What can be said about the Big Man that hasn’t already been said, almost one week after he died and two days after he was laid to rest by his extended family and friends?
He was a Big Man. It is a Big Loss. He left a Big Gap, a river of teardrops on the city, many, many fond memories and even more music.
Like so many fans, I was lucky enough to have met him once while he and the band were on the road. Bruce and band were leaving the Amstel Hotel in Amsterdam after their Dutch show on the 2002 The Rising tour. There were about eight or ten fans waiting outside and while Bruce and the rest of the gang waved and then got into their cars, Clarence made his way over to us. To me personally it was a moment I’ll never forget, but to you good people in E Street Nation it’s not a compelling story that adds anything to what we already know and love about Clarence. He smiled. He joked to a guy that offered his solo album “A Night with Mr C.” for him to sign “Oh wow. So you’re the one who bought that record!” He shook hands, signed some autographs, let fans take photos. And all the while he smiled. The small group of fans didn’t ‘go crazy’, everybody was calm and relaxed and enjoying themselves and it wasn’t until after he left that the realization that ‘something’ had happened here, just now, began to sink in.
Sure, the man’s sheer size would have left an impression even if he hadn’t been the heart and soul of the greatest rock ‘n roll band of all time. And given the fact that he was the heart and soul of the greatest rock ‘n roll band of all time, yes, I will admit that I was a little star struck, despite being a quite down-to-earth kinda person. But there was something else. “He spread so much warmth wherever he went” is a phrase I often read the last few days. He did. But the thing is, he didn’t take it with him when he left. He actually left some of the warmth behind, he installed it, by lack of a better word, in whomever he met instead of just radiating it.
Even after such a brief and, to him, insignificant encounter that he probably forgot about the minute his SUV door slammed shut, he managed to do just that.
Forgive me for sounding so ridiculously religious about the mere mortal that was Clarence Clemons, I mean, he was a damn fine musician and all but please… I know. It sounds silly. But I’m pretty sure that those who met him, even as briefly as I did, will know what I mean by that. He generously left those pieces of his warmth not with, but in the many people he encountered, big ol’ chunks for some, precious little pieces for others, until he had no more left to give.
So, my small contribution to the huge wave of sadness, love, memories and celebration that now engulfs E Street may not be a fantastic story. It’s no heroic tale from the road, it offers no new insights on the man or the phenomenon that was Clarence Clemons. And very probably, everything has indeed been said by now anyway. But that’s okay because you know what? Now it’s time for us to be generous. The Big Man is no longer here to install pieces of his warmth in people, so all of us that feel like they got some of it while he was still around now have the opportunity to share it. Sharing seems an appropriate way to honor so generous a man and, hopefully, to support those who are saddened by his passing.