Saturday, July 16, 2011
Clarence Clemons, saxophonist for the E Street Band for 29 years, died last month at the age of 69. I'm not sure if that qualifies as a ripe old age, or even at what age someone begins to ripen, or if you'd even want to ripen, but either way, the man was 69 when he passed. And I'm not one to get worked up when people I don't know and have no connection to pass. I'm not being calloused or cold, I just can't get too worked up when one of the remaining Golden Girls passes. But there are exceptions and Clarence Clemons is one.
Many Springsteen tracks utilize the "wall of sound", more is more, approach. I've read Born To Run had more than 30 guitars on it. And yet, amidst the slightly cacophonous sound of the best E-Street tracks, Clarence's horn was easily discernible, reliably moving and never the novelty many a band's horn man can be made out to me.
In all actuality, Clarence was the fingerprint of the E-Street. Bruce is the voice, certainly, but it could be said that Clarence's horn parts paired with Bruce's voice indicated that their blood and soul coursed through their music. That the target was hybrid soul steeped in brotherhood and ethereal white noise without a scant trace of temporal fodder. The sax solo near the end of Thunder Road that follows the lyric "It's town full of losers and I'm pulling out of here to win" could be a number of things, but maybe its a call to action, a bellow of possibility in the face of unsavory circumstances and it remains one of the single most moving recordings I've ever heard.
Obviously the E Street will find a guy to stand in for Clarence, to fill the chasm left in his absence, that goes without saying. His horn parts were an integral portion of the bands sound, but it's a damn shame he's a gone. He brought such a wonderful element of balance within the sound of the E Street with his melodies drenched in heavenly light in contrast to the multi guitar assault his sax encountered for nearly three decades.
And so Clarence has shuffled off this mortal coil, dissipating into the ether, taking his place amongst the cosmos. But know that long after time has had its way with us all, someone somewhere will listen to Thunder Road, and it'll change them and they'll harness that change and do something with it. And what's better than that?