From Bruce Springsteen’s official website:
“It is with overwhelming sadness that we inform our friends and fans that at 7:00 tonight, Saturday, June 18, our beloved friend and bandmate, Clarence Clemons passed away. The cause was complications from his stroke of last Sunday, June 12th.
Bruce Springsteen said of Clarence: Clarence lived a wonderful life. He carried within him a love of people that made them love him. He created a wondrous and extended family. He loved the saxophone, loved our fans and gave everything he had every night he stepped on stage. His loss is immeasurable and we are honored and thankful to have known him and had the opportunity to stand beside him for nearly forty years. He was my great friend, my partner, and with Clarence at my side, my band and I were able to tell a story far deeper than those simply contained in our music. His life, his memory, and his love will live on in that story and in our band.”
It’s tough to imagine a fate like that for the Big Man. He was the Big Man, after all. His awe-inspiring persona and seemingly endless jubilation for his craft made him appear invincible. He could have walked into a room occupied by Clint Eastwood, Michael Jordan, Billy Gibbons, and Willie Mays and he would still be the coolest person in that room. Nothing like this could strike a man who stood at 6’4”, 250 pounds. But I guess that just attests to the mortality of all of us. In heaven, he’ll probablly walk into a room with James Dean, James Brown, Mickey Mantle and John Wayne, and he’ll be the coolest guy in that room too.
I can’t help but flash back to the one time I saw Bruce, the Big Man, and the rest of the E Street Band in concert. It seems selfish to think of what I saw instead of writing about the career of a man literally larger than life, but that’s the effect Clemons had on concert-goers. He made everyone feel privileged to have seen him play. He’s the type of performer parents tell their kids about. The mystique, aura, and absolute raw power Clemons put on display night after night after night is something truly legendary. Thankfully, YouTube helps prove the legend’s existence:
Even in his later years, when he would have to sit for most of the show due to knee and back problems, he still brought the power. A more beautiful sax solo than the one in “Jungleland” does not exist. If you don’t get the chills listening to it, something is wrong with you.
I think I will let the videos above do the rest of the talking – because sometimes, even the poets write nothin’ at all; they just stand back and let it all be. One last thing, however; Bruce had many introductions for his band mate. Sometimes, as in “Sherry Darling” he’d say, “The greatest human being that ever lived!” The introduction for Clarence in “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” certainly tells a great story: “The change was made uptown, and the Big Man joined the band!” But I think the best one is at the end of “Rosalita” from the Live 1975-1985 album. Ironically, it seems the best way to say goodbye is with one last introduction. Bruce always introduced Clarence last:
“And last but not least… do I have to say his name? (crowd reaction: No!) Do I have to speak his name? (No!) In this corner, king of the world, master of the universe, weighing in at 260 pounds, the Big Man, Clarence Clemons!”
Goodbye Clarence, your music will be missed, but never forgotten.