Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Tribute to the Big Man: Clarence Clemons

by Ben

“When the change was made uptown
And the Big Man joined the band
From the coastline to the city
All the little pretties raise their hands
I'm gonna sit back right easy and laugh
When Scooter and the Big Man bust this city in half
With the Tenth Avenue freeze-out”
-Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out By Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

There is a dark cloud hanging over the music world today.  Fans of rock music everywhere are mourning the loss of one of the most unique sounds in the industry.  Clarence Clemons, a.k.a. “The Big Man” from Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band has passed away due to complications from a stroke at the age of 69.  His loss is immeasurable for his family, the band, and the millions of adoring fans who erupted every time the Big Man filled the sold out stadiums with the sounds of his saxophone.  

The E Street Band has one of the largest and most loyal followings in all of rock and roll and it stems from all ages.  I come from the younger generation of the E Street Hooligans and I did not really appreciate The Boss and his band until I was in high school.  Growing up I always heard “Born in the U.S.A.” on the radio on July 4th, but never thought anything of it other than there is that loud dancing guy sweating buckets again.   This all changed when I was at an Orioles game in the summer before my junior year of high school.  This was the year (2004) Lee Mazzilli was managing the team so there aren’t many fond memories for Orioles’ fans, but one of our lone bright spots was Brian Roberts and his ability to smack doubles and steal bases.  I was at the game with my dad and B-Rob stole second base and “Born to Run” started flowing from the sound system, and my head instinctively started bobbing, and my foot started tapping.  I turned to my dad and asked “who sings this again?” I said “again” because I knew I should know who sings it, but I had no clue and didn’t want to make it seem like I didn’t know. Then Dad gave me the “I’m-not-mad-I’m-just-disappointed” face and said “Ben, this is The Boss.” And he slowly turned back to the game with this look of disgust on his face.  Well you better believe when we got home that night, I looked up Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s greatest hits on Amazon.  I printed out the track listings, loaded up LimeWire, downloaded the whole dang thing and burned myself a copy.  That same summer I was playing for a travel baseball team and all of our games were at least 45 minutes away.  We played 4-5 games a week and I played that CD on my way back and forth for every game.  I went from being a casual fan who knew a couple of songs, to someone driving with the window down, the Boss blaring, and my hand smacking my car door to the beat while I bellowed all of the lyrics at the top of my lungs.  It should come as no surprise to those who know the Power of the Boss, but I had one of the best stretches of my baseball career.  No one could get me out that summer, I mean I was raking.  Some contributed this success to all the extra swings I was taking in the cage or the time I was putting in the weight room.  I firmly believe it was the 18 songs I would listen to before and after the games that just put me in the right mind set, one of relaxation, happiness, and contentment.  Baseball players are very superstitious, so every summer after that, and every long bus trip in college I made sure I had my collection of E Street Band songs on my iPod to get me relaxed and ready for gameday.   

There are so many stories like this all over the E Street fan base and it is a tribute to a band that gives everything to their fans night in and night out.  Up until my college graduation I had really only heard the band’s songs from their albums.  Sure I had a couple of their live songs on my iPod, and always thought man these guys sound badass live, but never thought anything more of it.  It was the afternoon of the day before graduation and I was hanging out on my buddy OD’s balcony and a couple of us were slapping a bag of wine like it had talked back to us in public.  OD leans over to me, and goes “Dude wanna go see The Boss with me on Monday night?”  I did not hesitate, I did not ask how much the tickets were, and I did not ask who else was going, I just flat out said yes! I then chugged merlot out of a plastic bag and slapped it with excitement.  I probably should have asked OD these aforementioned questions because the tickets were not cheap, especially for someone one day out of college, and I ended up being the 5th wheel on a double date for OD and his girlfriend, and her sister and her husband.  Would this information have changed my decision to go to the concert? HELL NO!  I was just too stoked to finally get to see the E Street Band live.
Let me tell you the concert was amazing.  They went for 3 ½ hours straight, with no breaks, and a 30 minute encore.  They opened with Badlands and the place went bananas.  The energy never stopped from the stage to the rest of the crowd; the Verizon Center was buzzing for the whole night.  Bruce was Bruce, the epitome of a show man, dripping with sweat and just bouncing all over the stage.  Stevie Van Zandt was shredding all night and doing his best sidekick impression, and Max Weinberg provided the percussion like none other.  Niles Lofgren, Patti Scalfa, Roy Bittan, and Gary Tallent all did their part too. But The Big Man was the fan favorite.  Anyone who has ever seen the E Street Band perform live knows how much Clarence meant to the band and to the fans.  During Tenth AvenueFreeze-Out (go to 3:27) Bruce introduces every band member to the audience and no one…I mean no one gets as big an ovation as Clarence. The Big Man steals the show whether it’s a goosebump-inducing saxophone solo in Jungleland or Tenth-Avenue Freeze Out, his backbone of the band sax sounds in Badlands or Thunder Road, or his deep baritone background singing Out in the Streets (5:20).  There is just something special about an E Street Band concert, but even more Clarence really brought something special even when the ever mounting health issues forced him to sit on a stool or sometimes even a wheelchair during the concert.  He knew the songs were simply not the same without him, and he knew he was needed every night.  I do not know if the E Street band will tour again (I sure hope they do!) but I do know it will not be the same.   

Clarence was a gentle giant on the stage and the fans adored him. The friendship between Clarence and the Boss was obvious and awesome.  They were two best buds doing what they loved and they got to share it with millions.  They sang together, they would dance together on stage, and they looked like two guys who knew they had the best jobs in the world and did not take any of it for granted.  

Clarence, thank you for the music. Thank you for the art.  Thank you for the performances that only you could give.  Thank you for the goosebumps that I always get when I hear the start of “Livin in the Future”.

We all have our personal memories of the Big Man, and even though he is gone he will forever live on in the music he helped create.


  1. Ben,
    Great job, brother. This is a fantastic tribute to a man for whom words cannot do justice.
    As a fellow fan from the next generation, I'm touched by this (not inappropriately, though) in a personal way.
    God Bless The Big Man and may he live forever.

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