Saturday, June 18, 2011

Farewell, Big Man

Beautiful Melodies telling you Terrible Things Vol. Eternity

Danny Federici now has company, as another E Street member has joined him in the great beyond. I knew it was possible with the announcement of his suffering a major stroke just a short few days ago, but it doesn't change the sadness I feel at rock music losing maybe the lost true great sax player to the great beyond. A guy who added his tremendous skills to records by Ronnie Spector, Jackson Browne, Aretha Franklin, Joe Cocker and, yes, Bruce Springsteen among many other classic musical artists over the last Forty-odd years.

"When the change was made uptown
And the big man joined the band
From the coastline to the city
All the little pretties raise their hands
Im gonna sit back right easy and laugh
When scooter and the big man bust this city in half
With a tenth avenue freeze-out..."
"10th Avenue Freeze-Out," Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band

Back in April of 2009 I went to see Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band at the Glendale Arena, oh excuse me, " Arena." Anyhow, it had been a long time coming, as I had been wanting to see a show of theirs since they re-formed in the late 90's. However, the tours weren't exactly often, and they also weren't always cheap. At the end of the near-three hour show, just as I had found Springsteen & the E Street Band's recent release 'Working on a Dream,' I found myself disappointed. I truly think having seen Bruce solo on the 2005 'Devil's & Dust' tour or the 2006 'We Shall Overcome' tour with the Seeger Sessions band would have been more fulfilling. The show had some high highs, but also found itself with some low lows as well.
Clemons & Springsteen perform at the Arena in Glendale, April 2009

There was one thing, actually person, who didn't disappoint and, unlike Springsteen himself, left me wanting more: Sax-Man Clarence Clemons. Had he been utilized more on some songs it would have been an altogether experience, because the guy could flat out play, and fed off Springsteen almost as much as the Boss fed off the Big Man himself, they were one of the great duos in rock history. Janis & Kris, John & Paul, Keith & Mick, Bruce & Clarence deserve to be right there. Every moment Clarence was given a chance to shine, you couldn't keep your eyes off of him. Even when he wasn't playing, his smile seemed contagious and his personality seemed larger than life. Well, maybe they called him the Big Man for more than just his physique...

Well, they built the Titanic to be one of a kind,
But many ships have ruled the seas,
They built the Eiffel Tower to stand alone,
They could build another if they please,
The Taj Mahal, the pyramids of Egypt, Are unique I suppose,
But when they built you brother, they broke the mold
"Terry's Song," Bruce Springsteen

It saddens me that the Big Man, seemingly the last in the long line of great saxophone players going back to the likes of Louis Jordan, Charlie Parker, King Curtis, Steve Douglas and Jr. Walker is now, too, gone to another place. The end of such a prestigious long line of musical history. It also saddens me his last work was with Lady Gaga. It's not the fact I found that album utterly terrible, no, in fact I applaud her for bringing in someone with actual music integrity to play, just that I fear that as his last legacy, the last images of him performing something so below his more than obvious talents. Bruce Springsteen...Ronnie Spector...Scarlet Rivera...Ian Hunter...Ringo Starr...Aretha Franklin...Roy Orbison...Joe Cocker...Lady Gaga? If his playing on that record and appearing on a recent show with her get people look deeper into his catalogue, I'm all for it, I just want people remember Clarence for what he was: A Loving soul and a man who could turn the spotlight on him with just a simple reed and saxophone.

A testament to him? When I think of some of Springsteen's best known non-solo work: "Born to Run," "Rosalita," "Spirits in the Night," "Badlands," "10th Avenue Freeze-Out," "Radio Nowhere" or "Livin' in the Future" I think of Clarence Clemons and his sax work and what it adds to the song, just as much as I would think of the writing or Springsteen's almost distinctive voice. One of my all-time favorite Dylan covers is Springsteen doing "I Want You" in the mid-70's, and why? Well, the piano and Clarence's sax add something tremendously unique to the song. A man that truly left his mark.

I highly recommend checking out his autobiography, 'Big Man: Real Life & Tall Tales," which came out just a couple years ago. Also, I recommend picking up the live two-disc set 'Hammersmith Odeon London '75,' by Bruce & the E Street Band, a wonderful live representation of what he could do live on stage.

"Creating is like religion"
~Clarence Clemons~

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