I Have to Say His Name

Clarence Clemons died on June 18. As a long-time Springsteen fan, this was just as sad as the death of Danny Federici. Another part of what made Springsteen’s sound so distinctive is gone. I imagine that, as with Danny, Bruce will replace the Big Man. But just as without Danny, it won’t be the same.  It will be strange to have “Tenth Avenue Freeze-out” without the band introductions which would end with Clarence, and what is Scooter without the Big Man.

I’m not qualified to opine on the musicianship of Clarence. Mike Appel once said that Clarence could only play in a live setting and that he was terrible in the studio. One story is that Bruce had to take Clarence step by step through the solo in “Jungleland” in order to get the performance he wanted for the album. What I do know is that the sax was as important to the E Street sound as the organ and the accordion and the glockenspiel. It made sense to me that rock bands had a sax player, and I just assumed that they had to be black. (At that point I’d never seen Bobby Keys.)

One of my earliest non-musical memories of Clarence was a photo in Time magazine that showed Bruce and Clarence kissing on stage. I was a teenager when I saw this and the photo confused me. I was just a kid growing up in Vermont and two men kissing each other in public was confusing. As I got older, I was less confused by mundane things and remained a Springsteen fan. Clarence’s solos are part of the soundtrack of my life and things are a little bit better because I heard those solos.

In his concerts, Bruce would save Clarence for last when introducing the band. As with the other band members, he’d give Clarence nicknames, like the Minister of Soul and Secretary of the Brotherhood. Then he’d always end it the same.

“Do I have to say his name?”

His name was Clarence Clemons. Thanks, Clarence, and good-bye.