Sunday, June 19, 2011

Remembering Clarence

Yesterday brought the sad news of the passing of legendary sax man, Clarence Clemens.

The Big Man, Bruce Springsteen's sidekick and onstage foil for nearly 40 years, passed away Saturday after complications from a stroke suffered last Sunday.

For those of us who came of age, motoring from town to town to catch Bruce and the E-Street Band whenever they were within driving distance, it's the end of an era - and another one of those life passages we'd have preferred not to have encountered quite so soon.

It would be hard to explain quite what it meant to be a Springsteen devotee in the early 80's or the impact his music had on the consciousness of an entire generation. (Let's just say that pretty much all I remember about my articling year (1984-85) is masters' motions, a couple of fantastic mentors, and about a dozen Springsteen concerts).

And while Clarence Clemens was never the star of the show, something about him made Bruce bigger and the arena smaller - small enough, I recall, to make you feel like you were truly a part of the extended E-Street family.

They were, perhaps, our glory days.

From the moment he began his searing solo in Jungleland, the audience's fists pumping to the drama and the beat, the room belonged to Clarence. He'd cast a saxophone spell through the brief flashes of his spotlight until he stepped back, and you were reminded it was really Bruce's show, not his. And you could tell... that was just the way he liked it.

Clarence, truly a big man, will be missed by many.

He left a whole lot of love behind.

Here are a few "Clarence moments" that capture his both outstanding instrumental talent and his huge onstage presence:

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto
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