My mom claims she has a photograph of me around age 3 or 4, standing on our coffee table in the living room totally naked, except for a guitar around my neck.
My fist is in the air and I’m singing “Born in the U.S.A.” as loudly as I can.
Some of my earliest musical memories are of watching Bruce Springsteen on TV, and of singing his songs. He was cool, and I knew he must be a rebel, even if I didn’t know what he was singing about. But, I also remember thinking “I wish I could play the sax like that guy, and look like him, too.”
He had on a sleeveless shirt and big sunglasses, he was big and looked tough, but he also looked like he was having the most fun in the world. I guess I was a bit too young to care about the names of the people in the E Street Band, but Clarence Clemons’s sound and attitude stuck with me.
A few years later, in fifth grade, I got the chance to decide what instrument I was going to play in the school band. I didn’t even need to think about it: I picked the saxophone. I was a little disappointed when I was handed an alto, but in a few short weeks my bandleader asked if I would be happier playing the tenor. I was a tall kid, so I guess it fit me better. It wasn’t as shiny or new as the altos my classmates had, but it was what Clarence played, and that meant I had to play it, too.
As I went into high school and became too cool for the music I had loved as a little kid, I forgot about Springsteen and the E Street Band. Thankfully, I pulled my head out of my ass, and when I got back around to listening to Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town, Clarence’s solos were there waiting for me, and they sounded better than I could have possibly remembered them; “Born to Run” and “Badlands,” “Jungleland” and my favorite, “Thunder Road.”
I feel sad knowing he’s gone; I never even had the chance to see him play live.
Clarence was “the big man” to this little kid from Illinois, and one hell of an amazing sax player. Dude could blow like few others.
Rest in peace.