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Rest in Peace, Big Man

Nothing moves the soul like music, and music isn’t music without a saxophone in it somewhere.

And nobody, but nobody, could move a saxophone like Clarence Clemons.

Better known as “The Big Man” from Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, Clemons has been the soul of the group since he and Springsteen met in 1971 at a bar in Asbury Park where Clemons sat in on the song “Spirit in the Night.” Of that night, Clemons himself said;

“I come from a long line of Southern Baptists. They thought rock’n’roll was the devil’s music, so I didn’t join my first band, The Vibratones, until I went to Maryland Eastern Shore University. We were all music majors. We’d play for beer and hot dogs. James Brown covers, that kind of thing. We lasted from about ’61-’65 until we left school and drifted apart.

My next band was Norman Seldin & The Joyful Noise. He was a Jewish guy with an Afro. Our singer, Karen Cassidy, was always telling me about this guy Bruce Springsteen, saying, “You two should meet, you’ll be so hot together.”

One night we were playing in Asbury Park. I’d heard The Bruce Springsteen Band was nearby at a club called The Student Prince and on a break between sets I walked over there. On-stage, Bruce used to tell different versions of this story but I’m a Baptist, remember, so this is the truth. A rainy, windy night it was, and when I opened the door the whole thing flew off its hinges and blew away down the street. The band were on-stage, but staring at me framed in the doorway. And maybe that did make Bruce a little nervous because I just said, “I want to play with your band,” and he said, “Sure, you do anything you want.”

The first song we did was an early version of Spirit In The Night. Bruce and I looked at each other and didn’t say anything, we just knew. We knew we were the missing links in each other’s lives. He was what I’d been searching for. In one way he was just a scrawny little kid. But he was a visionary. He wanted to follow his dream. So from then on I was part of history.

But first I had to tell Norman I was leaving. He said, “You’re crazy, man, Springsteen ain’t going anywhere!” But I could see my future playing out ahead of me like a movie, I knew it was going to happen. It wasn’t about money, it was about love.
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And it was about love; he played like he poured his love into the mouthpiece and out the bell for the world to share. Dude was awesome.

I say “was” because the Big Man died today, after struggling with the effects of a massive stroke last week that lit the web up with well wishes and prayers for his recovery.

Springsteen said his “beloved comrade” would need “much care and support to achieve his potential once again.” The songwriter painted a bedside picture filled with top doctors and concerned family and friends all hopeful for a miracle. The E Street Band lost longtime keyboardist Danny Federici in 2008.
The news lit up the Web like a brush fire. Springsteen’s Facebook page registered almost 1,000 get-well wishes within the hour he posted his statement. Clemons’ own site, clarenceclemons.com, crashed after his family invited get-well e-mails.

Sadly, he passed on today at a hospital in Florida, as announced at Springsteen’s website;

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.

We’ll remember the man, most definitely, with performances like this that even after over 30 years still send chills up my spine;

Erick Brockwayhttp://www.erickbrockway.com
Work seven days a week at two jobs, a newly RETIRED EO1 (E6) in the Navy Reserves (Seabees), blog when I can from cellphone and computer. @erickbrockway #catcot #tcot Currently living in Camarillo, CA, about 45 miles North of LA. I have a wife (20+ years) son, and two daughters.

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      • I have a confession that I liked the Boss in the ’70’s when the music was garage band music, and it was not so political. Like so many entertainers who let fame get to them, the Boss thought people wanted to hear his political thoughts. I DID NOT. In a 2003 AP interview Clarence makes a good point.

        “It’s because of my innocence,” he said in a 2003 AP interview. “I have no agenda — just to be loved. Somebody said to me, `Whenever somebody says your name, a smile comes to their face.’ That’s a great accolade. I strive to keep it that way.”

      • I have a confession that I liked the Boss in the ’70’s when the music was garage band music, and it was not so political. Like so many entertainers who let fame get to them, the Boss thought people wanted to hear his political thoughts. I DID NOT. In a 2003 AP interview Clarence makes a good point.

        “It’s because of my innocence,” he said in a 2003 AP interview. “I have no agenda — just to be loved. Somebody said to me, `Whenever somebody says your name, a smile comes to their face.’ That’s a great accolade. I strive to keep it that way.”

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