Archive for June, 2011

The Big Man

Posted: June 29, 2011 by mediabio in Music
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It’s funny how things are sometimes. Bruce Springsteen has been around longer than I’ve been alive but, like everyone else, that only really registered when I became an adult. My first introduction to Springsteen and the E Street Band was when I was around six. MTV was huge and music videos were all they played, and here came this guy named Springsteen with a song called “Dancing in the Dark.” That was soon followed by “Born in the U.S.A.” and “Glory Days.” To me, these were the first songs by the man they called The Boss. Besides Springsteen, there were two people who stuck out in the band: Steven Van Zandt–who I called “the guy who looks like a pirate,” and whom my grandmother loved–and Clarence Clemons. How did I first learn Clemons’s name? I don’t remember. But the image of this big, black man with the sax who just walloped sound stuck.

Time passed. I can’t say I was a fan but I respected a lot of the music that Springsteen released over the years. It wasn’t until around 2000 when I was given a CD of Greatest Hits (1995) that I began to really listen to Springsteen, and even then, I mostly stuck to the songs I knew. I liked it enough so that when Christmas 2002 came, my ex-wife bought me The Rising. Still, it wasn’t really until 2003 that I began to walk down the (thunder) road toward fandom.

It began the summer when I realized that my first marriage was falling apart. I put on Greatest Hits to write to and up came “The River” which includes the question, “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true or is it something worse?”

The line gave me goosebumps. It still does. I began to listen to the lyrics of Springsteen’s music. In 2005, after the separation, “Dancing in the Dark” hit me. My whole life I’d thought it was a happy song, and then I listened to the lyrics. Oh, man! And that was where I was! Around that time, having only 20 channels, I would watch a lot of PBS after I got home from the bookstore at night. (Actually, I’d spend most of my time on the internet, but would sometimes turn on the Glass Teat when I was eating my late supper). One summer night, PBS was showing Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band Live In New York. I was mesmerized by what I saw. It was also around this time that Springsteen was re-releasing Born to Run for its 30th anniversary with a new documentary, a concert from that time, and other assorted goodies. I got the set for Christmas.

That’s when I became a fan.

In the years that followed, I became more and more a member of the E Street Nation. Six years later and I still listen to Springsteen more than anything else. I’ve seen two concerts with Bruce and the band (out of three in my life–I don’t get out much). The first concert I saw was on November 18, 2007. The following night would be the last night the E Street Band’s organist Danny Federici would play a full set with the band. He left the tour to fight melanoma. He made one more appearance in 2008 and died about a month later. I was sad, but not as sad as I am today.

Springsteen with the late Danny Federici and "The Professor" Roy Bittan, November 18, 2007.

When I heard the news of Clarence Clemons’s stroke just over a week ago, I was shocked and saddened. Being the kind of person who is predisposed toward the dark, I had a bad feeling. He was 69 years old and hadn’t been in the best of health. During the week as reports came that he was recovering swifter than expected, I felt happy. Maybe he would be on stage when I got to see them for a third time, in the time known only as Someday.

On Saturday night, three days ago as I write this, I checked my Yahoo! News, something I do with an OCD-like passion, to see that Clarence Clemons had died, the news breaking only 30 minutes before my check.

My heart broke. The Big Man was gone.

In the days that have followed, there have been many people eulogizing Clarence Clemons. Yesterday I heard Howard Stern and his crew doing so, replaying some tape of prior interviews with The Big Man, including one where Clemons was trying to pick-up Stern Show sidekick Robin Quivers. I watched a video of NBC News’s Brian Williams talking about Clemons. There have been others. So many others.

Much has been written and spoken about the sound of the E Street Band being held together by Clemons’s saxophone. I won’t go into details because I don’t think I can. The sound though…goddamn! I’ve always liked the sound of the sax, but in this man’s hands…

I’ll never forget going to my second show in 2009, which was something that hadn’t been planned. My wife’s friend won VIP tickets for us and it just happened to be the day before my 32nd birthday (and one month–exactly–before Bruce’s 60th). My wife and I were sitting in VIP seats that were eye-level with those on the stage. When the pre-show music coming stopped and the crowd went crazy, the band began coming out on stage in twos. I don’t remember the exact order, but I know who came out last: Bruce and Clarence. It was obvious Clarence was in pain. They had a chair onstage for him and it looked like Bruce was helping Clarence along. Bruce kissed Clarence on the cheek and they went their separate ways.

“One-two-three-four–”

And the entire band broke into an explosion of music that I would swear should’ve been heard throughout Massachusetts and probably even the rest of New England. They were performing “Night,” a track from Born to Run that has the sax woven throughout.

Let me tell you, that sax on record is great. In person, it’s amazing. And every time Clarence played, or did anything, the audience went nuts! When I saw them in 2007, the performed “Jungleland,” a ten-minute song with a three-minute sax solo and I nearly cried. Tears came during the solo, something that can happen while listening to the recorded version if I’m in the right mood.

Clarence wasn’t just a sax player, he was an ambassador of rock ‘n roll. Even if people didn’t know much about Springsteen or the E Street Band, they knew Clarence by sight and many even knew his name. Part of it was from doing other things, but he had a presence on stage that wasn’t just about the music, he was constantly smiling. He was an icon.

As I sit here typing, tears in my eyes, I’m listening to E Street Radio on SiriusXM. They’re replaying Sunday night’s Clarence Clemons remembrance. I’m going to cry some more today. I’m happy to have been able to see him perform twice. I have seen the original E Street Band. And, best of all, I will be able to listen to his gift forever.

R.I.P. Clarence "Big Man" Clemons

***

I wrote this last Tuesday, June 19th. Today, June 29th, Bruce Springsteen has posted his eulogy to Clarence. You can read it here.

It’s Coming…

Posted: June 29, 2011 by mediabio in Uncategorized

MediBio will be back soon. Keep watching this space.