Monday, June 20, 2011

Meeting Across the River--an Obit for the Big Man

Clarence Clemons has gone where all great saxophone players go. Maybe some smoky bar in New York or down in New Orleans or in some stadium playing along side The Boss. You cannot have been a Springsteen fan without seeing the Big Man right behind Bruce on that album cover where those black eyes are looking out from a sea of white. High School eight tracks of Born To Run and the big man leading a riff that splits the world on Jungleland. They say they worked on that song for sixteen hours to get that sax solo right. Clarence really split the night with that blast:...and the poets wind up wounded not even dead...

But The Big Man was always there and would there have been a Bruce without a Clarence? A less soulful Bruce for sure. If you listen to Meeting Across the River man you know there could have been no Bruce without a Clarence. Bruce was not Born in the USA. Bruce was Asbury Park and Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town. And Clarence backed him up, he took the white bread part of Bruce down into the darkness of the blues. The Big Man stretched rock and roll into the night.

But Bruce let the E Street band go in the late nineties and Clarence Clemons worked with other people and was a force on his own. Yeah, I read the obit in the NY Times. And USA Today. And Chicago Tribune. But nobody sums up what it was like to be at a Springsteen concert and hear Clarence blast that long sustaining chord in the middle of Jungleland. It just went on and on and on. And there was Clarence in a bath of light and it was transcendent.

But now he is gone and The Boss is less for it. You cannot split Bruce form Clarence. The music he made after the Born to Run period was more pop more commercial, but that magic man, it seemed to have slipped away with MTV. So you  want to remember, Clarence Clemons; download or spin up Meeting Across the River. You will hear Bruce's mournful lament, a man just about to make it just holding on...hey Eddie, can you lend me a few bucks, can you give us a ride, got a meeting across the river, got a meeting with a man from the other side...

And you will hear Clarence's haunting Saxophone like something only God could pull down on a rainy Nelson Algren night. Playing for all the hard luck stories...playing for us.

RIP Big Man.
Rocket Man will be out July 26th

Books by William Hazelgrove