That’s as close as I ever got to Clarence Clemons.
Though I’ve seen Bruce three times, only twice were with the E Street Band. The first time was at Comiskey Park in Chicago, during The Rising Tour, August 13th, 2003. (I would next see Bruce solo at the Pantages theater here in LA during the Devils & Dust Tour in 2005.)
The second time I saw Bruce with the E Street Band was November 2, 2007, at the Xcel Energy Center in Minneapolis during the Magic Tour. That’s where the above photo comes from. That above terrible, grainy, first-gen iPhone crappy photo.
I came to the Boss late in life, that is, shortly after high school. But when I did, I didn’t just get wet; I went swimming. The Boss’s music, especially the work he did with the E Street Band, is some of the greatest rock & roll, some of the greatest music, ever recorded. Racing In The Street, Thunder Road, Girls In Their Summer Clothes, Dancing In The Dark, Badlands, Atlantic City, Highway Patrolman, Drive All Night, Growin’ Up, Night, Tougher Than The Rest…
I wish I had Bruce’s songs for all those high school experiences that I only wish I had because of Springsteen songs.
I mean, that’s what he does. He creates a world so much like yours and yet so much like something you never had, but it’s so iconic and real that you want that life and relate to that life… even when that life is nothing at all like yours. The River is about teenage love gone awry at a time in America when all hope was lost… I mean, I never took a girl down to the river, got her pregnant, married her even if I didn’t love her, and went to work at a young age in a terrible job, giving up my dreams and hers along the way… BUT I do absolutely relate to that, in some weird pastiche way. “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true?”
And there’s really no better concert experience than Bruce and the E Street Band when they’re on fire, when they play a three hour show that never lets up, when each member of the band, from the mighty, mighty Max Weinberg to Little Steven Van Zandt, from sister Soozie Tyrell to the great Nils Lofgren, when every single one of them is just having the time of their life along with you, the audience.
And a big part of that energy, mysticism, and rock & roll is big man Clarence Clemons.
But I’ll just say that he is an essential part of the E Street Sound, and an essential part of the soundtrack of my life. The solo in Jungleland, the way he brings Rosalita crashing down, how he brings you Out In The Street, how he becomes part of rock & roll mythology in Tenth Avenue Freezeout, the way he not just enhances Bruce’s vocals and sound but the way his sax acts as a second voice for every song he plays on.
Much has been made about whether there even WILL be an E Street Band after his passing. I don’t know how I feel about it. He can never be replaced, but maybe he shouldn’t be. Maybe Bruce and co soldier on, just as they did when Danny Federici died in 2008. Maybe Bruce writes a song in Clarence’s memory, as he did with “Terry’s Song” off of Magic, in memory of his manager Terry Magovern.
And maybe the E Street Band just disappears into the misty night air, like music on the wind.
At least we have the many videos, albums, and material left, of Clarence Clemons in his youth and in later years, powering on, lifting that mighty sax, blowing those powerful notes, and being the man the Boss can lean on when he’s born to run.