Missing the Big Man

Tramps like us …

It’s been almost three weeks since I heard the news.

I was working on the sports desk on that Saturday night, when Rob, a guy I’ve worked with for sometime who knew of my affinity for all things Bruce Springsteen, said, “I’m sure you’re all over this, but in case you haven’t seen it, Clarence Clemons died.”

My heart sank. He’d had a stroke days earlier, but I’d simply tried to put it out of my mind. He was going to get better, I thought to my self. I said a prayer and tried to move on.

Because I was convinced he’d fight through, like he had with diabetes and knee replacements and numerous other ailments, it never entered my mind that the Big Man might leave this world. Not right then, anyway.

I haven’t posted anything on this blog for some time, … for several reasons, most of which I won’t bore you with. But when Clarence died, I knew this would be what got me started again. I just didn’t know what to say … so I waited.

I love music. I listen to a lot. Not as much as I used to — kids, work and a tight budget have cut into my habits. But as often as possible. And as a result, a lot of memories are tied to specific music.

Bruce Springsteen’s music came into my life at a time I was looking for something different musically than the pop stuff I had been listening to. Bruce filled a void and his music meant a lot to me as I grew up and older, … the lyrics, the emotion, the passion.

And as a result, while there is a lot of music I love, Springsteen’s music holds a special place. Clarence played a big part in that music.

That Saturday night after work, on the way home at 3 a.m., I put in the Born to Run cd and played it loud, they way it’s meant to be heard, with the windows down.  I’ve  listened to the album thousands of times, and this time it sounded just as awesome as always, while at the same time sounding different than I’ve ever heard it before.  I’ll admit I cried a little. I know … it’s silly.

I guess, what I’m saying is the Big Man meant a lot to me, more than I would have thought, and I’m going to miss what he long brought to the music that meant a lot to me in my life. Obviously, I’m not the only one.

Steve Van Zandt put together a tribute show that has aired several times on Sirius/XM Radio’s E Street Radio channel, and it is wonderful. I hope to hear it again before they stop airing it.

In their first performances after Clarence’s passing, Bon Jovi, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and U2 all remembered the Big Man. Even Jimmy Buffett worked him into  a song.

The Springsteen fan site, Backstreets.com, has a section devoted entirely to Clemons’ illness and death. My favorite selection from their pages is splendid sportswriter Joe Posnanski’s blog post about Clarence.

Last, but not least, on his official website, Bruce himself posted a slightly revised version of the eulogy he delivered for Clarence Clemons’ funeral. Here’s my favorite part:

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.

It would be strange to write all of this about Clarence Clemons’ part in Bruce Springsteen’s music and not post some of that music. While the Born to Run album is one of the greatest ever and Bruce’s most important, it’s an earlier song that best exemplifies what Clarence brought to the table.


Hands down.

And while it won’t ever be the same again live, should he even play it, I’m lucky enough to watch this video in my mind and marvel at how great Bruce could be with Clarence around.

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