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  • Pete Chianca
    a day ago

A remembrance revisited: Our tribute to Clarence Clemons from a decade ago

Photo by Rocco Coviello, Rocco's Photo Tavern.
This was written 10 years ago, and I still can't say I've gotten over it. R.I.P., Big Man.

Published June 20, 2011:

Bruce Springsteen’s longtime saxophone player and sideman Clarence Clemons passed away Saturday at age 69 after complications from a stroke he suffered last week. Oddly enough, when I heard, my first thought wasn’t of one of the many E Street Band shows I’ve seen, but of a Bruce Springsteen concert where Clemons was nowhere to be found.
I’m talking about a 1992 Meadowlands show Springsteen performed with the “Other Band,” the group he put together after disbanding the E Street Band in the late ’80s. It was my first Springsteen concert, so I suppose I shouldn’t have known what I was missing. But I’d pored over the five LPs that made up “Live 1975-85″ so many times that I’d felt I’d lived through those shows, and I wondered if Springsteen could make that kind of magic with the faceless bunch he was bringing on tour with him this time around.
And it’s a testament to Springsteen’s prowess as a performer that he actually did. He dragged the show kicking and screaming into success through the strength of his own sweat and blood. Except for one moment.

Springsteen was no fool — he’d purposely designed his setlists for the tour to avoid any songs with saxophone solos. So there was no “Badlands,” no “Backstreets,” certainly no “Jungleland.” But he had to do “Born to Run,” and when it came time for the sax — no offense to Crystal Taliefero, who drew the short straw — it was like the air had been sucked out of the room.

She may have been playing a saxophone, but not with a capital “S,” like Clemons. The whole song collapsed in on itself — suddenly, there was no there there. And all the bleeding and sweating in the world on Springsteen’s part couldn’t bring it back.

Fast forward to November 2007, when Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band were playing the Garden in Boston. It was the first time I saw “Jungleland” performed live, and when Clemons started into his solo, it was exactly the opposite of what had happened in New Jersey 15 years earlier. The arena brimmed with life, the swaying masses almost overcome by a sense of melancholy buoyed by hope — it made grown men cry, and be happy doing it.

It was a version of the feeling I’d experienced many times over, during the band’s reunion tour of 1999-2000 and the “Rising” tour of 2002-2003, and that I would experience again in 2009, during what turned out to be the last time I’d see Clemons play live. He had a way of taking what already seemed like the highest of highs and finding a way to bring it up a notch. Springsteen shows are always amazing; at those moments, they felt perfect.
When Clemons started into his solo ... the arena brimmed with life, the swaying masses almost overcome by a sense of melancholy buoyed by hope — it made grown men cry, and be happy doing it.
How did he manage it? His talent, certainly. But that’s not all it was. As David Remnick pointed out Sunday at NewYorker.com, “Sonny Rollins could step in for him and never be able to provide the same sense of personality and camaraderie.” Clemons’ relationship with Springsteen, the contagious nature of their connection, was palpable. And beyond that, the love and joy that shone behind his eyes somehow made their way out of his saxophone; they shimmered in every note.
There will be plenty of time to debate what Clarence’s passing “means” — for Bruce Springsteen, for the E Street Band, for the scores of fans who’ve followed their every move for so long. For now, I’d rather celebrate the man and his music, and thank him for what it’s meant to me, like the millions of others mourning his passing.

____________________________________

The SPL Rocks!

 

Pulled up to my house today
Came and took my little girl away!
Giants Stadium 8/28/03



Oats

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Pete speaks of C's power with the sax and with Bruce. What he didn't speak in length about was Clarence's  love and the power he held with his audience and fans.  I've written about this before and those that know me well have heard me speak of this a number of times. 

At the beginning of the Rising Tour, my wife and I were splitting up.  My daughter, Ally, was 9 years old and grew up listening to Live Springsteen.  She knew every lyric to Pretty Flamingo by the time she was seven. She was 9 when The Rising Tour began and we thought she was old enough to go to a show.  Her first one was memorable becuase it was a father/daughter trip to Greensboro, N. Carolina.  She saw a little girl in the pit get to sing a line of Mary's Place with the Boss.  She wanted to be in the pit forever more and asked me if I could get tickets there.  Who could refuse their only child, Daddy's little girl.

I took vacation for the entire two stands at the meadowlands and Ally was with me for at least half of them.  She did play soccer so she had a commitment she couldn't break.  Her mom bought her a pink blow up sax that she brought with her and air played right along with 'C'.  I was lucky enough to get us into the pit  for most of the shows. 

We always stood in front of Clarence and Nils.  Clarence noticed Ally playing along on her little pink sax and blew her a kiss after the song.  She blew one back and was so ecstatic.  She was beaming all week.  Clarence always made sure to notice her,  he'd give her a thumbs up now and then or point to her.  He'd make eye contact with me and all I could do was mouth "Thank you so much".  Those few seconds where he made her feel so special were amazing moments.  They became even more special because they made my relationship with my daughter even closer.  I couldn't thank 'C' enough.  After one of the shows in July, Security asked for her sax.  My eyes got big and he noticed, quickly telling me Clarence wanted to sign it for her.  What a guy!!! From that day forward, if we were in the stadium or arena we were on Clarence's side of the stage.

I've seen Clarence take time out during a show to make lots of folks in the audience feel special and it was always genuine.

The Big Man will be missed forever.   He'd be so proud of his nephew, Jake, for keeping it in the family and performing so well.

RIP Big Man!

____________________________________

The SPL Rocks!

 

Pulled up to my house today
Came and took my little girl away!
Giants Stadium 8/28/03



Oats

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