Tag Archives: Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band

Farewell, Clarence Clemons


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.

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The Greatest Live Act In Rock and Roll History?

Was there really ever any doubt about who is the greatest live act in Rock and Roll history?

The answer, of course, is Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band by a mile. Not even close.

At least that’s according to Rolling Stone.com who asked readers to rate the Top Ten Greatest Bands of all time.

Here’s what Rolling Stone.com says: “When Springsteen began performing with the E Street Band in 1972 it was a four man-group, with Clarence Clemons on the saxophone, Danny Federici on the organ, Vini “Mad Dog” Lopez on drums and Garry Tallent on bass. When the group last toured in 2009 there were 11 people onstage with Springsteen, and although the sound has grown more elaborate the band hasn’t lost any of the passion or the power they originally had. They’ve been off the road for about a year and a half, but the rumor mill says that a 2012 tour may be in the works.”

Well, thanks folks for confirming what I’ve been saying since I first saw Bruce and The Mighty E Street Band blow the roof off the joint way back in 1978. No other band brings the same energy, passion, electricity, musicianship, endurance, (Did I mention passion?), and overall satisfaction that Bruce and The E Street Band. Some might call me obsessive, but I’ve seen the band perform over the last 30-plus years about 50 times (which is nothing compared to the “concert count” of some Springsteen fanatics!). And I have never once been disappointed. Au contraire, mon frere.

Instead I’ve been awed by the way the band has not only stayed together as a solid unit but also has maintained it’s incredible strength and dominance as rock and rollers. From the soaring saxaphone still played nightly by the bands eldest member, Clarence Clemons, to the majestic guitar work by Springsteen, Steve Van Zandt and the vastly underrated Nils Lofgren and the howling vocals of Bruce Springsteen (who’s voice has matured with age), these guys can’t be beat.

Sure there are some other great bands out there and I’ve seen quite a few of them. (If you’re wondering…The Rolling Stones were a distant second, with Mick and Keith huffing and puffing to keep up with Bruce and the band. U2 came in a surprising distant 6th.)

But nobody comes close to holding an audience in complete rapture for 3 hours night after night after night like Bruce and the band. Each show I’ve seen has been a roller coaster ride of emotions featuring flat out rockers, melodic mid-tempo numbers and slow ballads that has left me breathless and exhausted and wanting more.

The synergistic combustion of energy that gets passed from the band to the audience and back again in a semingly never ending cycle is what really makes Bruce and the band the best.

If you’ve never seen the band perform live you’ve really missed out on something special:

So thanks to the well informed and hip readers of Rolling Stone.com for a well deserved tip of the cap to the greatest band in the land. And if you ever get a chance to see Bruce and the E Street Band in concert…run…don’t walk to the nearest show.

You’ll thank me later.

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Backgammon, Bootlegs and Best Friends

In 1978, I was 17 and newly arrived at Syracuse University. SI can still remember how nervous I was that first day, as my Dad and I drove up the long driveway to Mount Olympus. That’s where my dorm was – Flint Hall. I didn’t know a soul in Syracuse. But I was fortunate to meet a guy in those first days who became my best friend in the world. His name was Kevin and from the time we first met, we were inseparable.

Kevin had it all and was everything a guy could ever hope for in a friend. He was incredibly kind and polite; he was deeply considerate, sensitive and sometimes shy. But what was most important was that we loved the same things. Kevin and I loved the same music, the same books, the same movies. And Kevin was from New Jersey, that mystical place in my mind from whence hailed my rock and roll idol Bruce Springsteen. Kevin also shared the same passion for Springsteen and he taught me all I needed to know. From then on it was Kev and Kel (me) and we made quite a team.

Except for when we were in classes, or on certain weekends when Kev would drive to visit a girl he liked who was going to school in Springfield, Massachusetts, we were always together. Whether we were going to see a film on campus, or spending some time being recruited by the fraternities that we secretly swore to never join, Kevin and Kel were pretty much one. We go to all the frats and drink their beer and eat their pizza while we secretely vowed to never join one. We’d go to “floor parties” in the dorms, where we met other great friends. Guys who lived on my floor like Mike and Eric, not to mention the girls who lived on the upper floors of Flint and all over Day Hall.

And the one thing that we both loved to do in those quieter hours after finishing with studies was to play backgammon.

I remember we played mostly in Kevin’s room (his room being “cooler” than mine that freshman year) and we played all the time! We were both about equally good (or perhaps equally bad) but we just loved to play. We played to beat the band and the band of course was Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band.

Of course we had to have a soundtrack on those halcyon evenings, and Bruce and the boys delivered on that. We had all of Springsteen’s regular releases and his bootlegs too. We’d listen to them over and over wearing out the grooves in the vinyl. He had an old fashioned turntable and stereo that he and his Dad had rigged up and it always sounded great. And when it came to bootlegs he had his favorite and I had mine.
His was a show from the Paramount Theater in Passaic:

Many Springsteen fanatics, like myself believe this to be his greatest recorded show of all time. But for me, well, I had another favorite that I found down on Marshall Street in the grimy, dusty used record store. It was know by just one word, but it was a thing of beauty and joy forever. It was “Winterland.”

And so there we were. The world could be coming to an end but it wouldn’t bother us. Kevin and I had our backgammon, our Bruce and our friendship. We’d sit and play game after game and talk. We’d talk about the girls we liked and some who liked us. We’d talk about our classes and goofy professors. We’d talk about our pasts, presents and we’d talk about our futures. Kevin swore that one day he would own his own Taco stand in San Diego (while he hardly owns a Taco stand, he currently lives just outside San Diego…how prophetic!).

Life was good. The wicked ways of the world hadn’t had their chance to turn us back. We were young, and free and having a hell of a time.

And the first snowflake hadn’t even fallen.

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