Honoring Clarence Clemons, E Street Band Saxophonist
Clarence Clemons, saxophonist for the E Street Band, passed away this weekend at the age of 69 due to complications from a stroke. It's a big loss for Springsteen fans and for rock music -- he was one of the most memorable instrumentalists in the genre, and his legacy extended into 2011, with a guest appearance on Lady Gaga's "Edge of Glory."
But his reach went beyond music -- as New York Times pop critic Jon Pareles writes in a retrospective of Clemons, he was also symbolic. "Along with the sound his saxophone brought to the songs — of soul and R&B, of urban sophistication and wildness — Mr. Clemons’s imposing figure declared that the E Street Band was sharing rock ’n’ roll’s black heritage, not plundering it," writes Pareles. "In America’s long, vexed cultural history of race, his bond with Mr. Springsteen made Mr. Clemons a symbol of unity and reconciliation." Or, in essence, a rock band that wasn't just blatantly robbing black music of its sounds without bringing up any of its purveyors. For this, the E Street Band is rare, but more importantly, Springsteen seemed to view him as a more important figure in the band than even himself. "Onstage, with thousands of spectators," Pareles writes, "Mr. Springsteen would bow at his feet or hold him in a close hug, presenting him as a muse, not an employee."
And Springsteen's response to his death would seem to confirm that. In a statement released on his website, Springsteen wrote:
"Clarence lived a wonderful life. He carried within him a love of people that made them love him. He created a wondrous and extended family. He loved the saxophone, loved our fans and gave everything he had every night he stepped on stage. His loss is immeasurable and we are honored and thankful to have known him and had the opportunity to stand beside him for nearly forty years. He was my great friend, my partner, and with Clarence at my side, my band and I were able to tell a story far deeper than those simply contained in our music. His life, his memory, and his love will live on in that story and in our band."
RIP to The Big Man. Watch the E Street Band perform "Jungleland" -- considered one of Clemons' greatest solos -- live in 2009 (and check the gold nailbeds... what swag):