Monday, June 20, 2011

You're A Friend Of Mine

I lost my father in 1994. Those closest to me know, it was much earlier than that. I'm thinking about this now for a few reasons, the most obvious being Father's Day, and the least obvious being the death of Clarence Clemons. The reasons in between are no less significant, but they may be a bit more complicated. I'm on the fence about whether this is the proper forum. Still, it is my forum.

In short, one of my oldest and dearest friends is experiencing his first Father's Day without his dad. Someone else very dear to me is currenty at his father's bedside, for possibly their last minutes together. Finally, the most complicated, is a situation I just don't think I could do justice to in a few paragraphs and this really isn't the place.  The most complicated of the lot is a situation that I believe will just have to fix itself. Though, I am losing hope.

Where does the "Big Man" come into play? Well, the news of Clarence Clemons death hit me harder than I expected it to. I realized in just a few passing minutes, just how much the "Big Man" meant to me. How the sound of his horn found its way through the darkness of many nights where I desperately needed some light, and how the passing of such a giant shouldn't be set aside just because we are not related.

My friends came to mind. Friends who have supported me and respected me. Friends who have seen the worst of me, and still, continue to enjoy the best of me, even if on certain days, the Hubble Telescope is needed to spot even the faintest signs of pleasure. I am a hard pill to swallow. No one knows that more than me.

I thought about that last, complicated situation, and how I'd bet dollars to donuts, he'd somehow find fault in my grief over a sax player. How he, though related, could somehow "not stand me" because I have genuine feelings...such as he. But they are not the same feelings, so I am the enemy.

Blood is thicker than water. Is that a good thing?

The death of the "Big Man" is significant.  I'm going to miss him. Just as I miss my father. But I think I am old enough to not have to explain anymore, why music, and the people who make it, affect me more than family. Clarence has never passed judgement. He's just made it a point to make me...and you, happy.  Good job, Big Man.


JB said...

Very sad day.

Someone recently defended CC by referencing the sax solo in Backstreets. I think of it as the love scene in Backstreets, and it never fails to get me.

The Big Man lives on.

jayway said...

Sal, this is beautiful. My Father's Day Is going to be a sad occasion as well. My Father passed away suddenly last night at 85. My life will never be the same.

elizabeth said...

After reading the news of Clarence's death, my first impulse was to check Burning Wood -- music creates a community -- and I felt you would have the words to convey the sense of loss. The situations you describe are all too familiar, more so every year. Each vigil at a bedside and each letter of condolence are relived with each new loss, even of a public figure we didn't know personally but still was a part of our lives.

Just wanted to let you know your words are read and appreciated.


big bad wolf said...

hey sal, i'm not sure what you mean about your dad. my dad died about 6 years after he left us from dementia. he was there, but he wasn't him. it was terribly sad. his death made me cry still, but mostly i cried because he had been disappeared from us, leaving only an ever more emaciated lost guy.

that colors my sense of clarence's death. i'm saddened, but my loss is greater than my sadness. when i heard about the stroke, i hoped that, if it were really as bad as reported, clarence would pass soon and peacefully. i've been through what happens when someone is there but not them. i don't wish that on anyone. those reagan jokes, the reagan dementia vitriol, they repelled me. no one should have to watch someone they love go out painfully.

bruce springsteen pretty much saved my life. in a broad sense rock n' roll and books did, but the key was bruce, and a hair behind him ,clarence clemons. i was a moody creature in 1978; i ain't much different now. but on august 26, 1978 i saw springsteen and the e street band at the prividence civic center and my life changed. it didn't make me less moody or difficult, but it did give me a different long view. if people cared that much, if people worked that hard, if two guys could like each other that much and find so much in each other than maybe there was a reason to go on, even if it was damned hard to see it sometimes except in the memory of how hard they worked and how much they cared. as i remember it, in 78 in providence and boston (at the garden in september, the 25th, the greatest thing i have ever seen or ever expect to see, the day all the energy in the world came to one building for nearly four hours, making the guitarist of the greatest band in the world an utter fool--for keith said bruce played overlong) bruce slid into the arms and hug of clarence at the end of thunder road. l-o-v-e in a way in al green couldn't quite tell. but in 80, in providence and boston, bruce slid into clarence's embrace and they kissed, full on and for awhile, and damn we all loved it. they were us and we were them and in their music we all found each other and the secret of the world. the secret is still there. one of the best manifestations of it is gone. bless you, clarence.

Mr. Baez said...

I'm really at a lost for words.A long shadow has been cast...

Eric said...

since 75' and the lyric from 10th ave. freezeout "and the big man joined the band...all the pretties raised their hands"... i know those late nights when jungleland/the river/thunderoad....the emotional gutwrenchers when the boss' voice would tail off into the big man's horn.....

those days were more than awhile ago and i cant really revisit them musically because i was on to em' from the beginning....and the beginning is so far ago.... but cc was always smiling and that horn, when u knew the crescendo was buidling for his space enter and to wail....sal, it's another one of our faves, especially us nyc guys....another has left us.....

wool said...

yeah. wow. Quite a blow (no pun intended)...E street will never be the same.

Dave L said...

It's Father's Day and I want to open the present - looks like it might be a cd - that my kids have sent me from the UK. Every year I forget and every year they remember. But today Clarence is gone, taking with him something that I'll never be able explain but didn't stop trying to the point of bring annoying. From that first moment all those years ago, watching Jeff Bridges present The History of Rock'n'Roll the Big Man was there. So many memories, that sound, that feeling, "what's his name?" CLARENCE!! - damn, damn.
Dave L, Berlin, Germany.

Paul in Brentwood said...

Thank you, Sal, for this. This news is ripping me to pieces for all the same reasons. We love music and the people who perform it for what it does to and for us. The E. Street Band, in all its history, made us feel included and loved, even when we felt we did nothing but run on the backstreets.
I'll wake up tomorrow morning and hug my children that much more tighter.

Rushbo said...

If its too hard to mourn the death, one can always celebrate the life.
Love, light and peace,

Anonymous said...

Musicians are the true music lovers. In the age of the Internet where opinions are in even higher quantity than assholes, while most of us tend to trash more music than we praise, most musicians have good words to say about each other, even if they are performing in different genres. I remember reading an article on Rolling Stone online a few months ago where Big Man was talking about how excited he was about performing with Lady Gaga. His feelings seemed completely genuine and it reminded me why I liked him at first place.

I had several reasons not to be the biggest fan of Springsteen, but musicians like Big Man, Max Weinberg, Little Steven made me go to his shows and realize what a great and generous performer he is. I am already missing Big Man. Heading to YouTube after this to watch Gaga's "The Edge of Glory" video with him again, followed by the E Street Band NYC and London DVDs.

Anything Should Happen said...

As I reached 12, I had already fell under the spell of music deeply. I'd started to move away from Glam but everything was guitar based.

On the Monday of Release, my dad brought home Springsteens's Born To Run. I hadn't paid much attention to the previous Boss albums that were in the house and as my dad quickly got the album on the Stereo, I was a bit more irritated that I couldn't hear the program I was watching on TV after school.

Suddenly, the Jungleland Solo started, the television became secondary, I was completely enthralled.

36 Years on, that solo still sounds as wonderful as it did on that day.

My tastes developed into Prog and I can listen to Jazz, Big Band and non Brass stuff such as Classical as easy now as my beloved Guitar music.

36 Years On, I still remember that evening and how that solo awakened my curiosity for what was out there.

My dad died in 1980 and never fullfilled his yearning to see Springsteen Live. He'd seen probably everyone he wanted to live except Springsteen. He was at the Cavern at the very start of The Beatles shows, he's seen his beloved Dylan in 1966 at the legendary Judas show, but not The Boss.

So twelve months on, it was with a heavy heart that I attended the Newcastle and Manchester shows on The River Tour.

The shows were magnificent, but I was transfixed by Clarence Clemons.

His Coolness and his ability to turn an instrument that was usually used for freeform noodling into a melodic wonderful solo, opened my eyes and properly introduced the Saxophone into the Rock Canon.

No longer was it backing fodder, it was just as important as the guitar.

Rest In Peace Big Man, your contribution to Popular Music shouls never be underestimated.

soundsource said...

certain pieces of music can make shivers run down my spine or bring tears to my eyes. Bruce and Clarence where two of those who could bring out such strong emotions through their musical collaboration. He will be missed.

Sammy said...

sal...thanks for giving me a better perspective on the day...i'll be visiting my dad in a little while and i know i'll have a greater appreciation for my visit...

stivseed said...

Thanks for that.




Many thoughts this morning -- Father's Day, Clarence's death, the power of music, ...

As a father I always dismissed Father's Day as a Hallmark moment. But as my children grow to adults I find myself wondering more and more about what I've done wrong (lots) and right (maybe a few things). So perhaps Father's Day isn't the sham I used to think.

My father died 30 years ago. Like many, he and I certainly had our differences. He was the smartest, most curious, most knowledgable person I've ever known and his love of his kids -- and deep sense of responsibility to family -- certainly informed his life, not always for the best. Maybe my greatest fear is that I'll turn out to be like my father; and my greatest ambition is that I will turn out like my father.

Now to connect Father's Day and Clarence / music ... The day my father died I came home from the hospital pulled out The River and played Independence Day over and over. And every year I play it again on the anniversary of his death.

The sax in Independence Day might not have the flash of some other E Street songs but, like many in the catalogue, it completes.

Father ... Music ... Father's Day ... Clarence ...

Nice post Sal. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

It's interesting to see so many feel the same emotions as I do on Father's Day. I lost my dad at 62 to West Nile Virus in 2003. The loss never seems to fade.

Losing Clarence also hit me harder than I expected. A big piece of my soundtrack is now gone. RIP Big Man.

A walk in the woods said...

What a sad day for music. I have a whole lot of music, but if asked what my favorite song is, for about 20 years now I've stuck with one song as my answer: Rosalita (Come Out Tonight).

This morning when my wife and I took our boys out for our annual Father's Day hike here in Atlanta, I played some vintage Clarence sax from Bruce's songs and suddenly came to grips with how much my love of Bruce's vintage music is tied up in those sax solos. I hadn't realized it until now.

Rest in peace, Big Man.

Aaron said...

Sal, this post is a perfect example of who you are as a person. You have no problems putting yourself out there and talking about the things you are passionate about. The people who know you and love you might not agree with you all the time, but we know you care, and that's what matters.

Issues of family are almost always complicated. I lost my dad nearly 20 years ago, and becoming a dad puts me into a place where I try to hypercontextualize what I now think he might have done right or done wrong as a dad. It's a mess, really, so far be it from me or anyone else to connect your feelings about CC within the context of father's day.

For me personally, I know that the day Chuck Berry dies will be the day the music died. I only saw him live once when he was 60. It was right after Hail Hail Rock and Roll came out, so he was at a very high place, with all sorts of lifetime recognition garbage going on. Say what you will about his personal life, which was and is, a trainwreck, his drunken shows, his rather feeble attempts to recapture the feeling of the Chess Recordings: When I saw him, he didn't live up to the hype; he just blew it all away. There he was, larger than life, looking and sounding amazing. It was a short set, maybe an hour, and for his encore, he gestured people to get up on the stage and dance with him, and the whole thing was rock & roll incarnate. No live show has ever captured what it was he did for me. When he dies, a whole lot of other things will die too, as far as I'm concerned.

Thanks for putting yourself out there, as always.

steves said...

Thanks for putting that out there, Sal. Another beautifully written, heartfelt piece.

I've always had a pretty complicated relationship with my own father, made all the more complicated in recent years by my mom's worsening dementia, and his unwillingness or inability to take any steps to deal with it (and his own issues). This has come to dominate our interactions over the last few years. Still, I'm glad he's still here. As a father myself, I tend to shrug off Father's Day, although I suspect how I'll be taking it more seriously in the years ahead.

Lastly, like you, I had a stronger-than-anticipated reaction to CC's passing. I've always liked Springsteen, but I never considered myself to be a hardcore fan. That said, there was an unmistakable sense of joy and intensity that the Big Man brought to the songs and the shows that was unlike any other force in music. His legacy will certainly go on.

P.S. Thanks for the McCartney stuff. Although I'm still on the fence with C&C.

Carl said...

Music is joy and Clarence gave me a lot of joy. Though I'm sad that he's gone I find solace in the fact that I'll always be able to listen to his music to get me through the tough times. He brought such power and majesty to Bruce's music. It wouldn't be the same without him and going forward it won't.

Anonymous said...

The last great rock 'n roll sax man.

michele said...

incredibly sad......timing is a funny thing...for this past month or two, my CD of Born to Run had been playing frequently in my car and I really hadn't listened to it for years....Now the Big Man is gone...

But not forgotten :)

jeff kisseloff said...

thanks, Sal.

steve simels said...

Sal --

What everybody here said.

And thank you.

Robin said...

Thanks Sal. Bruce and the band were (are) like a gang, they were my gang, as many fans as Bruce has, his world (and Clarence was a major part of that world) always seemed like my secret little place, where the words and music fit me in a way I can't really explain. It feels like a chapter has been closed. And I agree with what JB said re the sax solo in Backstreets. I will miss you Big Man. Thanks for sharing your special brand of soul with us.

bglobe313 said...


Obviously a heartfelt piece. Hang in there.

I have been lucky to not have any real kind of family problems like the ones you seem to be alluding to, although I have had plenty of trouble, pressure and problems the last three-and-a-half years (and somewhat the fifteen or so before that).

As for Clarence and Springsteen, as with many of the other commenters they REALLY helped me get through some difficult times. Especially when I was younger and perhaps a little too much into the negative. Their music didn't deny problems, but one way or another they showed a way out.