Billy and Dad just got word that Clarence Clemons, the sax man for the E Street Band, died. About the only lines in “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” whose meaning we’ve ever understood are: “Well the change was made uptown/And the Big Man joined the band./From the coastline to the city/All the little pretties raised a hand.”
Back when Dad was belatedly discovering YouTube, and Billy was swinging in diapers, they found the video for “Born to Run,” and it wasn’t the swagger and energy of the sweaty Boss that grabbed Billy, it was the Big Man, whose outfits he believed magically changed throughout the concert.
Dad just read David Remnick’s lovely tribute to Clarence, which fairly well sums it up:
Clemons, who died Saturday of complications from a stroke, was not an entirely original player—he was a vessel of many great soul, gospel, and R&B players who came before him—but he was an entirely sublime band member, an absolutely essential, and soulful, ingredient in both the sound of Springsteen and the spirit of the group. Clemons will be irreplaceable; Sonny Rollins could step in for him and never be able to provide the same sense of personality and camaraderie. His horn gave the band its sound of highway loneliness, its magnificent heart. And his huge presence on stage was an anchor for Springsteen, especially when Bruce was younger, scrawny, and so feral, so unleashed, that you thought that he could fall down dead in a pool of sweat at any moment. At the brink of exhaustion and collapse, Springsteen could always lean on his enormous and reliable friend—an emblematic image that is the cover of “Born to Run.”
Remnick drew our attention to this video, which is unadulterated, grade-a, rock-and-rolling Bruce and Clarence.