Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Saddest Night on E Street

We lost The Big Man tonight (CBS News).  Those of us in E Street Nation don't have to say his name.  He was just that - The Big Man, and it was said in "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out."
When the change was made uptown
And the big man joined the band
From the coastline to the city
All the little pretties raise their hands
Im gonna sit back right easy and laugh
When scooter and the big man bust this city in half
With a tenth avenue freeze-out, tenth avenue freeze-out
Bruce Springsteens' website has released a statement:
It is with overwhelming sadness that we inform our friends and fans that at 7:00 tonight, Saturday, June 18, our beloved friend and bandmate, Clarence Clemons passed away. The cause was complications from his stroke of last Sunday, June 12th.

Bruce Springsteen said of Clarence: 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.
This is not the first member of the E Street Band to pass away. Danny Federici died in 2008, and tonight by no means minimizes that.  "Phantom" Dan stayed behind his keyboard and played with an artistry that was molded to his style.  A brilliant musician, but not flashy.

Clarence Clemons (aka "The Big Man" and no, I don't need to say his name) was always right there - normally at the front of the stage, to Bruce's right.  He played his saxophone with such passion - listen to "Jungleland" tonight and try not to feel emotional - and provided a presence on stage that seemed like a body guard was there for The Boss, when in reality he was just a big ol' teddy bear who would have played football for the Browns had he not been hurt in a car crash.  Think of "Badlands" tonight, and how that sax solo could lift an audience - I saw it myself in '99 at the Meadowlands Arena.  I'm not sure I will ever see another a show with more energy than that one.

We could go back to that one little pop nugget that he brought us, in his duet with Jackson Browne (with backing vocals from Brownes' then-girlfriend Daryl Hannah), "You're a Friend of Mine."  Those moments are when The Big Man would give us his voice.  On occasions when he did sing to us, the crowd would simply go nuts.  See the moment in "Out in the Street" when various members took turns singing that one line "Meet me out in the street, baby" (by the way, that is a song that just makes me smile for so many reasons).  It was at that precise moment when a roar would come up from the throats of E Street.

Anytime he played that sax, the crowd would just wail away.  Most of all, our collective love was saved for the precise time in which the Right Reverend Springsteen would climb to the pulpit to introduce each band member.  The process would alter slightly and get more dramatic over the years, but one thing remained the same: The Big Man was always introduced last.

It could be from the early days, when Bruce would say, "And last but not least.  Do I have to say his name?  Do I have to speak his name?  Do I have to say his name?  In this corner: the king of the world, master of the Universe, weighing in at 260 pounds...The Big Man, Clarence Clemons!"  That's how he did it on during "Rosalita" from the Live 1975-1985 set.  Or on the Live in New York City CD where he was known as the "Minster of Soul" and "Secretary of the Brotherhood." All this during "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out" and great god of Rock and Roll was Madison Square Garden in a whole different orbit.

Such joy. 

Tonight, that joy is mixed with tears as we listen to the music and celebrate a life lost too soon at 69.

Rest well, Big Man.  We never needed to say your name.

But we need some music.  "Jungleland" is just way too emotional tonight.  I can't find a suitable "Tenth Ave."  There are several "Out in the Streets" but I don't love any of them.  No.  "Badlands" will do nicely.  Ladies and gents, from 1999 at Madison Square Garden - the house rockin', pants droppin', earth shockin', hard rockin', booty shakin', love makin', heart breakin', soul cryin' death defyin' legendary E Street Band.  Watch this and love it - no effects, no nothing.  Lights, crowd, rock and roll.  Bruce and Big Man with pure admiration following the sax solo.  Smiles.  The place is jumping.  Perfect.

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