It was with incredible sadness that the news from Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band came down on Saturday evening that Clarence Clemons, the blood brother of all blood brothers, the King of the Universe, had passed away at age 69. Clarence's death followed a week after he suffered a massive stroke.
The thoughts and prayers of millions upon millions have poured in along with every kind of tribute imaginable. But as much as we'd all like to capture the essence of Clarence and bottle it, the truth is that Clarence was never meant to be confined in such small ways.
Clarence never seemed of this Earth in the first place. He once explained that he had no idea where any of his famous sax solos and runs that have dotted so many Springsteen records came from. He'd simply wet the reed on his tenor sax and the moment would take him to a place that us mortals could never comprehend.
But what we could comprehend was the product, so sweet and soulful that it became an integral part of music that has been the soundtrack of our lives. Even as Springsteen toured solo, acoustic there were always calls for the Big Man. And as enjoyable as those solo Springsteen shows were and as memorable as those Seeger Session shows were, it always felt like something was missing. It was. Clarence. Even Springsteen seemed to recognize it, occasionally glancing to the right, perhaps out of sheer habit.
There are any number of Clarence moments to choose from but the two most famous are the soaring, searing solo from Jungleland and the incredible run that turned Born to Run from a great song to the masterpiece it became. The second that solo ended, everyone knew what was next: "one, two, three four..the highway's jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive."
Springsteen and Clarence were always twin sons from different mothers. Along with the late Danny Federici, Max Weinberg, Steven Van Zandt, Roy Bittan and later Nils Lofgren, Springsteen and Clarence formed the greatest rock band of our time. The Rolling Stones and the Beatles were seminal groups, the predecessors really of the E Street Band, but they were so much a product of their time.
The E Street Band, with Clarence as its emotional counterweight, was the essence of all that had come before them and all that would ever come again. The E Street Band will continue in some form but we all know it will never be the same.
It's unfortunate that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has not yet found the time to induct the entire band. It's a long overdue honor and it's sad to think that when it does happen Clarence won't be there to receive the just rewards of a professional life well lived.
In addition to every memorable moment with the E Street Band, Clarence kept active with every kind of guest appearance imaginable with as wide a variety of artists as is imaginable.
There's the latest Lady Gaga song Edge of Glory and the recently released video that was Clarence's last appearance ever. Take a listen and look for the Big Man:
On a more local level, I'll always remember his contributions to the Michael Stanley Band's single best album, Heartland, which was made that much better by Clarence's inclusion on several tracks, including Lover and Stanley's biggest single, He Can't Love You.
Embarrassingly, when MSB filmed the video for that song, some cheesy poser in '80s hair faked the Clarence solos. No one could ever match Clarence's signature sound. I'll post the video only because the sax solo is so good and it's laughable to watch a goofy white guy fake the solo as if he were Clarence:
A passing like this can never really be overcome. We'll accommodate, we'll adjust but we all know that it will never be the same. More's the pity.
So rest in peace, Big Man. You deserve it. And thank you for all the joy you've brought to us all. We could never adequately repay you.
One last moment and the one that is on permanent rotation in the radio in my head: Jungleland, from Hard Rock Calling, Hyde Park, London 2009: