July 20, 2011

BYE-BYE, BIG MAN:

News Desk: Bloodbrother: Clarence Clemons, 1942-2011 (David Remnick, 7/19/11, The New Yorker)

In the summer of 1971, when an ambitious Shore rat named Bruce Springsteen was playing at an Asbury Park bar called the Student Prince and writing songs for his first album, a band called Norman Seldin and the Joyful Noyze was playing at the Wonder Bar down the road. The tenor saxophone player was a huge ex-football player with a King Curtis sound named Clarence Clemons. The story, oft-repeated, is that one stormy night, between sets, Clemons wandered into the Student Prince and sat in, playing "Spirit in the Night."

"Bruce and I looked at each other and didn't say anything, we just knew," Clemons said many years later. "We knew we were the missing links in each other's lives." Clemons played on that first album, "Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J." and, at a gig at the Shipbottom Lounge, joined the group that would be called the E Street Band. The legend of that meeting and the formation of the band was the stuff of "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out"--an anthem of becoming that was part of the repertoire for four decades. ("Well the change was made uptown/and the Big Man joined the band....From the coastline to the city/all the little pretties raised a hand.")

Clemons, who died Saturday of complications from a stroke, was not an entirely original player--he was a vessel of many great soul, gospel, and R&B players who came before him--but he was an entirely sublime band member, an absolutely essential, and soulful, ingredient in both the sound of Springsteen and the spirit of the group. Clemons will be irreplaceable; Sonny Rollins could step in for him and never be able to provide the same sense of personality and camaraderie. His horn gave the band its sound of highway loneliness, its magnificent heart. And his huge presence on stage was an anchor for Springsteen, especially when Bruce was younger, scrawny, and so feral, so unleashed, that you thought that he could fall down dead in a pool of sweat at any moment. At the brink of exhaustion and collapse, Springsteen could always lean on his enormous and reliable friend--an emblematic image that is the cover of "Born to Run."




Posted by at July 20, 2011 2:20 PM
  

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