We Lost The Big Man And We Just Don’t Understand.

Time is already moving at a racing pace, speeding us away from the scene of the crime.  That crime is that Clarence “Big Man” Clemons has died.  This isn’t just about the passing of an era or a band member or a famous musician.

We lost the Big Man and we just don’t understand.  How can you grasp when someone that stood this tall in the reality and the myth of such a band falls to time and eternity?  It is now the eighth day without Clarence Clemons.

We keep telling ourselves he’s not a relative.  We didn’t really know him.  He’s mortal.  So why did so many of us cry? So why did this hurt so badly that he fully seemed like a relative, like we knew him, like he was immortal? Why were flags flying at half mast in the State of New Jersey on June 23rd?

Because Clarence Clemons deeply moved us on levels we can’t even grasp and now that he’s gone, his mark on us is clear and deep and true.  It was so much more than music – it was who were and who we are.

Because when Clarence played at his best – which was often – we knew ourselves better in a way – from that intimacy, that aspiration, that emotion, that joy and the truth of this sound – all of which are familial.  He was that good.

I don’t get Death.  I never have. I’ve seen my parents both die right before my eyes – for years on end and then in that final moment.  I don’t get it. I do, however, hate it.

I hate what Death does to life – it unmasks it and tells you in no uncertain terms that life’s short, it’s fast and it’ll be gone.  And it won’t mean much unless you make it mean much.  And you won’t matter much when you’re gone if you didn’t love.

Clarence Clemons loved on a level most of us can only hope to experience and we should aspire to. I’d like to have the nerve and the innocence to ask all my x-girlfriends spread my ashes somewhere but I’m thinking they’d argue over the urn.  Paradise by the Sea it won’t be.

Clarence (it was always just one name – we knew who it was) made life mean much and I think it’s tied into his talent for playing and talent for expressing love. The years – sheer years – of playing all over the world – all of the Band committed to us and themselves and each night with a bone-rattling honesty that built the finest rock and roll band the world has known.   But Clarence made his life mean more in the expansive way he loved, in the sound he made and in the torture he gutted through to play for us this last tour.

But he was the King of the Universe.  Even more importantly than his just happening to be the King of the Universe, he reigned supreme over that mythical landscape, sonically and symbolically, that Bruce and the E Street Band forged by touring like dogs in town after town, night after night, for years on end with us right there.  We danced all night to a soul fairy band.

“I wanna know if love is wild, I wanna know if love is real” Bruce called out to the universe and yet, standing right there on the right hand of the Rock and Roll Father was the Big Answer to that night after night – the wild and real love of Clarence Clemons: that’s how the Love of Clarence’s Horn raised all of us up on some of the best nights of our lives.   He believed love alive and that’s how love gets born, that’s how people get born and only with love can we be born to run – without it, we’re just born to die.

This is not the passing of an era – its not just the last carnival – this is it.

It comes home when you realize you will never stand in the same room, the same space with Clarence and hear him play Jungleland, Spirits in the Night, Twist and Shout, Long Walk Home, and Drive All Night and so many more.  You will never have a chance to hear him play Secret Garden live and there will be no more E Street Band Albums in the future that feature the playing of this man.

“All I know is I woke up this morning and something Big was gone/Gone into that dark ether where you’re still young and hard and cold….”

No matter how many songs were ever played or ever recorded by the E Street Band without Clarence playing, the songs that mattered most, that moved us most invariably involved Clarence.  His playing is ethereal. He’s not Sonny Coltrane; he’s not a flashy Hendrix of the Saxophone – yet he touches us.  Touched us.  Touches us.

This was not all just a dream and yet, it ended in a blink of an eye. The story ending in the pose where Bruce spoke of waking up in Buffalo perfectly captured the quicksilver passage of over thirty years.

One Saturday night we heard of the stroke and the next Saturday night we lost him.  He died like he lived, one Saturday night to the next.

We lost Clarence Clemons.  We.  He had us in the palm of that big black beautiful horn since the early 1970’s.

We can agree Bruce Springsteen is one of the most talented people ever to write a song or set foot on a stage.  But that Sun around which the E Street planets revolved made it hard if not impossible for them to distinguish themselves or be much more than sidemen.

Clarence was so much more than a sideman.  He was the Big Man – he was Bruce’s Main Man – not a Side Man.  We know now in sad reflection that nearly no song ever written and played by Bruce Springsteen that reached its highest heights of emotion ever got there without the horn of Clarence Clemons.  It was almost as if the flashes of saxophone worked to add an entirely new dimension to the song that was never there before and was never in any band before.  “Sherry Darling” alone could have earned him his Throne on the E Street Stage – an honor no one else had – not even Bruce.  But that was because this was the Soul Center of the E Street Sound and Ethos.

Last night, I saw three saxophonists, as they’re called, introduced in Red Bank, New Jersey last night and each took a bow after holding his horn aloft and polite clapping followed.  Then Jimmy Vivino said Clarence’s name.   He just paid a brief moment of respect but when he said that name – the waves of forlorn adoration and glorious gleeful applause washed over us one more time.  Clarence wasn’t just appreciated. He was loved and I think – I really think – he was loved because he loved. He loved life, MUSIC, eating, partying, laughing, wine, women and song and so much more and in loving, he attracted the love that was the testament to his life.

I also realized in these many days of mourning that what another thing that was different about Clarence is he made music with his spirit.  “Spiritus”.  Can anyone deny he was the spirit in the E Street Band nights?

To play sax, his great huge lungs pushed his very essence of his breath out into the metal instrument and into the air and we breathed in that sound with our ears, minds and souls.   Ever notice how long his notes lasted? Come to think of it, they’ll last even longer, echoing down those hallways of our Collective Night for years to come.

It was just a wind instrument but it was the wind that blew through your hair as you rolled down the window, it was the wind that powered our summer nights and fueled out most rocking moments.

He was just as sweet as a spirit in the night and we all stood there and let him shoot right through us.

This life’s a beauty.  We’re bound to fall — it’s true.  For many of us, we’ve suffered through moments and trials that would startle many to hear.  Still we press on, past those we’ve lost, past the lost parts of our selves.  Most reach a point they just don’t get up.  We survive or we live but many live out their lives on their knees after getting knocked down one time too many.

Spinal surgeries, knee surgeries, hip surgeries and likely more pulverized this man and yet, with the spirit of a lion that could have moved mountains, he moved himself to get up and to rise time after time to bring us music – sweet soul music.  Our sweet soul music.

Clarence got up time after time.  Trapped in a runaway car, he reached under the accelerator and couldn’t free it before he smacked into a tree and lost his knee to the degree his football dreams were over.  He got up.

Playing dead-end local bands for the love of music, he kept at it until that door blew off the Student Prince.  He came to sit in but that night stood the test of time.

Riding a tidal wave of Rock and Roll Success like few have ever known with Bruce as his trusted Captain at the helm, he got fired. Dumped. Dismissed. Kicked to the curb. Did he hit the bottle and sit around and give up? No.  He got the fuck up.

He kept playing. He played with the Dead. He did his own thing and he kept bringing it.  When the E Street Band came back in 1999, he was a lot older and a lot less physically able to do the gig. But he did – he got up.  And that last tour stood as the single most amazing testament to any musician in the history of rock and roll when he kept showing up, standing up and playing his heart out for us, for the music, and for the love of the E Street Band Experience.

So now he’s at rest somewhere depending on your beliefs. But the freewheeling rock and roll saxophone of a lifetime has been silenced.  Only Gideon’s trumpet will have a sweeter, truer tone.  I may be romanticizing Clarence “Big Man” Clemons but that’s just because he romanticized rock and roll, community and love for others and in so doing, made it real.   We will never stop missing Clarence and not just because many experienced him in our collective youth. We miss him because there are none that gave us what he gave us.   Glad we didn’t miss him his first time around.

A dear long-time Indian friend of me told me when my Mom passed – within hours of the event – that in the Jain religion I believe, the belief is that as the last breath passes from the lips of the deceased, somewhere in the world that life finds a new place and a newborn baby cries. I can only hope I live long enough to hear Clarence’s new soul-house rock this world again.

Vike Savoth

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Coronation of Clarence Clemons

Coronation of Clarence Clemons

When we first heard your sax, we were blinded by the light; it was when your New Jersey boss began his first album with some Asbury Park greetings for you like a spirit in the night.

Your saxophone solo blew us away on Kitty’s Back, and it was on Bruce’s second album that we knew there was something wild and innocent about Rosalita with the E Street shuffle and attack.

Then came Born to Run, as the world began to listen to that wall of sound at hand; Thunder Road in the morning, She’s the One in the afternoon, and Night ended after that sax solo in Jungleland.

The darkness fell but not without one last fight, with your solo on Badlands that took us to the Promised Land, where you stood so ready to go racing in the street and prove it all night.

Time became the 1980’s when there was the E Street Band ramrodding out in the street, rocking all over the world, and driving all night with Sherry Darling’s mama yappin’ in the backseat.

It all got so big that Steve had to leave the E Street Band; it was your sax solo on Bobby Jean that reminded us how friendship keeps us from dancing in the dark, all alone in this hard land.

When Bruce chose to take a break from the band, I cried knowing that you’re a friend of mine, but I was just another crazy fan who was elated that it would all begin again in the year 1999.

Big Man, you were back with the Boss on the stage where we could see you as you would shine, standing right by Bruce’s side when you sang your soulful vocals on If I Should Fall Behind.

The Rising lifted our spirits from my city of ruins where we were waiting on a sunny day; you brought the power of the urban saxophone to free us from being trapped like some rural slave.

The magic of E Street was not enough to save Phantom Dan from taking his long walk home; friendship and love never die, just as when they built you, blood brother, they broke the mold.

Working on a dream of a new president and a brand new day, you played for one last tour and did it all in excruciating pain. Of course, not even the King of the World can always keep his gold-plated crown, and tonight there are teardrops on the city falling down like the hard rain.

Rest in peace, Big Man, and blow your saxophone in another world eternally for all to hear, the Big Man has left the building, his heart has stopped beating, and his lungs are no longer able to breathe in the air he needs to fill our lives with a saxophone solo that’s still ringing in our ear.

Tie a yellow ribbon around the 10th Avenue and E Street sign, take a stroll down the Boardwalk, give the Big Man your smile like the ties that bind; we’ll remember our Clarence: New Jersey’s King of the World got himself a nice little place in the stars where heavenly bands forever rock.

Paul Haider

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2009 A Year to Remember for Bruce Springsteen


January: Inauguration of President Obama: Invited guest performer

February: Rocks the Super Bowl: Half-time entertainment

February: Releases new album: Working on a Dream

February: Wins a Grammy for Best Rock Song, for “Girls In Their Summer Clothes,” from the Magic album.

March: Begins a World Tour with the E Street Band

April: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland unveils their biggest display ever dedicated to one artist, the Springsteen exhibition takes up two floors

May: Featured Performer at Pete Seeger’s 90th Birthday Tribute

June: Headlines Night 3 of Bonnaroo Festival in Tennessee

June: Headlines Glastonbury Festival in England, plays to 137,000 people

July: 2009 EMMY Nominations for Bruce Springsteen’s performance at the Bridgestone Super Bowl Halftime Show

September/October: Bruce closes Giants Stadium as a concert venue, the last 5 concerts before they tear the old stadium down. The first 3 shows sell out in record time

November: Bruce and The E Street Band headline night one of the 25th Anniversary Tribute show to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, artists include U2, Stevie Wonder, Simon and Garfunkel, Mick Jagger, John Fogerty and more…

December: Nominated for Grammy Award

December: One of 5 honorees of the Kennedy Center Awards, hosted by President Obama, the honorees included, Dave Brubeck, Robert De Niro, Grace Mumbry, and Mel Brooks

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Bruce Springsteen: Glory Days

The Boss on Stage, but ‘Saddie’ Out in Right


One summer night in 1973, two friends who had not met since high school bumped into each other outside a bar on the Jersey Shore: Bruce Springsteen was walking in, his old baseball teammate was walking out. They went back inside, had a few drinks and reminisced.

They talked about the nuns at St. Rose of Lima School, where they were seatmates in seventh grade, and about baseball games whose scores they still remembered. Springsteen told his friend that he had released two albums and that his band had just opened an arena show for the Beach Boys and was starting to draw big crowds. They stayed at the bar, the Headliner, in Neptune until closing, then did not see each other again for more than three decades. But “Glory Days,” a 1984 Springsteen song at least partly inspired by that night, brought them together again.

Those of us from Springsteen’s hometown, Freehold, N.J., knew that “Glory Days,” like much of his work, was about the place where we grew up and where many of us still live. So rich are Springsteen’s descriptions of the characters he knew, the plots he watched unfold, that some of his songs sound to us like documentaries.

But “Glory Days” was also the source of an enduring mystery. Who was that speedball pitcher in the song?

I finally found out at a reunion we held recently for our Little League’s 60th anniversary — not from Springsteen, who did not come, but from Dick Enderly, once a fine schoolboy pitcher, who had put the question to Springsteen at their 30th high school reunion in 1997, and received the answer.

“Joe DePugh,” Enderly told me. “I got it straight from the horse’s mouth.”

DePugh, the oldest of six brothers, was a star Little League pitcher and a teammate of Springsteen’s in the Babe Ruth League. A joint assessment of their comparative baseball skills led to DePugh’s affectionate nickname for Springsteen, a right fielder: Saddie.

By high school, they had drifted apart.

“He lost interest in baseball, and I was nothing but sports,” said DePugh, now 61, who also played basketball and football.

As a high school senior, he had several offers to play college basketball and an invitation to try out for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

In a telephone interview, DePugh said: “I was like: ‘I’m going to be a pitcher for the Dodgers. No, I’m going to college. No, I’m going to be a pitcher for the Dodgers.’ Well, the tryout cleared all that up.”

He played basketball at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and earned a degree in English. But by the time he graduated, his parents had died and DePugh was the legal guardian of his two youngest brothers. DePugh was a substitute teacher for a while but could not find a permanent teaching position, so he became a self-employed contractor. He also played in a summer basketball league, and it was after a game that he ran into Springsteen at the Headliner.

A few years later, DePugh moved to Vermont. His friend Scott Wright always played Springsteen’s music on a boom box on job sites, and DePugh told him about meeting Springsteen at the Headliner. When “Glory Days,” a track on “Born in the U.S.A.,” was released, Wright heard it first.

“He told me, ‘Springsteen has a new album out, and there’s a song on there about you,’ ” DePugh said. “ ‘It’s exactly the story you told me.’ ”

DePugh was skeptical, so Wright called a radio station in Montpelier, Vt., and requested the song.

“My wife starts bawling,” DePugh said. “That’s how I knew exactly that it was me.”

The story spread slowly among his friends in Vermont and, when DePugh was 50, he was recruited to join a baseball league for older men.

“When I showed up for the first practice that summer,” he said, “these guys would come up to me and feel the sleeve of my shirt, and say: ‘Oh, you’re real. We thought you were a legend.’ I pitched the whole season that year and ended up with a 0.00 earned run average.”

DePugh attended his 35th high school reunion in 2002, but Springsteen did not. Their classmate Don Norkus eventually got them together for lunch in May 2005, at an Italian restaurant in Red Bank, N.J.

“Bruce pulls in and I point at him and he points at me, and that’s when the hugging started,” DePugh said. They stayed until they were almost the last customers left, as they had at the Headliner three decades earlier.

DePugh spends the colder months in Florida, stopping in New Jersey when he passes through in the spring and the fall. He and Springsteen met again a couple of years ago, at an Italian restaurant in Freehold. At the end of the night, they said their goodbyes at the back door.

“He said, ‘Always remember, I love you,’ not like some corny Budweiser commercial, but a real sentimental thing,” DePugh said. “I was dumbfounded. I said, ‘Thanks, Saddie.’ That was all I could come up with, and all of a sudden, he’s out the door. And it hit me that you’ve got to do a little better than that, so I pulled the door open and yelled down to him, ‘Sad!’ He turned around and I pointed at him and said, ‘I love you, too, and I’m real proud of you.’ And he just waved.”

Kevin Coyne, who teaches at Columbia Journalism School, is the historian for Freehold, N.J.

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Bruce Springsteen’s Eulogy for Clarence Clemons

‘Clarence doesn’t leave the E Street Band when he dies. He leaves when we die’

Bruce Springsteen has released the text of the eulogy that he delivered at the funeral of Clarence Clemons on June 21st at Royal Poinciana Chapel in Palm Beach, Florida. He also performed an acoustic version of “10th Avenue Freeze-Out” and ended the ceremony by performing “You’re A Friend Of Mine” with Jackson Browne and members of The E Street Band. “This is a slightly revised version of the eulogy I delivered for Clarence at his memorial,” says Springsteen. “I’d like to thank all our fans and friends who have comforted us over the past difficult weeks.”

I’ve been sitting here listening to everyone talk about Clarence and staring at that photo of the two of us right there.  It’s a picture of Scooter and The Big Man, people who we were sometimes.  As you can see in this particular photo, Clarence is admiring his muscles and I’m pretending to be nonchalant while leaning upon him.  I leaned on Clarence a lot; I made a career out of it in some ways.

Those of us who shared Clarence’s life, shared with him his love and his confusion.   Though “C” mellowed with age, he was always a wild and unpredictable ride.  Today I see his sons Nicky, Chuck, Christopher and Jarod sitting here and I see in them the reflection of a lot of C’s qualities. I see his light, his darkness, his sweetness, his roughness, his gentleness, his anger, his brilliance, his handsomeness, and his goodness.  But, as you boys know your pop was a not a day at the beach.  “C” lived a life where he did what he wanted to do and he let the chips, human and otherwise, fall where they may. Like a lot of us your pop was capable of great magic and also of making quite an amazing mess.  This was just the nature of your daddy and my beautiful friend.  Clarence’s unconditional love, which was very real, came with a lot of conditions.  Your pop was a major project and always a work in progress.   “C” never approached anything linearly, life never proceeded in a straight line. He never went  A… B…. C…. D.  It was always A… J…. C…. Z… Q… I….!  That was the way Clarence lived and made his way through the world.  I know that can lead to a lot of confusion and hurt, but your father also carried a lot of love with him, and I know he loved each of you very very dearly.

It took a village to take care of Clarence Clemons.  Tina, I’m so glad you’re here.  Thank you for taking care of my friend, for loving him.  Victoria, you’ve been a loving, kind and caring wife to Clarence and you made a huge difference in his life at a time when the going was not always easy. To all of “C’s” vast support network, names too numerous to mention, you know who you are and we thank you. Your rewards await you at the pearly gates.  My pal was a tough act but he brought things into your life that were unique and when he turned on that love light, it illuminated your world.  I was lucky enough to stand in that light for almost 40 years, near Clarence’s heart, in the Temple of Soul.

So a little bit of history: from the early days when Clarence and I traveled together, we’d pull up to the evenings lodgings and within minutes “C” would transform his room into a world of his own.  Out came the colored scarves to be draped over the lamps, the scented candles, the incense, the patchouli oil, the herbs, the music, the day would be banished, entertainment would come and go, and Clarence the Shaman would reign and work his magic night, after night.  Clarence’s ability to enjoy Clarence was incredible.  By 69, he’d had a good run, because he’d already lived about 10 lives, 690 years in the life of an average man.  Every night, in every place, the magic came flying out of C’s suitcase.  As soon as success allowed, his dressing room would take on the same trappings as his hotel room until a visit there was like a trip to a sovereign nation that had just struck huge oil reserves.  “C” always knew how to live.  Long before Prince was out of his diapers, an air of raunchy mysticism ruled in the Big Man’s world.  I’d wander in from my dressing room, which contained several fine couches and some athletic lockers, and wonder what I was doing wrong! Somewhere along the way all of this was christened the Temple of Soul; and “C” presided smilingly over its secrets, and its pleasures.  Being allowed admittance to the Temple’s wonders was a lovely thing.

As a young child my son Sam became enchanted with the Big Man… no surprise.  To a child Clarence was a towering fairy tale figure, out of some very exotic storybook.  He was a dreadlocked giant, with great hands and a deep mellifluous voice sugared with kindness and regard.  And… to Sammy, who was just a little white boy, he was deeply and mysteriously black.  In Sammy’s eyes, “C” must have appeared as all of the African continent, shot through with American cool, rolled into one welcoming and loving figure.  So… Sammy decided to pass on my work shirts and became fascinated by Clarence’s suits and his royal robes.  He declined a seat in dad’s van and opted for “C’s” stretch limousine, sitting by his side on the slow cruise to the show.  He decided dinner in front of the hometown locker just wouldn’t do, and he’d saunter up the hall and disappear into the Temple of Soul.

Of course, also enchanted was Sam’s dad, from the first time I saw my pal striding out of the shadows of a half empty bar in Asbury Park, a path opening up before him; here comes my brother, here comes my sax man, my inspiration, my partner, my lifelong friend.  Standing next to Clarence was like standing next to the baddest ass on the planet.  You were proud, you were strong, you were excited and laughing with what might happen, with what together, you might be able to do.  You felt like no matter what the day or the night brought, nothing was going to touch you.   Clarence could be fragile but he also emanated power and safety,  and in some funny way we became each other’s protectors; I think perhaps I protected “C” from a world where it still wasn’t so easy to be big and black.  Racism was ever present and over the years together, we saw it.  Clarence’s celebrity and size did not make him immune.  I think perhaps “C” protected me from a world where it wasn’t always so easy to be an insecure, weird and skinny white boy either.  But, standing together we were badass, on any given night, on our turf, some of the baddest asses on the planet.  We were united, we were strong, we were righteous, we were unmovable, we were funny, we were corny as hell and as serious as death itself.  And we were coming to your town to shake you and to wake you up. Together, we told an older, richer story about the possibilities of friendship that transcended those I’d written in my songs and in my music.  Clarence carried it in his heart.  It was a story where the Scooter and the Big Man not only busted the city in half, but we kicked ass and remade the city, shaping it into the kind of place where our friendship would not be such an anomaly. And that… that’s what I’m gonna miss.  The chance to renew that vow and double down on that story on a nightly basis, because that is something, that is the thing that we did together… the two of us.  Clarence was big, and he made me feel, and think, and love, and dream big. How big was the Big Man?  Too fucking big to die.  And that’s just the facts.  You can put it on his grave stone, you can tattoo it over your heart. Accept it… it’s the New World.

Clarence doesn’t leave the E Street Band when he dies.  He leaves when we die.

So, I’ll miss my friend, his sax, the force of nature his sound was, his glory, his foolishness, his accomplishments, his face, his hands, his humor, his skin, his noise, his confusion, his power, his peace.  But his love and his story, the story that he gave me, that he whispered in my ear, that he allowed me to tell… and that he gave to you… is gonna carry on.  I’m no mystic, but the undertow, the mystery and power of Clarence and my friendship leads me to believe we must have stood together in other, older times, along other rivers, in other cities, in other fields, doing our modest version of god’s work… work that’s still unfinished.  So I won’t say goodbye to my brother, I’ll simply say, see you in the next life, further on up the road, where we will once again pick up that work, and get it done.

Big Man, thank you for your kindness, your strength, your dedication, your work, your story.  Thanks for the miracle… and for letting a little white boy slip through the side door of the Temple of Soul.


I’m gonna leave you today with a quote from the Big Man himself, which he shared on the plane ride home from Buffalo, the last show of the last tour.  As we celebrated in the front cabin congratulating one another and telling tales of the many epic shows, rocking nights and good times we’d shared, “C” sat quietly, taking it all in, then he raised his glass, smiled and said to all gathered, “This could be the start of something big.”

Love you, “C”.

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