Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Happy Birthday, Clarence Clemons

It’s with a heavy heart that I write this blog entry.  Today would be the the 70th birthday of Clarence Clemons.  When I first heard the news that Clarence had a stroke, I was devastated and thought for sure this was the end of the E Street Band, but still had high hopes that he would pull through in the end.  Days later I found out I was wrong on both counts.  Clarence had passed away, but it was in no way the end of the E Street Band.  As much as of a cliché line this is, I do believe Clarence would want it this way.  

As much as I am a fan of Bruce Springsteen, I think that his music is exponentially better with the E Street Band as opposed to his solo efforts as well as his poor-received Human Touch and  Lucky Town.  A major reason for that is Clarence Clemons.  Clarence’s work at times was understated, but at others was brought to the forefront of the E Street Sound.  I truly in my heart believe Bruce would not know the success he has known, had it not been for Clarence Clemons.  

If you were to ask a Bruce fan what his favorite Clarence Clemons solo is, 9/10 will say “Jungleland”, and with good reason too.  It is not only his most recognizable, and longest solo, but also probably his most technically proficient.  Luckily for you, oh faithful readers, I am that 1/10 that does not think so.

My all time favorite Clarence solo come at the end of “Bobby Jean”.  In my own humble opinion, without that solo, “Bobby Jean” could easily become just another lost track that probably wouldn’t make the final cut of Born In The USA.  However, the last verse of the song contains one of my all time favorite Bruce lyrics: “I’m just calling one last time, not to change your mind but just to say I miss you baby.  Good luck, goodbye Bobby Jean.”  As soon as the last word is spoken, Clarence comes through with an absolutely amazing solo on his sax that perfectly describes the mood of the song.  

Many a night Steve, Rory, and myself have debated if this is a song dedicated to a girl or a man, and even moreso are the lyrics platonic or romantic.  I say that the song is for a girl, and the feelings are indeed romantic, but the singer of this song never had the chance to act upon his feelings.  He knows if he tells this girl that he loves her before she moves away that it will forever ruin her memories of him.  Rather, he just suffers and says goodbye to his best friend and true love.  While this is one of Bruce’s more uplifting pop-sounding songs, Clarence’s solo at the end gives the end a final somber grievance that contradicts the synthesized beats.  In the end, it becomes another Springsteen classic and beloved tune at all Springsteen Concerts.

(Editor's note: Common opinion agrees "Bobby Jean" was inspired by Steven Van Zandt leaving the E Street Band.)

As word spread of Clarence’s death, the rock 'n roll community mourned the incredible loss of the one and only “Big Man”.  I close this blog entry with 2 of my other favorite bands paying tribute to him, U2 and Bon Jovi.  

RIP Big Man.  


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