Big Life, Big Talent, Big Man

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By now just about everyone who has any interest in rock music has heard that saxophonist Clarence Clemons passed away this past Saturday after suffering a stroke in his Florida home six days earlier. Health problems had been worsening in recent years for the 69-year-old, who had back problems and double knee replacement surgery in recent years.

Being a classic rock fan, I suppose we should expect this kind of thing. Not that it makes it any easier, but with so many of our favorite artists in their sixties and many closing in on seventy, we know that they’re not going to be with us forever.

Not being a Springsteen fan, beyond Springsteen himself and probably drummer Max Weinberg, I’d be hard-pressed to name the other member of the E Street Band off the top of my head. Except for Clarence Clemons that is. Heck, I even knew his nickname was “The Big Man.” That’s a testament to what the man brought with him on stage and probably everywhere else he ever went. He was the type of performer who stood out not because of who he was trying to be, he stood out because of who he actually was.

Although most people recognize Clemons’ name from his association with Bruce Springsteen, his talent was appreciated by other artists who helped immortalize The Big Man by including his work as part of their own recordings or live performances. Clemons worked with a diverse group of artists during his career including Jackson Browne, The Grateful Dead, Aretha Franklin, Roy Orbison and Lady Gaga. His most recent television appearance was on this season’s American Idol season finale when he performed with Lady Gaga.

Beyond the musical legacy Clemons left behind, all accounts indicate that he left an impression on those who knew him that he was much more than a great sax player. Bruce Springsteen summed it up pretty well when he posted the following on his website: “Clarence lived a wonderful life. He carried within him a love of people that made them love him. He created a wondrous and extended family. He loved the saxophone, loved our fans and gave everything he had every night he stepped on stage. His loss is immeasurable and we are honored and thankful to have known him and had the opportunity to stand beside him for nearly forty years. He was my great friend, my partner, and with Clarence at my side, my band and I were able to tell a story far deeper than those simply contained in our music. His life, his memory, and his love will live on in that story and in our band.”

I suppose it’s customary to say all kinds of wonderful things about people upon their passing. Much of time time it sounds like stuff that’s been lifted from some universal script that’s meant to be consulted on these occasions. It doesn’t always ring true but maybe that’s just the cynic in me. This is one of those times when the cynic in me is silent.

Clarence Clemons was just one of those people that you get a feeling about. The number of times I had seen him on television was pretty limited but for some reason, he was one of those personalities that just stood out. I believe that huge smile was the real deal and I think it’s safe to assume it was a window that offered us a glimpse of the man’s soul.

Whether or not Springsteen and The E Street Band will continue without Clemons is not known. There will surely be a huge hole in the lineup if they decide to take to the stage together again.

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