On a warm August night in 1985 at Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium, I was part of an audience that experienced Bruce Springsteen and the East Street Band on their Born in the USA Tour. A teenage boy who had never been to a concert before and had some interest in Rock N’ Roll became an addict.
As the next year of my life proceeded, I became an aficionado of all things East Street. I bought every album, got my hands on boot legs, and memorized the lyrics to many songs. My weeks began and ended with the band. On Friday afternoons, I would take my older brother’s aged 8-track, put on headphones, lie in bed, and consume Born to Run. From what became my favorite song – Thunder Road with its talk of love and escape to the final strands of Jungleland a tale of a small town night blending love and violence, I listened. With the last of Bruce’s wailings, my eyes fell asleep and my week was over.
The music has continued for me in to my adulthood as I’ve been to 15 (or so) concerts since that fateful night in August 1985. While in college, I stood in line at midnight to purchase the twin release of Lucky Town & Human Touch, I carried mix tapes in my rucksack throughout my traveling days, I spoke about it with my wife on our first date, and I helped BR (my older son) memorize the first stanza of Thunder Road. Bruce Springsteen and the East Street Band’s music has been the soundtrack to my life.
Today, June 18th marks a sad day for those who are part of the Bruce Springsteen and the East Street Band and us, its extended members. Today marks the one year anniversary of the passing of a core member of the band, saxophonist, Clarence Clemons. As he is still on my mind, what follows below is a piece I wrote about his passing shortly after his death. The music has continued for me in to my adulthood.
GETTING OLDER TOO
I miss Clarence Clemons. He died last week, and I never met him. I have no idea if we have anything in common. Did he prefer vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry ice cream? Who was his favorite football team? Did he enjoy reading Fitzgerald? Was he a winter or summer person? Did he prefer cats or dogs? I don’t know. I know nothing about his personal life. I am not certain if I would have recognized him walking down the street. Yet, I miss him.
Clarence Clemons was famous to a certain segment of the population.He was part of something that was truly meaningful. As the saxophone player for the “E” Street Band, he was seen by millions of people who watched him perform on stage. I am one such person. I love Bruce Springsteen and the East Street Band. They performed the first concert I ever went to. I’ve seen them from the second row, I saw them multiple times in a week, I saw them when I was a teenager, when I was in college, when I was married, and when I was a father.
As I contemplate why it is I miss Clarence – he wouldn’t mind me calling him by his first name–a couple of ideas come to mind. There is the tangible reason. He brought a certain sound and style to the band that I truly enjoyed. I am not sure how the band will sound the next time I see them, assuming there is a next time.I don’t want to consider that they will not tour again, but I do know it will be different. However, the emotional reasons are greater. The band has always seemed like they were more than just a musical group. It’s as if they were friends who were part of a brotherhood. Listening to their music, and going to the concerts made it feel like I was in on their special bond.They wanted people to hear their music, sing the lyrics, and I wanted that too. I was a quiet, shy kid. This relationship was easy, and I felt good about it. I recognize this may sound crazy, but for those of us who are Springsteenfanatics – even fanatics of other musicians or sports teams – it might sound right. There is something comforting and special about being part of this slightly odd relationship.
Clarence Clemons was not the first member of the “E” Street Band to die. I was sad when Danny Federici (organ, glockenspiel, and accordion player) died a couple of years ago. However, this is worse. With a second band member passing, it feels like it is only a matter of time till they are all gone. When I first saw the band, I was 15. They played a song called Glory Days. Prior to playing the song, Bruce said he was getting older, and he was about to turn 36. The crowd was completely enthralled and starting chanting, “No, no,” when he said he was old. We wanted to let our hero know we felt he most definitely still had it. Now, Bruce at 36, me at 15, and that concert, seem like a million years ago.
My parents were big fans of movies and television and loved to see the actors and actresses. Anytime they would see one of the stars, they would first comment on how they looked and by that they meant how well they aged, or how not-so-well they aged. One time, Mom finally said to Dad, “You know Carl, we’ve gotten older too.” I know just what she means. I miss you Clarence Clemons.