Ed Driscoll

The Big Man Has Left the Building

Clarence Clemons, RIP, at a far too young 69 years old.

Update: Roger Friedman, who says he first broke the story of Clemons’ now-fatal stroke last week, writes:

Here’s the thing about the E Street Band, which has zillions of devoted fans who can argue their merits for weeks at a time. In the end, the sound of that band came from Clarence Clemons. When Bruce Springsteen released “Greetings from Asbury Park,” he certainly established himself as a premier singer songwriter ready to inherit the mantle from Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and Paul Simon. But when Springsteen released “The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle,” suddenly his intentions were clear. This was an R&B band that combined that poetry.

The music, thanks to Clarence’s horn, was now elastic. He gave it swing. “Rosalita” is now a concert favorite but when it first was heard it was nothing short of magic.  Proceeding into “Born to Run,” Clarence–I mean, it’s him on the cover with Bruce–is the signature sound beyond Bruce’s voice. The band is great, Steve vanZandt is a genius, etc. But suddenly the whole mission is defined, and you wait to hear that clarion call to know what’s coming–it’s The Big Man.  There’s a hint of it on”Spirit in the Night,” but by the time “Thunder Road” is done, the Clarence Clemons sound is established like a national landmark.

Replacing Clemons will be as difficult for Springsteen as replacing John Bonham or Freddie Mercury in their respective bands. It will be interesting to see how Springsteen proceeds from this devastating loss to his sound. Or as John Nolte writes at Big Hollywood, “Today we mourn the passing of the Big Man and also the E Street Band itself … because it’s impossible to imagine one without the other.”