for himself.

The onstage clowning, iconic poses and smooches between these two men told the story of the world (both hardscrabble and mythical) Springsteen set out to describe and remake. His concerts have always been about building a community as much as escaping to fantasy. They were Han Solo and Chewbacca. Scorsese and Deniro. Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.

As I watched a 1978 concert tonight, Clarence twirled in his white suit with a nimbleness he hasn't displayed in many years. Each note, strong and sustained, carried the band higher and higher. He blasted away at the foot of Roy's piano, as Bruce stood on top with his guitar aloft and wailing to the gods.

No, the world will not see such joy again. We're the lucky ones who got to see it even once.

1 comment:

KHBirdman said...

There was an interview on 1050 with Emerson Boozer who was a college football teammate of Clarence. It came to the time when Clarance had to make a choice whether to persue football or go with music. Emerson said that Clarence told him that he met this guy, Bruce Springsteen, that is gonna make him a LOT of money. Guess he made the right choice of music over football !