Saturday night, Clarence Clemons passed away.
Saturday night, a part of me died with him.
For those of you who don’t know who Clarence was, he was the saxophone player in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. The beauty of that band was that they had an all-star at every position. And the beauty of Bruce was that he knew how to accentuate the talent of each and every one of them.
But none more than Clarence.
My personal experience is simple. I liked Bruce’s radio hits from the time I was young enough to remember them. Born to Run, Born in the U.S.A, Dancing in the Dark, etc. But when I lived alone at one point in Roanoke, Virginia, I got to know Bruce’s music much closer. I liked each song I heard more and more each time I heard it. My best friend and I would listen to the music on weekdays, then meet up and listen together on the weekends. Bruce climbed among my favorite musicians, and the E Street band was right there with him.
And then I fell in love with Jungleland.
I remember where I sat the first time I listened to that song. I remember the passion that I felt when I heard it. Clarence’s solo hits the track almost as hard as it ends up hitting you right between the eyes. The audience feels what he puts through the speakers. There are no words, just notes, yet it makes no difference.
Everyone that listens to the song feels. They have no choice.
There hasn’t been a time since those days when I haven’t had the hair stand up on my arms when I hear the solo. It’s my favorite song of all time, yet it would be much further down the list if not for Clemons. That song vaulted Bruce and E Street Band to the top of my charts, forever. It enhanced every other song I had heard before, because I knew that a band and an artist capable of creating such beauty had done it all along. I just wasn’t hearing it clearly enough until now.
And the best part about the solo was that it epitomized what music’s supposed to be about. It should make you want to call someone you haven’t spoken to in years. It should push you to remember the best of times. It should take you away until there are no notes left to hear. It should do that. Many times, it doesn’t do that. And many of us take that as par for the course. But Clarence reminded me that if a song doesn’t do that, it may not be worth playing.
I could write a book on that song and what it means to me. But that solo is enough to tell you the story. That solo is enough to make me tear up. It’s enough to make me feel. It’s enough to make a part of me die on Saturday night.
And maybe that’s the best tribute I can give to Clarence, the Big Man.
(Solo begins at the 4:01 mark, but listen to the whole song please)