Saturday night was a very sad one for every Bruce Springsteen fan. That's because E Street Band iconic
saxophonist Clarence Clemons passed away. He was just 69 years old.
Perhaps more than anyone except the Boss himself, fans absolutely adored Clarence. And, they had good reason. He played an essential role in so many of Springsteen's biggest songs. In the early years, his sax helped the band create a potent mix of rock, soul, jazz and folk that was nearly impossible to replicate.
I feel like I have a semi-personal bond with Clarence. No, I never met him. Instead, my connection goes back to my early childhood. As an nine year old kid, I remember, listening to my brother's "Born to Run" album for the first time. The memory is still vivid because it was actually one of the first rock bands that I had ever heard. What sounded like a fairly typical song early on changed immediately when Clarence's raw sax came from nowhere to kick the title song into overdrive. It's funny because I've heard so much music (like most) over the years. But, that particular moment will always stay in my mind.
And, how about his solo during the key moment of "Jungle Land?" That majestic saxophone helped to construct a song that will be remembered as one of Bruce's greatest. This Big Man could also sing. No one will ever forget his deep baritone "ho, ho, ho's" in Bruce's version of Santa Clause is Coming to Town.
Anyone who's ever been to a Bruce Springsteen concert also understands just how important Clarence Clemons was to the on stage presence of the band. Springsteen turned him into a larger than life entertainer with his climatic individual band member introductions during each concert. Each and every time, the crowd was whipped into a frenzy waiting for The Boss to enthusiastically call out Clarence by any of his familiar nicknames including, "Master of the Universe," "King of the World," or simply "The Big Man...who needs no introduction."
Although The Big Man took on a less central role during the band's pop period (Born in the USA, etc.) during the late 80s and 90s, The Boss brought him back into the limelight last year with his release of "The Promise." And, that was great to see.
Probably what I love the most about Clarence Clemons though was the on stage contrast to Bruce he delivered on every occasion. From the onset, the two men were a marked physical difference: a wild hair (often bearded), slightly scrawny white guitar player and a 6 foot-5 inch, 275 pound African American man with a sax, who would be very intimidating if he didn't so often carry a smile. I remember how the two of them would almost stalk each other on stage, staring with ferocious eyes, playing their instruments as they stood back to back leaning on each other for support.
Their relationship sent a true message of brotherhood, family, tolerance and respect for all, regardless of race. Clarence Clemons was truly a giant among men. His passing will leave a void for Bruce and the rest of the band. More importantly, E Street will never be the same.