Master of The Universe, King of the World

Hard to believe that ‘it’ is over. I am certain that we will revel in Bruce’s future performances with whatever configuration he renders. The shows may, in fact, be great. However, it is certain that there will be times the rest of our lives when we will feel that cold, dull ache deep inside of us that we cannot touch or soothe, when we remember what was and what will never be again except in our memory.

Master of The Universe

King of the World

Able to leap tall refineries in a single bound

Is it a bird

Is it a plane

What’s his name

What’s his name

On Tenor Saxophone Forever

The Big Man…Clarence Clemons.

©Rocco Coviello

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My Moment with Clarence

Hopefully, this decades-old recollection of my fleeting but never forgotten moment with Clarence Clemons offers a smidge of the breeziness and joie de vivre of a Bruce Springsteen concert fable. And I tell it with as much joy as Bruce always did in those early years.

Bruce, with the Big Man at his side, was always the master of telling tall tales in front of a captive audience. Whether it was about coming face to face with Peter Pan on a deserted rooftop or encountering a Little Melvin and the Invaders alien space ship, the man knew how to tell a story.

This story has the innocence of most Bruce yarns, but is actually true.

My brother and I were bopping around Manhattan in the winter of 1982. Just hanging out, walking up and down Fifth Avenue and debating whether to purchase Rangers and Knicks memorabilia at Gerry Cosby’s next to the Garden, all the while searching for the biggest pretzel at any number of umbrella stands around town.

It was about 5 p.m. and we were headed to an early dinner in midtown, and then maybe a movie. However, before any of that we decided we needed to head to 51 W. 52nd St.

That was the home of CBS Records, the place where much of Springsteen’s brain trust was housed. We were enormous Springsteen fans and felt that, outside his recording studio and a trip down the Jersey Shore to Asbury Park — a journey we were about to make soon after — this was another Bruce landmark that needed to be seen in person.

Just as we arrived, we found ourselves in one of those moments that can never be planned, but was a perfect convergence of good luck and impeccable timing. Literally, as we turned the corner to reach the building, Clarence Clemons walked from the street through the building’s revolving front door, disappearing into the concrete abyss.

We looked at each other as if we’d seen a ghost. But Clarence, with his hulking presence, was clearly no paranormal activity.

So what to do now? We couldn’t follow him inside. The security guard wasn’t going to buy a “We just want to say hi to the Big Man” explanation and let us follow him in an elevator. So despite our nighttime plans, we camped outside the building, waiting for him to come out.

And we waited. And then waited more. For all we knew, he could’ve camped out up there for days, but how many chances do you get to bump into one of your heroes on a busy Gotham street? We weren’t going anywhere.

Finally, a few hours later — and with dinner and movie plans now long passed by — he walked out of the building. Though I was always shy, unlike my brother who had no trepidation about chatting with complete strangers, we sprinted toward him, saying how much we were fans of his and the band’s. There was probably some blabbering about what Springsteen’s music meant to our lives and then finally we got around to asking if we could take a picture to record the moment. (Incredibly, we had a camera with us at the time.)

Wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers jacket, he put his giant paws around us. He couldn’t have been nicer, listening with intent and giving us one of those smiles that felt more genuine that obligatory, even though he had done it hundreds of times before with other fans. We were in the presence of greatness, but he made us feel special.

For 29 years I’ve carried that photo around with me. It reminds me of one of the happiest days of my life. As a lifelong Springsteen fan, his music has long brought me joy — whether it’s been from the 120-plus shows I’ve seen in concert, to singing in the shower, to listening to live shows in my car, or engaging with a group of like-minded fans — some of whom have become my closest friends.

I can’t say the news of his death was a surprise, considering the massive stroke he suffered only six days previously. But, somehow, you thought the Big Man would pull through. Sort of like the same way he came through on stage, night after night.

Clarence went through severe physical pain in the last few years of his life. He had bad hips, spinal surgeries and needed a chair on stage because standing for three hours was far too painful. But, actually, that chair felt more like a throne.

He was the soul of the E Street Band, the guy who never ceased having fun. Whether it was in those early days of “Rosalita,” when Bruce would chase him around the stage, or “Thunder Road,” when he and Bruce shared a soul kiss. Oh, and “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” during those winter concerts. That was a always a blast too.

And then there were his saxophone solos in such staples as “The Promised Land,” “Badlands” and, of course, “Jungleland,” the latter being his signature moment. His sound just filled a room — whether it was the intimate Roxy Theater or massive Giants Stadium.

He’s gone now and following the death of Danny Federici a few years ago, another piece of E Street is gone. It’s a devastating loss and a sad realization that nothing lasts forever.

On Twitter that Saturday night, when his death was being spread quickly through social media, somebody tweeted that he was shocked that Clarence’s death was the top of the news on CNN. Was it really that big a deal, he asked?

Only the biggest.

Stuart Levine

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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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