Tuesday, June 21, 2011

An Appreciation of Clarence Clemons

It had been, at the time, a while since I listened to Bruce Springsteen. When I did, the giant piece of my young adulthood that was tied up in those songs came pouring out of me in a torrent.

It was impossible to listen to a song like Badlands without remembering the certainty and the resolve I once felt, and without realizing how drastically life had changed.

No wonder it produced a giant lump in my throat.

Lights out tonight
trouble in the heartland
Got a head-on collision
smashin' in my guts, man
I'm caught in a cross fire
that I don't understand
But there's one thing I know for sure girl
I don't give a damn
For the same old played out scenes
I don't give a damn
For just the in betweens
Honey, I want the heart, I want the soul
I want control right now
talk about a dream
Try to make it real
you wake up in the night
With a fear so real
Spend your life waiting
for a moment that just don't come
Well, don't waste your time waiting

Badlands, you gotta live it everyday
Let the broken hearts stand
As the price you've gotta pay
We'll keep pushin' till it's understood
and these badlands start treating us good

Workin' in the fields
till you get your back burned
Workin' 'neath the wheel
till you get your facts learned
Baby I got my facts
learned real good right now
You better get it straight darling
Poor man wanna be rich,
rich man wanna be king
And a king ain't satisfied
till he rules everything
I wanna go out tonight,
I wanna find out what I got
Well I believe in the love that you gave me

I believe in the love that you gave me
I believe in the faith that could save me
I believe in the hope
and I pray that some day
It may raise me above these


mmmmmmmm, mmmmm, mmmmmm

For the ones who had a notion,
a notion deep inside
That it ain't no sin
to be glad you're alive
I wanna find one face
that ain't looking through me
I wanna find one place,
I wanna spit in the face of these badlands


No small part of Springsteen’s appeal was the saxophonist that accompanied him. In the E Street Band, the saxophone frequently assumed the role of lead guitar, underscoring the majesty, the salvation, or the sadness in many a Bruce Springsteen song.

It was like punctuation; an italics or bold-faced font. I can’t imagine Born to Run, Backstreets or Jungleland without Clarence Clemons. If ever one musician belonged with another, it was Bruce and Clarence.

In twenty-first century America, we often use the word legacy. Probably too much. We want to be remembered for something. For having influenced someone somehow. Clarence Clemons has no such concerns. He left an indelible stamp on some of the most singular music of his era.

I hope you were happy, Clarence. I hope you realized how the nameless, faceless throngs that filled those arenas thrilled to your playing. I hope you know what it meant to them. And to me.

I hope it meant something to you.

Rest in peace. And thank you.


  1. I didn't know he had passed away.

    That's quite sad as he was a brilliant musician and Bruce's music is timeless.

  2. Yes it is, on both counts.

    I think it bothers me because it's also a sign of my own mortality.