Like the photograph above, Clarence Clemons was a walking contradiction: “The biggest man you’ve ever seen” and a teddy bear of epic proportions; An athlete worthy of a Division I football scholarship to the University Of Maryland Eastern Shore with an affinity for music; the son of a preacher that grew up on gospel music, and one of the greatest Rock Stars to ever grace a stage.
On Saturday evening in a Palm Beach, Florida hospital the global music community lost Clarence Clemons at the age of 69 when complications occurred after he suffered a massive stroke the weekend prior…and the widespread outpouring of affection is evidence of just how great an impact the Big Man made, and how much joy he bestowed upon us.
On a local level, Asbury’s The Stone Pony opened its doors early, hosting a vigil for friends, family, and fans to pay their respects, share personal tales, and preserve the memory of Clemons.
The Jersey-based jam outfit Phish payed homage with a cover of “Thunder Road” during the final date of the band’s Summer tour in Portsmouth, Virginia (less than three miles from the Big Man’s hometown of Norfolk).
On a larger scale, Bono and U2 honored Clemons beautifully during the band’s final encore at its last Southern California stop on Saturday evening, essentially dedicating the classic track “Moment Of Surrender” to the recently deceased…going so far as to recite the last verse of “Jungleland” to close out the final salvo.
“…I want you to think of Clarence Clemons,” expressed Bono to the capacity audience, “this man carried music, and music carried him until this day.”
Even Slash, one of many artists to do so, took the twitterverse to express his deepest regards: “Clarence Clemons was one of the finest musicians/people in this business. He will be sorely missed…”
But no words nor tribute were more anticipated than those of the Big Man’s partner in rhyme, Bruce “Scooter” Springsteen:
“Clarence lived a wonderful life,” stated Springsteen via his Web site brucespringsteen.net. “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.”
As for myself, the magnitude of Clemons’ death didn’t truly sink in until I discussed the matter with the man who introduced me to the music of Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street Band, the biggest fan of Bruce and the gang I know…my father, Ken.
My dad and his friends were in the pursuit of Bruce and the band on Saturday nights before taking part in such an activity was fashionable. Recently he unveiled to me a series of cassette tapes from his ventures in the ’80s of various Springsteen live sets from The Pony, The Brighton Bar, the late Fountain Casino, and Clemons’ old Red Bank club, which sadly has since been transformed into a gym, Big Man’s West.
Stories of these shows and other personal moments, like sharing Heinekens at the old Tradwinds Beach Club with Scooter and the Big Man, are what turned me on to this music, so when my father told me that “the band will never be the same,” and “Bruce will be lost without Clarence at his side,” I believed it.
“As long Bruce, Clarence, Miami Steve, and Max were there,” he told me, “the band could survive, but when you lose the greatest Rock Saxophone player ever, it’s tough.”
And I fear he is correct. Sure, Bruce can become Bob Dylan and write solo Folk records for the rest of his career, continuing to produce hits, but the band, that sound that’s defined Jersey Rock N’ Roll and Asbury Park for decades…can it be reproduced with another attempting to perform the “Jungleland” solo? Would we want someone else to try and fill the biggest shoes you’ve ever seen? It’s not for me to say, only to present the question, but one thing is certain, an important chapter in my life closed this past weekend, as I’m sure it has for many others. But as long as we love the music and continue to spin the albums, The E Street Band will forever be preserved, and Clarence Clemons will be immortalized.
Clarence “The Big Man” Clemons (January 11, 1942 – June 18, 2011)…thanks for the music.
-Chris Rotolo, Speak Into My Good Eye