Musings: Life after Clarence

As most of you know, Clarence Clemons died on Saturday night. I personally heard about it from my roommate on Sunday. Although he claims to be a Bruce fan, he’s a casual listener at best, which leaves him with an emotional disconnect with the news. So it was with an incongruous nonchalance that he mentioned the loss casually in the middle of a conversation.

I obviously never knew Clarence Clemons personally. In many ways, he always struck  me as more of a symbol than as a person. He was the massive dude with the distinct tone on his sax. He was the one that was always standing next to Bruce, mutual respect binding their distinct personas. He’s the one who shares the cover of the greatest rock record of all time. He was an icon.

I was particularly stunned by the news because I had just finished watching a documentary on Bruce and the band on Saturday. In a dumb sort of way, I was feeling particularly close to them yesterday, having just witnessed a detailed representation of the painstaking process they went through to make Darkness on the Edge of Town over 30 years ago.

As soon as I heard the news, I couldn’t help but think of the footage in the documentary, snapping back and forth between present day interviews and old film from the studio. The whole bunch of them weren’t much older than I am now when they were making the album; in the past 3 years, two of them have died.

It’s also hard to come to grips with the fact that I’ll never see the big man live. As much as I love Bruce, I still haven’t had a chance to be to one of his shows. As anyone who has been to one of them can tell you, they’re where his music really comes alive. I’m still sure I’ll see them one day, but it will never be same. Clarence’s sax is the second most distinct sound in that band, second only to Bruce’s voice. It doesn’t matter if someone new comes on board to play the solos; they’ll never sound the same, let alone feel the same. I sort of wonder if Bruce will even bother trying to find someone to fill in.

He even pioneered my signature "cutoff and a bandana", years before I was born.

So farewell our giant friend. You played a major part in the production of some of music’s most inspired albums of all time. There’s not a single song that you played on that will ever sound the same without you. I hope you keep looking down with that penetrating gaze, zapping a little inspiration from the beyond.

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