This was in addition to Clarence's active participation, or at least invocation, in the gamut of stories Bruce told onstage. It was Clarence who walked through the woods with Bruce to find the gypsy woman, or it was Clarence that gave him the directions to find God to ask him whether he should be a writer or a lawyer. It was Clarence with whom Bruce drove through the wind and the snow and the tornado, the car falling apart, until the radio broke. It was Clarence in the forest when they were visited by Little Melvin and the Invaders in the spaceship. Clarence was there when Bruce and Steve sat on the porch trying to get up their nerve to talk to Pretty Flamingo, and it was Clarence on the park bench showing off the pictures of his son.
The onstage relationship between Bruce and Clarence faded over the years as Springsteen grew older, the elaborate stories and vignettes grew rarer. My good friend Dave Little got it right the other night when I stated that it was a kind of father/son, big brother/little brother relationship and he corrected me (as he often does!). He said that Clarence was the onstage anchor to his younger, wilder band leader. Clarence was the steady presence, grounding the band against this young, unpredictable, out of control force of nature, and as such Clarence in the early days was in an odd way the center of the band. As Bruce grew older this paradigm necessarily changed and thus the onstage relationship changed but was always essential.
Of course there is no denying that there was an (unstated) racial element to their partnership. Entering the public consciousness in the 1970’s there was no mistaking that a statement was being made on the iconic cover of “Born to Run.” Thankfully their public persona was far too rich and deep to ever become bogged down racial politics; after all they were having too much fun!
And then, of course, is the music – solos that are so truly iconic that it is hard to find a parallel in rock n’ roll, certainly not one that traverses 40 years; "Rosalita," "Backstreets," "Born to Run," "Jungleland," "Badlands," "The Ties that Bind," "Out in the Streets" and right up to "Girls in their Summer Clothes." Solos that were by design the emotional center and focus of the songs, especially on the concert stage. Clarence’s saxophone was the key element that tied Springsteen’s rock n' roll songs to their underpinning of the great soul and Rhythm and Blues that Bruce loved. Springsteen’s music is inexorably changed without the presence and sound of Clarence Clemons’s saxophone. So ultimately, even though Springsteen is indeed “the Boss” this was a wonderful partnership between these 2 men. Clarence wrote in his delightful autobiography “Big Man” that “without scooter, there is no big man,” I would also say there without the big man there might have been no scooter (as we know him). The very fabric and tone of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band is altered inexorably in the absence of Clarence Clemons.
Rest in peace and God bless Clarence Clemons - the best remembrance and obit is found on www.backstreets.com