Sunday, June 19, 2011

BIG MAN…ASSIST ME PLEASE!!! A Remembrance of Clarence Clemons

by Greg Maniha

Those immortal words uttered by Mr. Springsteen thousands of times during the course of nearly 40 years to his irreplaceable saxophonist, vocalist, and stage personality have created so many smiles you could spend a lifetime attempting to count them. It would take nearly as much time attempting to count or isolate the greatest moments of Mr. Clarence Clemons while sharing the stage with Springsteen.

As often as I heard that crazy dialogue between that possessed street preacher you ran with and yourself it began to dawn on me that I believed everything he told us about you! You really were the king of the world and the master of the universe! Hey Big Man, did you hear about this story? I’m sure you did because nothing escapes the king of the world, right? There was this amazing musician named John Lennon who was a fan of the music you were a part of creating. In his final interview, he spoke about idol worship within rock and roll. As he spoke about the trials and tribulations of his own experience, he also expressed great fear and concern for your musical counterpart. He feared that Mr. Springsteen would be buried by the same pressures that did him in before Mark David Chapman destroyed his life, widowed his wife, left his sons without a father and permanently altered the world by forcing it to go on without him. Speaking about the media manipulation that impacted him as a megastar in a post Beatles world and completely relating to what Mr. Springsteen was up against, he said "And God help Bruce Springsteen when they decide he's no longer God. ... They'll turn on him, and I hope he survives it." Mr. Lennon didn’t live to see his hopes realized, but Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band not only survived the media manipulation machine, it faced down a popular conservative two term U.S. President who understood nothing about the creative work all of you were a part of and thrived with style for another 30 years beyond the date of Mr. Lennon’s interview. Perhaps not the rest of us, but more than enough of us never decided that the boss was no longer god and that you were no longer the master of the universe. We simply didn’t allow the media to make this call and they wisely decided not to argue with us. Mortality unfortunately didn’t follow the lead of the media and now I’m kind of “lost in the flood,” so to speak. Big Man…assist me please!

How does one write a eulogy for the master of the universe? How is one supposed to come up with, say, your five greatest moments when they took place night after night on every stage you ever set foot on with the E Street Band? The easy solution for a hack writer would be to list the studio work that created your identity. It goes without saying that the beloved "10th Avenue Freeze Out" with perhaps the greatest intro of any E Street Band composition immortalizes the fact that you even graced Springsteen with your presence, let alone joined the band! Your saxophone solo on "Jungleland" created a rock opera out of record and turned an entire suite of songs into one of the greatest things ever pressed onto wax. It doesn’t even bear thinking about a "Badlands" without you taking over the solo from the boss and his Esquire. "Hungry Heart" would be far more than incomplete if it didn’t have you to send it home and literally take ownership of the song before it closes. Although many longtime fans might not agree with me, "Radio Nowhere" was a perfect example of the power you still held and the passion to deliver your musical contribution to the world. It might be the best representation of a dual lead with Nils Lofgren, which never seemed to take place during studio sessions. Regardless of this immortal documentation known by fans and detractors alike, it seems to me to be, well, for the masses. I have yet to read the many obituary pieces that will appear in newspapers across the globe, but I have a feeling at least one of these compositions will be cited in the majority of them. As beloved as the compositions were, there was so much more to your musical and social contribution. The fact that you refused to allow the limitations of your body to prevent you from making your mark time and time again is a legacy in and of itself. The lives of the people you touched measure in the thousands. So many of us will never have the chance to tell you in person, but as the master of the universe I already know you feel each and every one of them.

I’ll never forget when my son, now six years old, first started feeling the power of your music. He was only three at the time, but the world he knew was shattering around him because the adults in his life that love him couldn’t work together easily for his sake. He couldn’t understand why things were happening the way they were but I was determined to never leave him behind regardless of adult conflicts. I wasn’t living with him at the time but stubbornly refused to go a day without spending time with him. I would pick him up in the afternoon and we would drive to a favorite park from there followed by a nightly father and son dinner. This resulted in many hours spent in a car with his dad’s collection of “Brucelegs.” It was the FM recording of your legendary show at the Roxy in LA on 7/7/78 that sealed the deal. Your saxophone solo during Badlands on this particular evening pulled him in from the beginning. When he first heard it he asked me excitedly what was making that sound so of course out of concern I asked if he liked it. With an ear to ear grin he gave me an enthusiastic yes! A musical bond between father and son was born in a moment that lives to this day. “Roxy Night” became the soundtrack to my lifeline for a threatened relationship with my son. Big Man, even the master of the universe can’t keep track of everything all at once so I’m not sure anybody had the chance to tell you how much I owe you for playing such a major role in cementing the relationship between my son and I. That solo you played on "Badlands" in LA during 1978 paved the way for a three-year-old boy to start requesting your musical highlights. Badlands remained the favorite but requests for Sprit In The Night and For You quickly followed suit. This musical conversation with my 3 year old son became so powerful it escaped from the Roxy to take over Darkness On The Edge Of Town, The River (yes, he likes "Crush On You"!) Born To Run, Magic and even the obscure cuts on Tracks. For him, it was all about the boss and the big man. It was inevitable that he would end up asking me about concerts with Bruce and the Big Man. I told him that I had seen both of you many times and he insisted that I take him to see a concert TOMORROW. After some explaining he changed his demand to the next concert in San Francisco where we were living at the time.

By the time the Working On A Dream tour opened in San Jose, my son had at least 16 songs he was hoping to hear. He was eight days away from turning four and this was his birthday present (well, this and some lego bricks of course…he does have his priorities.) At the top of his list for the evening was "Badlands", Bruce and THE BIG MAN! Words cannot do justice to the joy you gave my son when you walked out on to that stage with Bruce. He kept screaming repeatedly “There they are!” As I tried to give him earplugs, with a smile and an audience of his own he threw them into the crowd. I had an extra pair so of course I gave it another shot only to have the same thing happen twice. He was determined to have as raw of a rock and roll experience as possible the way only you two could deliver it. When you launched into "Badlands" I have never seen a bigger smile on his face or mine. Watching him actually feel his favorite song take over his heart and soul was a high like no other. Hearing him share with me new favorites he heard for the first time at the concert accompanied with the determination to attend another show ASAP was the kind of conversation not many are blessed to have with their three-year-old son. A new tramp was born that night. You gave this to us Big Man. During a time in our lives when we needed joy of this magnitude, you gave this to us! Whether a written piece is published in Rolling Stone or an undiscovered blog, the content is a matter of opinion most of the time and in my humble opinion, this was one of your greatest musical moments. After that amazing evening my son along with my father and I would attend the 4th night at Giants Stadium together. By the time this show took place during the final leg of the same tour, he was a seasoned four-year-old tramp that knew he was hearing the complete Born To Run record and wanted to be in the pit so he could be closer to you. We had good seats, but he was already a purist. This would be our last show together as he wasn’t allowed to attend more than one night (he was not pleased about that at all!) After that night we would discuss planning better for the next tour because I was “no longer allowed” to attend without him. It’s now 1:30 AM in New Jersey on Father’s Day and you’re not even 24 hours into your new journey. I explained to him that you had to leave us. After asking why, he told me he understood that sometimes people get hurt too badly to be helped. Upon absorbing the brutal reality that you’re not coming back, he simply walked up to me, gave me a hug, and said “I love you dad and I love the Big Man.”

Well Big Man, from here I could talk about the emotional saxophone solo you played during "Drive All Night" at the St. Louis show in 2008. I could talk about that superb E Street version of the Coasters “And Then (S)he Kissed Me" that you owned during the same St. Louis show. I could go on for hours about the Boss kissing you before starting "Wrecking Ball" like one would kiss the ring of Don Vito Corleone during the final shows at Giants Stadium. I could talk about insanity of the extra-long intro of "10th Avenue Freeze Out" during the final show on the Magic tour in Kansas City. I could talk about how you personally impacted me on a musical level with every concert I ever saw, every “bruceleg” I ever acquired, and every record I ever listened to so many times over.

Regardless of my favorite musical moment of yours I ever witnessed on stage or within a recording, during a time when my son and I needed it more than ever, Big Man, you assisted me! Bruce was right! You really are the master of the universe! Thank you king of the world, the master of the universe, weighing in at 250 pounds, the big man Clarence Clemons! Thank you!

"Paradise By The C" Live 1978 Capital Center in Landover, Maryland:

"Prove It All Night" Landover '78:

"Kitty's Back" Passaic 1978:

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