As a music fan, I understand that if we live long enough, it is inevitable that we lose some of our heroes. Clarence Clemons wasn’t so much a hero to me, as an icon in rock and roll music – a symbol of power, spirituality, and an undefinable and immeasurably important piece of the Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band equation. A link to the rock sax sounds of the 50’s and 60’s; a bodyguard to the band, even in failing health.
Springsteen introduced him last at shows for a reason: because he was the Big Man. We understood, and waited for Clarence to raise his sax into air and let loose a shout. Bruce would plant a kiss on the Big Man’s lips at the end of “Thunder Road”, sliding across the stage on his knees as Clarence finished the song with a sax solo. It was a beautiful representation of the power of loyalty and love.
Clemons died Saturday night after suffering a stroke on June 12. He was 69. And the rock and roll feels different tonight. How exactly? To be honest, I am not sure. Other musicians, from U2 to Bon Jovi to Eddie Vedder, seem to sense it too – all three heard about his passing while playing their own concerts, and immediately paid tribute from the stage Saturday night.
It’s feels like we have lost a man who seemed to make those around him better, sometimes by playing, and sometimes just by being close. Larger than life? That seems to fit pretty damn well.
And maybe he was. Maybe now he is playing his King Curtis-inspired riffs someplace else.
God, I hope so.
Jungleland – September 19, 1978