Monday, June 20, 2011

Missing The Big Man

By: RJ

Over the weekend, saxophone player and the pillar for the wall of sound known as The E Street Band, Clarence Clemons passed away due to complications from a stroke. He was 69.

Clemons was Bruce Springsteen's main on-stage partner for nearly 40 years and his sax brought to life so many of Springsteen's songs, ranging from his signature solo in "Jungleland," to the story of the E Street Band and The Big Man in "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out" to the closing sax solo during "Thunder Road" or even the sax solo and vocals in the middle of the E Street Band version of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" (The list could go on for days.) Springsteen's bromance with The Big Man was always apparent on stage, saving him as the last of the band members to be introduced, always plugging his partner's latest exploits, saying "You wish you could be like him but you can't" and touting him as "The next president of the United States."

The Big Man was more than just an original member of the E Street Band, he was an actor (guesting on The Wire and back in the day, Different Strokes), worked with other musicians in the studio setting (Arthea Franklin, Jackson Browne and most recently, Lady Gaga's "Edge of Glory", for which he appears in the video, to name a few) and had his own band, Clarence Clemons and the Temple of Soul.

In recent years, Clemons was bothered by various ailments (knees, back) that hindered his ability to move around on stage. But Springsteen knew how much he needed his pillar on stage, so various accommodations were made, from installing an elevator near the stage entrance for Clemons to having a gigantic chair placed behind Clarence's mic stand for him to rest on songs he didn't have to play the sax for.

The loss of Clemons was felt all throughout the music community. Fans gathered at The Stone Pony, a Jersey shore music club that was a frequently haunt for members of the E Street Band. Tributes came in all forms from Bono reciting lyrics of "Jungleland" during U2's closing song at an Anaheim concert, "Moment of Surrender" to Eddie Vedder sending out "Betterman" after learning of Clemons' passing on stage at a Connecticut concert to Bon Jovi playing a cover of "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out" in Denmark.

This continued on Monday with the mainstream media. Springsteen fans Brian Williams and Jon Stewart both touched on The Big Man's passing. Williams had a three-minute segment on NBC's Nightly News to Clemons and Stewart used The Daily Show's trademark "Moment of Zen, as what he called "My moment of Zen" and showcased a clip of Springsteen introducing Clemons from the Live in Barcelona DVD released in 2003. Eddie Vedder also did an additional tribute on the David Letterman showing with the name Clarence inscribed on his ukulele during his performance on the program.

Having seen the E Street Band in concert a countless number of times and having ultimately seen Clarence's second-to-last show with the band in Baltimore in November of 2009, this loss hurts much more than when longtime E Street organist Danny Federici died in April 2008 from melanoma. Federici's passing wasn't out of the blue, where as there were reports earlier in the week that Clemons was improving after his stroke last Sunday.

It was hard yesterday not to listen to "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out" and get misty-eyed when Springsteen recites the line, "And they made that change uptown and the Big Man joined the band," followed by Clarence on the sax.

Life on E Street won't be the same without the Big Man by Bruce's side. We will miss you, R.I.P. Clarence.

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