Clarence Clemons – January 11, 1942 – June 18, 2011
Now there’s a loss that can never be replaced,
A destination that can never be reached,
A light you’ll never find in another’s face,
A sea whose distance cannot be breached – Bruce Springsteen
He was like a family member. And like all family members we fool ourselves into believing that they will never die. Even through sickness and surgeries and suffering and pain, we delude ourselves. We keep telling ourselves things like, “miracles can happen,” and “God will see them through.” We delude ourselves because the pain of considering the alternative seems so huge.
And then some dark and lonely night you get the call that you’ve always dreaded. There’s no way to prepare yourself for it. You force yourself to breath. You place your hands on your head. You say it can’t be true. This person that you loved so much cannot be gone from this world. But it’s true and sometimes there’s nothing to do but cry.
Clarence Clemons, the longtime saxaphone playing member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, passed away last night and E Street Nation today is mourning his passing and celebrating his life. People are gathered at the Stone Pony as I write this to help each other grieve.
As for me, I was foolish in my thinking. I actually believed that Clarence was a force larger than life and was indestructible. I believed that despite poor health, despite countless operations on failing hips and knees, despite the painful recuperations, despite the stroke that he suffered a week ago…despite all this, I believed Clarence would survive. I refused to believe otherwise. I’m still not sure I fully have accepted it.I guess it’s called denial.
Every time I went to see Bruce Springsteen and The Legendary E Street Band perform, I smiled and laughed to hear Springsteen’s trademark, incomparable, built-up description and introduction of Clarence Clemons.
So how could I believe that death would ever touch Clarence Clemons? Bruce’s exaltations were more than a show-biz bit. It was Bruce “testifying” to how much he believed and how much he loved his friend. How could we, as fans, ever believe that Clarence Clemons was anything but indestructible? And now he’s gone, gone, gone.
When the news broke that Clarence Clemons had suffered a stroke, Bruce Springsteen rushed from Europe to be at The Big Man’s hospital bedside in Florida. Bruce Springsteen stayed with Clarence all week long, through the good days when it seemed like Clarence was doing much better to the darker days, at the end of last week, when Clarence’s condition began to worsen. It’s also been written that Bruce was with Clarence all day yesterday, with his close friend, playing music with his children until the end. Wow.
If the news of Clarence’s passing is difficult for fans like myself to accept, one can only imagine the grief that is being experienced by Clarence’s original family, his closest friends, loved ones, longtime band members and, perhaps most painfully, by Bruce Springsteen himself. To them, I send my deepest condolences.
Last night, Bruce issued this statement on his official website (www.BruceSpringsteen.net).
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.
Since the news leaked out around 8:00 last night, people from all over the world, of all ages and backgrounds, people who were his friends and people who barely knew his name have been flocking to Twitter, Facebook and Springsteen discussion boards, like Backstreets.com/BTX to offer condolences, to grieve and to celebrate Clarence’s life and his music.
The first time I ever truly experienced a rock and roll epiphany was in 1976. I was 15 years old and listening to Jungleland. In those glorious 8 minutes, I understood for the first time the full spectrum of human emotions and possibilities. Since that day, I’ve probably heard Jungleland and Clarence’s magnificent saxaphone solo a thousand times or more, but it never ceases to amaze me and strike to the very heart of what it means to be a human being fully realized:
In 1988, I attended the Human Rights Now! concert, in Philadelphia. Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band were the headliners and before the concert I attended a press conference at the downtown hotel where all the band members were staying.
After the press conference, I had time to kill and, as luck would have it, I happened to bump into Clarence in the hotel lobby. I walked up to Clarence and thanked him for all the many years of happiness that his music had given me. I remember the huge smile on his face as he shook my hand and said, “No, I wanna thank you for being a fan and coming to our shows.” It’s a moment I’ll never forget.
Later that night, Bruce unexpectedly called for the band to play Jungleland. Drummer Max Weinberg says the expression on Clarence’s face when he realized he would have to once again perform that taxing sax solo was priceless. But he nailed it. Perfecto!
The last time I saw Clarence perform was the final show of the last tour in Buffalo. It was a special weekend, because on the way to Buffalo, my beautiful fiancee Janet and I stopped and stayed overnight in Niagara Falls, Canada. At dinner the night before the show, with fireworks in the background over the Falls, I got down on my knee to ask her to marry me. (Happily, she said yes.)
That night Clarence, still in pain from all the surgeries and other ailments that were wracking his 69 year old body, moved gingerly and had to sit for parts of the show, just like he had to for most of the last couple of tours. You could tell that his days of touring were numbered, but nobody really wanted to admit it to themselves.
And now that this very spiritual man has made the passage from this world to the next, it is hard to imagine not ever seeing Bruce and Clarence onstage together; hard to imagine not ever seeing Clarence play the Jungleland solo or any other song; hard to imagine an E Street Band show without Clarence.
But I’d rather not think about that now. Instead, I’d prefer to celebrate the life and music of Clarence Clemons. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust, but Clarence’s spirit lives on forever in his music and the joy he brought into the millions of hearts around the world. Not bad for a guy with a saxaphone.
As Bruce Springsteen said last night, Clarence Clemons loved people and that made people love him. That’s a lesson that we should all take to heart.
All of us who loved him will always miss Clarence Clemons and perhaps we’ll get to hear that sweet saxaphone again in the next world. All I know is that we were all very lucky have had Clarence Clemons be such a huge part of our lives for so long.
Farewell, Big Man.
Sleep long and sleep well.