Spotlight on the Big Man
I’ve seen Bruce Springsteen in concert 67 times. At 58 of those shows—57 with the E Street Band and one Asbury Park Christmas show—Clarence Clemons was there at Bruce’s side. When someone we have a connection with leaves us too soon, as the Big Man did on June 18, we are left, not only with sadness, but also with all the magical moments and healing sustenance that drew us to that person in life. The power of their influence lives on.
Here are a few of my most vivid recollections from those 58 evenings spent with the Minister Of Soul, Clarence Clemons.
December 15, 1980, Boston Garden
I was 15 years old the first time I saw Clarence Clemons in person. As he walked on stage at Boston Garden with Bruce Springsteen and the rest of the E Street Band, I remember thinking that, for the most part, the band (and this includes Bruce) looked like a bunch of ordinary guys heading to a strip club after a day at some blue-collar job. Not Clarence. The Big Man stood out. And it wasn’t just his immense size and stylish suit, or that he was most likely the only black person in the arena. Clarence moved with the grace of an athlete, which he was, and the confidence of a stretch limousine prowling down a city street. He was Walt Frazier and Super Fly. And he played the saxophone, the coolest of instruments.
Bruce was clearly the band’s leader, that was plain to see; but without sergeant-at-arms Clarence Clemons by his side, the leadership role would carry less weight
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. They were in the middle of what Bruce would refer to during his 1999 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame acceptance speech as an “unspoken story.” I remember during that first show, as Clarence played solos beneath a spotlight, that it seemed as if the light was emanating from him rather than down upon him. This was never truer than during “Jungleland”, when the Big Man’s presence cast its spell like glittering, silken mist over the audience.
I knew then that this story would be worth following.
February 25, 1988, Worcester Centrum
When the lights went out on opening night of the Tunnel Of Love Express tour, the first thing I noticed—after the band members all received their carnival tokens—was Clarence heading stage left instead of stage right. And stage left is where he stayed. In fact, everybody’s traditional positions were flipped creating a topsy-turvy feel. But for the Big Man, it didn’t matter which side of the stage he was on; as usual, he played his supporting role to perfection.
He looked amazing, better than ever, and Bruce took note during Arthur Conley’s “Sweet Soul Music”:
Spotlight on the Big Man
Don’t he look great?
He lost a lot of weight
With the Horns Of Love on the back riser, Clarence played King Pin of the brass section. With Bruce running around silly during “Rosalita”, Clarence ran along with him. With his dark shades and dazzling smile, Clarence was the smoothest, hippest musician in rock and roll.
As a lead-in to “All That Heaven Will Allow”, Clarence played a soulfully romantic street corner solo before stretching out on a prop park bench where he and Bruce acted out a little “Hey man, what you been doing?” skit. Goofy as it was, their playful banter and obvious affection for one another generated a warm feeling inside. It was like they were renewing their vows of friendship before thousands of witnesses.
That last part was very important to fans. We all know what happened about a year later when Bruce decided to break up the band and it looked like the Amnesty International shows might be the last time we’d ever see the E Street Band together on stage.
But eleven long years later…
July 24, 1999, Continental Airlines Arena
My first Reunion Tour show. So many tear-brimming, goose-bumping moments having to do with the Big Man beginning with the customary two-by-two walk to the stage when Bruce climbed the stairs, not with his wife, but with Clarence. It was as if The Boss was saying, Yes, I’m happily married, but for the next 3 hours, this man is my significant other. And when they broke off, Clarence headed stage right. Order was restored.
I remember the crowd, already delirious, going berserk when Bruce called for the Big Man’s accompaniment during the opening “I Wanna Be With You” followed by that little moment in “The Promised Land” where the sax gives way to the harmonica; the expression on Clarence’s face as he looks down at Bruce, so much admiration and devotion, more than a smile, it’s a full-on facial embrace. The high-five and shuffle as the Big Man and the Scooter bust the city in half following the “Tenth Avenue…” band introductions. “Jungleland”, as always, was incredible, but I need to save some superlatives and adjectives for later.
For me, perhaps the night’s most enduring Big Man moment came during the tour premier of “Point Blank”. Midway through the song, Clarence appeared on the big screen playing his triangle, prompting a drunk behind me to say to his friend, “Hey, I could do that.” My initial reaction was to turn and break the Never Engage A Drunk At A Concert rule by saying, “No, you could not do that.” Instead, I paid closer attention to the Big Man’s playing; his gentle working of the beater, his damping of notes with his free fingers. “Point Blank” is perhaps Bruce’s most atmospheric song. From the urgent lyrics to Steve’s subtle, bending guitar riffs, from Max’s lay-over snare to Roy’s poignant accents, the result is a mesmerizing example of what’s come to be known as Song Noir. And Clarence’s triangle chimes like a clock mechanism, ticking off time metronomically until “Bang, bang baby you’re dead…”
And so it was that, through a drunk’s misguided remark, I came to appreciate Clarence Clemons for more than just his presence and saxophone playing.
Here are just a few examples of the Big Man’s musical versatility:
- Maracas on “She’s The One”
- Tambourine on many songs, but most notably his backbeat playing on “Land Of Hope And Dreams”
- Congas on the Tunnel Of Love Express tour
- Finger cymbals on “Worlds Apart”
- Wood block on “Brilliant Disguise”
- Cowbell on “Darlington County”
- Pennywhistle on “American Land”
- And, of course, that smooth baritone voice
His contributions and value to the E Street Band were limitless.
I’ve often said that, when played live, “Jungleland” has the power to make every song that preceded it, and every song that follows, that much better simply for its inclusion in the setlist. That I’ve never seen a less-than-great version of the song makes my convictions even stronger; I believe any show in which “Jungleland” is played is a great show.
The success of a “Jungleland” performance depends on many elements—Roy’s piano opening (later to include Suzie’s violin), Steve’s guitar solo, Max’s timpani mallets and Bruce’s climactic groans—but none of these carries the weight of Clarence’s sax solo.
And the Big Man never let me down.
But there were times I doubted he would pull it off.
We live in amazing times. No sooner does a concert end—sometimes before—and people are posting high-quality audio and video clips to websites. Every show is documented from several sources. We get to relive all the special moments, but we also get to relive the not-so special ones.
Most fans didn’t want to admit how Clarence’s playing had begun to suffer since the E Street reunion. It’s difficult to be critical of someone you hold in such high esteem. I’m no expert on brass instruments, but even an untrained ear could hear him straining to reach the higher registers, especially on the unedited bootlegs. At times it seemed his mounting physical pains were coming through in his playing. It wasn’t easy to witness.
Night 2 at Fenway on The Rising tour was a show for the ages. With only about five thousand good seats, the park is overrated as far as concerts go, but I was lucky enough to be in the PIT, and the show was full of fun, energy and spontaneity. One of the nights’ biggest surprises was the playing of “Frankie”, the ultra-rare, semi-epic (is 7:30, long enough for semi-epic status?) outtake from Tracks. Usually, the song played after such a rarity provides both band and audience with a moment to exhale. But when “Frankie” ended, and Bruce cued Roy and Suzie, and the pair began the orchestral intro to “Jungleland”, things took on a “Holy Shit!” feel.
Along with the thrill, I found myself getting a bit nervous for the Big Man’s coming solo. The piece is not about range of notes, but about texture and transition and creating a mood for the song’s final act. And when the time came, Clarence stepped up and absolutely nailed it; providing a true “Holy Shit!” moment, as dramatic as any David Ortiz walk off home run. Pure perfection.
Four years later, during the Magic tour at TD Banknorth Garden, Bruce once more called for “Jungleland”. It was a surprise, if only because the song hadn’t been played in a month, but also because it would bring Clarence to center stage for his signature solo.
By this point, no one could deny that, at 65, Clarence was physically ailing. He had a noticeable limp. A chair was placed on stage so he could rest between songs and sometimes he used a stool while playing. A golf cart was required to get him to the stage and soon a hydraulic lift would be needed so he could avoid climbing stairs.
This was the night before all the rumors started about Danny’s health and what would be the Phantom’s final full show with the E Street Band. All eyes were on the Big Man. It seemed the entire arena was holding its breath. And once again, Clarence delivered, just as he always had. If you listen to the boot, you’ll notice the crowd erupting in celebration just before the solo winds down. It was a collective release, and an appreciation of greatness. The man was hurting (more than we knew), but once again, he rose to the occasion. And when Bruce ventured over for his customary post-solo pat on the Big Man’s shoulder, he lingered a little longer than usual. Faith rewarded.
Another chapter in that unspoken story; Bruce knew his friend was up to the task. And after the show, as the crowd filed out of the arena, you could hear one word uttered above all others: “Jungleland”. I’ve never heard a bad version. Has anyone?
November 8, 2009 Madison Square Garden
Toward the end of the Working On A Dream tour, when Bruce announced that The River would be played front-to-back during a one-off performance at Madison Square Garden, I knew I had to be there. The announcement came just a week before the show, but I managed to get a single ticket and book a flight out of Boston. It would be my last show of the tour, and the last time I’d see the band for a while—they’d been on the road for almost 3 years with very little downtime. Of course, I had no idea it would be last time I’d see Clarence Clemons.
My seat was in section 65 on Clarence’s Side (How many times has that term been used over the years?). Without doing a song-by-song breakdown—that’s been done many times over—I’ll say Clarence played a strong show. Notable Big Man moments included two beautiful solos during “Drive All Night”, the raucous romp of “Cadillac Ranch” (“Turn up the saxophone!”), and the forming of a two-man horn section with Curt Ramm on an unrehearsed “Sweet Soul Music” and nightly closer “Higher And Higher”.
Overall, the show was phenomenal, and I feel fortunate to have been there, on Clarence’s Side, for my last night with the Big Man.
As always, when it comes to Clarence Clemons, Bruce says it best:
“Clarence Clemons, you wanna be like him, but you can’t…Clarence has been a source of myth and light and enormous strength for me on stage. He has filled my heart so many nights…and I love it when he wraps me in those arms at the end of the night. I wanna thank you Big Man, I love you so much.”
And I want to thank you as well, Clarence Clemons, for being the Big Man who joined The Band, for all your heart, and for all the magical moments. Things will never be the same. You are without a doubt The Biggest Man I’ve ever seen.
by Jeff Blout
I had come back home in the mid-afternoon after running some errands. I was going to rest up for a few hours before going out drinking with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while. Then, in the early evening, I checked my Twitter feed and saw about three tweets that all had variations of, “RIP, Big Man.”
My plans instantly changed. For the next six or seven hours, I barely left the couch as my friends and I mourned Clarence via Twitter, Facebook, e-mails, and text messages. We recounted our favorite stories of concerts we had attended and sent links to YouTube videos of our favorite Clarence moments and hastily written eulogies and blog posts. Despite the miles separating us, we were together, united in our love of Bruce Springsteen’s music and grief in the loss of a man who was such an integral part of that love.
The last five years of the previous decade saw Bruce Springsteen more prolific than he’s ever been. That this came at a time when most rockers of his age have long scaled back their recording and performing commitments proves that he’s still standing up when people say, “Sit down.”
I have no training in psychology, but I’ve wondered if this was the result of Bruce sensing his own mortality. Certainly the death of Danny Federici had a lot to do with my belief. The concerts in the aftermath of his passing became a celebration of Phantom Dan’s life, but they were also angry and defiant. Then, as the Magic tour wound down, we saw the birth of the “Stump The Band” segment, which became not only a way to make each show unique, but also for the band to relive their youth playing Top 40 covers in the bars of the Jersey Shore. That’s why his performance of Chuck Willis’ “Hang Up My Rock N’ Roll Shoes” on the last night of the Working On A Dream tour in Buffalo was such a perfect choice. It was as if Bruce and the E Street Band were saying, “We’re still young, and we won’t go without a fight.”
That fight was lost on June 18, 2011. Bruce’s oft-repeated line from the eulogy, “Clarence doesn’t leave the E Street Band when he dies. He leaves when we die” suggests that this is not the end. But it won’t be the same. It can’t be the same. But I trust Bruce to honor Clarence’s life and musical legacy with love and respect. If that means certain longtime concert favorites will have to be retired, so be it.
Shortly after Clarence’s death, I heard a tribute to Clarence on the radio. Naturally they played the entirety of his solo from “Jungleland.” I stopped in my tracks as, possibly for the first time in my life, I listened beyond the saxophone and heard how Danny’s organ swirls underneath provides a musical bed for Clarence to soar in the solo’s first section. Then it struck me that both of those wonderful voices have been silenced.
J’écoute en boucle la version de Jungleland à Paris (Bercy, 17/12/2007) depuis le 18 juin. Je revis à chaque fois ce moment si fort où Clarence s’est levé de son trône pour nous souffler son légendaire solo, d’une main de maître. Ce soir-là, il a déclenché quelque chose en moi, un sentiment très fort de béatitude et de plénitude difficile à décrire. Ceux qui ont eu la chance de vivre ce genre d’instant savent de quoi je parle, et je sais qu’ils sont nombreux. Ils comprendront aussi ce vide qui s’est emparé de moi ce 18 juin. Comme si j’avais perdu un proche ami, un mentor, une référence.
J’ai encore un peu de mal à vraiment réaliser que je ne le verrai plus à la droite de Bruce pendant les concerts, mais j’espère quand même sincèrement revoir un jour le E Street Band ensemble pour célébrer le rock, les histoires et la vie.
The first time I saw Clarence perform on stage was in Oakland , CA , on the 1980 tour in support of The River. The show was marvelous and, of the numerous highlights that evening, Clemons owned three of them in the second set.
Bruce had Clarence come and lean over his right shoulder while singing “Fire” and let him take the line “But your heart stays cool” in a booming, low voice. The song stopped cold, the band stopped cold, Bruce and Clarence froze in the spotlight. They held their poses for what seemed like hours. It was a fantastic bit of stage business. They moved a tad. The crowd roared. When the two of them picked it up, they finished it as a harmony.
Shortly after that, as an introduction to “I Wanna Marry You,” Bruce offered up an a capella number called “Here She Comes.” Clarence provided an almost angelic, high counterpoint vocal that was gorgeous. Who knew he could sing like this, and so beautifully?
Finally, as an introduction to “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight),” we heard Clarence sing the opening lines to Lloyd Price’s classic hit, “Stagger Lee”:
The night was clear
And the moon was yellow
And the moon was yellow
And the leaves… came… tumbling…
Boom! The opening chords of “Rosalita” filled the air. Magic!
And this was just one night. He would be there for many, many more.
Thank you, Clarence.
It’s a strangely sad summer, to be sure.
Strange because receiving condolence calls, e-mails, and texts, and having friends and relatives check in on you to see how you’re doing upon their learning of the death of someone they all know you’ve never met is not a run-of-the-mill experience, at least for me.
It saddens me to know that I will never hear that horn, as only Clarence could make it sound, play again.
But Clarence left us with a body of work that will remain with us for our lives.
He was the Big Man and he was a great man and one of the very the best sideman in the history of rock and roll.
Rest in peace.
Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to interview a decent percentage of the E Street Band: Nils, Steve, Max and — first out of all of them, before I had the faintest clue how to do interviews — Clarence, to preview a 2004 Temple of Soul show at a Chicago club. After Clarence passed away, I went searching for the cassette tape — and subsequently, something to play it on, which ended up being my car stereo, ridiculously — and found him to be as I remembered: generous, positive, deeply engaged in his work with the Temple of Soul and ready and optimistic about the future of the E Street Band. I, by contrast, was a young, babbling mess whose rambling, motormouthed hero-worship was evident in just about every pinheaded question I asked. (Question 1: “Why are you awesome?” Question 2: “No, really, why are you SO AWESOME?”)
But one thing that struck me, once I was able to form cohesive thoughts and stop my hands from shaking, was the last thing Clarence said, a bit about how he lived in Florida, by the sea, near the ocean and calming, positive energy that it gives off. At some point, probably subconsciously, I took his advice; we live now down on Hilton Head Island, SC, where we spent the days after his death listening to E Street music by the sea, where, now that I think of it, the ocean breezes do have a way of easing things.
Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
If anyone could steal the spotlight from Bruce Springsteen onstage, it was Clarence Clemons. He’s the one who gets the loudest ovations when the band takes the stage, he’s the one who agitates the crowd the most when he plays the first notes of his infamous sax solos. Everyone screams their lungs off and applauds till hands turn blood-red. A lot has been said and written about the Big Man, but no words could ever give him justice. One thing I know for sure: Clarence Clemons is the E Street Band and his legend will never die, but when he left us, life was never the same. Well, he’s the king of the world, he’s the master of the universe.
It was 1975, I was 15 and browsing through a stereo store in Eatontown, N.J. I looked toward the back and there he was, checking out some stereos. It was him, “The Big Man” Clarence Clemons, dressed all in white wearing a big white hat, as if he had just walked off the cover of “Born to Run.”
Matter of fact, Clarence was holding a copy of that album, probably wanting to hear how it sounded on a new stereo.
He made quite an impression on me, it was the first time I had seen an E Streeter at the Jersey Shore and realized they really were part of us.
As the sad news broke of Clarence suffering a stroke and passing away a week later, I was brought back to that day more than 35 years ago and so many other great memories since.
One of my first Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band shows was at the Spectrum in Philadelphia on May 27, 1978. Of course, Bruce was phenomenal, but I also remember how great Clarence was. He came out in an all-white outfit for the first half of the show and after an intermission, he had on a red outfit. He was quite the imposing figure.
The sound that came out of that saxophone was just magical. The solos on “Badlands” and “Prove It All Night” were enough for this then 18-year-old to feel the power and full force of rock ‘n’ roll.
In July 1981, Clarence opened up a bar on Monmouth Street in Red Bank. It was called Big Man’s West. (I always wondered if there was a Big Man’s East). It was only in operation till January 1983. I went to a few shows there and I was always hoping to spot Clarence there, but I never did see him or his band, the Red Bank Rockers.
Some say Clarence may have been at his best in the 1980s during the River, Born in the U.S.A. and Tunnel of Love tours. Who can forget some of the great introductions Bruce gave Clarence.
“A man I have run out of words to describe. He’s the king of the world, the emperor (or master) of the universe.”
Clarence was Bruce’s sidekick during many of his stories, especially in “Growin’ Up.” How their car broke down in the New Jersey Pine Barrens and the two of them would meet such characters as Jim the Dancing Bear or a gypsy fortune teller. Fun times, fun stories.
The Tunnel of Love tour in 1988 saw a slimmed-down Clarence. He looked the best he had in years.
“Spotlight on the Big Man, don’t he look great? He lost a lot of weight.” Bruce would sing during “Sweet Soul Music” in the encores.
When the news broke in 1989 that Bruce was going to let the the E Street Band go, I was disappointed. I knew Bruce wanted to move in another direction and I wondered if we would ever see him with the E Street Band again. It wasn’t (except for a few spots) until 1999 that we would.
During the summer of 1989, Clarence and Nils Lofgren were touring with Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band. A couple of friends and I drove down to see an outdoor show at what is now the Atlantic City Hilton. We got there early. A few hours before the show we walked right into the venue. There was no security. A little bit later, a bunch of limos pulled in and out came Ringo, Clarence and the rest of the band.
Clarence walked onstage and we walked up to say hello. Clarence looked down at us, flashed that great smile of his and said “Hey, how are you?” He reached out and shook our hands. It was like he had known us his whole life. We talked about how the tour was going and how he was doing. Clarence was so nice. Later, I said to my friend Billy, “Did you think he knows you or us? He sure seemed like he did,” and Billy said, “He might have, but that’s Clarence. Always so warm and friendly .He makes you feel as though you’re his best friend.”
Bruce toured without the E Street Band during the “Luckytown”/”Human Touch” era in 1992-93.
At one of the shows I attended at the then Brendan Byrne Arena in the Meadowlands in 1992, “Born to Run” was played.
I wondered if they would do the sax solo and yes, Crystal Taliefero played it. I was upset. No offense Crystal, I know you were just doing your job. But that solo belongs to one person, and one person only.
In that fashion, I can’t ever imagine anyone else playing the sax solo in “Jungleland.”
On June 24, 1993, Bruce played his second-to-last show of that tour at the Brendan Byrne Arena. Clarence had been on the “Mike and the Mad Dog” show on Sports Radio WFAN out of New York City that afternoon and said he would be playing with Bruce that night. We were thrilled.
When Clarence came out to play on “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” during the encores, the noise at the arena was deafening. The crowd just about blew the roof off with Clarence and Little Steven playing with Bruce again.
To this day, it is the loudest crowd reaction I’ve ever heard at any concert or sporting event.
Ever since Bruce reunited the E Street Band in 1999, he has rehearsed for every one of his tours since at either Convention Hall or the Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park. Those rehearsals were a great place for fans to meet Bruce and the band.
Clarence always took the time to stop and sign autographs, say hello and pose for pictures. You could see how much he loved seeing his fans and sharing his love.
During rehearsals for the “Working on a Dream” Tour in 2009, even when he wasn’t walking very well, Clarence would still have his limo stop so he could wave and say hello. He would then have an assistant take items from the fans and hand them to him so he could sign autographs.
Bruce Springsteen has told the story many times of how he met Clarence. It was at a bar called the Student Prince in Asbury Park in 1971. The building is still there, 911 Kingsley Street. It’s now a club called Swell.
At the final show of the “Working On a Dream” tour, Nov. 22, 2009 in Buffalo, Bruce once again told the story of meeting Clarence for the first time.
“There I was, it was stormy, stormy night in Asbury Park, N.J. A nor’easter was blowing in, rattling all the lamp posts and washing Kingsley Avenue clean. Me and Steve, we were in a little club on the south end of town. When suddenly the door lifted opened and blew off down the street. And a large shadow of a man stepped in to the back room beside the band. I looked, King Curtis? King Curtis has come out of my dreams and landed right here. No, Junior Walker?
“He walked to the stage” and Clarence speaking now – “I wanna play with you.”
“What could I say? I said ‘Sure,’ continued Bruce. “And he put the saxophone to his lips and I heard something as cool as a river. I heard a force of nature coming at me. At the end of the night we just looked at each other.”
Many of us here in New Jersey got to meet Clarence on his book signing tour for “Big Man: Real Life & Tall Tales” in the Fall of 2009. He was so friendly to all, a firm handshake, a hello, a smile. He always took the time to pose for a picture.
Bruce Springsteen may have summed up Clarence best during his speech when the Boss was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March of 1999.
“Last but not least, Clarence Clemons. That’s right. You want to be like him but you can’t, you know. The night I met Clarence, he got up onstage (and) a sound came out of his horn that seemed to rattle the glasses behind the bar, and threatened to blow out the back wall. The door literally blew off the club in a storm that night, and I knew I’d found my sax player.
“But there was something else, something – something happened when we stood side by side. Some, some, some energy, some unspoken story.
“For years Clarence has been a source of myth and light and enormous strength for me on stage. He has filled my heart so many night – so many nights – and I love it when he wraps me in those arms at the end of the night. That night we first stood together, I looked over at C and it looked like his head reached into the clouds. And I felt like a mere mortal scurrying upon the earth, you know. But he always lifted me up. Way, way, way up. Together we told a story of the possibilities of friendship, a story older than the ones that I was writing and a story I could never have told without him at my side. I want to thank you, Big Man, and I love you so much.”
Clarence Clemons is the Big Man in so many ways. Big sax sound, big heart, big love. We may not really have know him personally but to many of us, he was one of our friends. We’ll miss you Clarence, both on and off the stage.
Ocean Grove, New Jersey
Big Man is Forever
One of my first memories of Clarence was that his saxophone was loud. Way too loud. He was blasting the intro to “All That Heaven Will Allow” about 30 minutes into my first show, and I had to hold my ears. But there was also something wonderful about the power behind the sound. For the rest of the show – once my ears got adjusted to the volume – I was mesmerized. By Bruce, of course, but you never forgot Clarence’s presence. The Tunnel of Love Express Tour wasn’t his most shining hour, having been downgraded a bit in favor of Patti Scialfa, but he still seemed ever present and was an integral part to most of the show’s highlights. Like the climax of “She’s the One”. Bruce leaning backwards against his towering black figure all dressed in leather, shaking his maracas. Or before the final encore. Bruce and Clarence want to quit. It’s getting too late. The crowd must be tired. Clarence’s mimic is perfect. The crowd screams for more, but Clarence and Bruce stand firm next to each other, arms crossed. And you realize how Clarence is tuned in to Bruce’s every thought and every movement. The way Max Weinberg underlines even Bruce’s slightest cues with his drum fills, so does Clarence with his face and that huge body of his. And of course they finally cave and play an ever-lasting “Twist and Shout” that floats away in the dark night sky over our heads.
Fast forward to a wind-swept field outside a Danish provincial town in the summer of 2009. It’s the first time in Denmark that Bruce plays away from Copenhagen. It’s the last time but one that I will see Clarence alive. I have one more show left after this one, in Chicago. But the show in Herning is special because I’m right in front of Clarence. First row. I have my eyes on him through much of it. He may be stuck to his stool most of the time. He no longer comes waltzing over to Bruce like a 250 pound black fairy. When he does walk, each step requires big effort. But he’s every bit as into it as he was that night 21 years previously. His mimics are still hilarious and right on the mark. He leads us in clapping along in the proper pace and musters our cheers when those are called for. And his sax solos… man, they are still perfect. The “Jungleland” solo is played in a way that defies the fragile, pain-filled body that it stems from.
Yet, you can’t help wondering if he can go on. Another show. Another tour. You want to believe it, and you do believe it. Because you can’t imagine a world where Clarence is not up there on that stage next to Bruce, just as you can’t imagine the moon not circling around Earth or spring not following winter. Even now, when they say he had a stroke and passed away, you’re not convinced. You’ll see, he’ll be there. His big smile. His big arms. His golden saxophone. It’s like the Native Americans say, humans perish, but the mountains and rivers and the Big Man are forever.
See you further on up the road, Mokshagun.