Sunday, 19 June 2011
"And the miles we have come
And the battles won and lost
Are just so many roads traveled
So many rivers crossed."
I hear the sounds of Clarence Clemons every single day. When people talk to me about music, barely a second goes by without me saying "Bruce Springsteen". It's on sad days like this when I am reminded that Springsteen's music is not just one man. The songs I love the most he created with the E Street Band. Some of the greatest moments of my life have been in concert venues around the UK at the very precise moments when the Big Man has stepped in with his saxophone.
My all-time favourite song is "Thunder Road". I listen to it every single day. The best part of the song is the refrain that comes after "It's a town full of losers and I'm pulling out of here to win"; and the beautiful, uplifting sound of Clarence Clemons is all over it. I remember after my Aunt died a few years back, my Uncle repeatedly listened to "Secret Garden"; and it was that last minute he was craving, when Clarence Clemon's sax somehow manages to break your heart and heal your heart all in the space of a minute.
You don't always get to hear "Jungleland" in concert, but when you do, you are suddenly reminded of what it is to be alive. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band aren't just a band, they're something more. Their music is a way of life, a belief, a window into who we are. They're heart and soul. You feel it when you hear them play Jungleland. So do a hundred thousand other people. I don't know whether they'll ever play it again. "Jungleland" without Clarence isn't 'Jungleland'.
There will never be another E Street Band. I'm watching 'Live in Barcelona' as I write this. They just step into the arena, pick up their instruments, and play. These guys know all of their songs inside out. And they tour and they tour and they tour, playing three hour sets every night. These guys are hitting seventy. I work for seventy minutes and need a break. But the E Street Band put the work first and you see that the work doesn't wear them out, it gives them energy.
Clarence Clemons was the soul of E Street. But what does that mean? Well, for me; it means being in some arena or stadium, and you're enjoying yourself but it's just a concert, just some music. It's better than being at home on Facebook, but at the same time you're aware of your tiredness and your personal problems and the aching pain in your bad knee. But then Clemons would launch into something on the saxophone. And it wouldn't necessarily be a showstopping 'look-at-me' moment. He'd just sneak in there, do his work. But it would grab you. Take you in. And suddenly you're not in the same world as everyone else. Your life isn't about petty problems and pains in your joints and break-ups. You're with the Gods now. You're floating up in the skies yet somehow you're deeply immersed in life and all of its possibilities. That is what music can do when it truly reaches us.
That's why fans of Bruce Springsteen get so disheartened when they can't get their kids to sit down and listen to "Born To Run". Because they know the reward if you put in the work. They know why the ticket prices are worth it. There's magic.
"We learned more from a three minute record baby, than we ever learned in school."
I listen to Springsteen every day. And I'd say 70% of that music features Clarence Clemons. Just yesterday, I was playing "Thunder Road" in a friend's car, and later that night when I was walking back from another friend's BBQ in the pouring rain I had "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" in my headphones. It was as fresh as the first time I heard it.
The loss of Clarence Clemons is a big one, and a part of me is truly heartbroken. But he lives on in the way that only the true greats can. That moment I was talking about, when a piece of music lifts you up into the stars --- that's outside of the ordinary plane of existence. That's bigger than the street you live in. That's the stuff of the soul and the spirit and some big giant essence that is love and heaven and whatever it is that somehow, sometimes, makes life just so fucking worth it.
Clarence Clemons will live forever.