On June 18, 2011 it all changed. Songs that gave me such joy, now give me such sorrow. A student of music will listen to a piece and break it down into specific elements and movements, looking at each, listening to each and understanding the significance each brings to the whole. It’s not that I did not notice nor appreciate Clarence’s sax… Of course I did… It was what made Bruce’s music unique… it colored the world and infused it with soul. Yet now, as I listen to songs I have heard a thousand times, they’re different. That sax stands out more now than it ever did. There are obvious reasons for this. We are focused more, both at our loss and at its meaning. We are desperately trying to hold onto those moments where Clarence and that sound are and will always be alive.
We were always aware of it, always found the joy in it, but it was never flashy or showy. It never stood out for the sake of standing out. It served the music and enriched it. It was a part of the song. We would anticipate its arrival, find bliss when it came, and show our appreciation as it passed. Yet it never stopped the flow. It majestically took us deeper into the music, absorbed us, and pushed us forward on the journey.
Listening to Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band was a whole course in what happens when things come together. There were solos, of course, but at least for me, every song was a fluid collaboration; a band of blood brothers coming together and laying it all on the line, for each other and for us each and every night, on stage or in the studio. The individual elements always served the good of the song, and the band. You always knew who the Boss was. In any good endeavor there must be a leader, guiding and focusing. There must be a light showing the way… but he was clearly a member of the band and he conducted his orchestra and his life in a way that never put him above or out of reach.
As much as the loss of Clarence dominates our thoughts, we must also think about what it means to Bruce and his loss of a life-defining friendship. To know that we will never hear Clarence’s sax live again is staggering. Life without the E Street Band is unfathomable… but life without Clarence must be unfathomable for Bruce.
In a very selfish way we hope the music goes on. Yet this is not just a desire, it is a very real and very deep need. Life goes on as long as we are living, and with each and every day it changes. People and friendships come and go; we move physical locations. People pass. We lose things and gain things, sometimes not where we want it. To try to find that center, that consistency; to find ourselves is a life-long battle. To live with joy and bliss is the most noble course, but also a daily struggle.
Time does heal, and while life will never be the same without Clarence Clemons, life is never the same from one day to the next. We will never forget, and because we live in a world with recordable technology, we never have to. Recorded music is a way of staying immortal, but live music is what keeps us alive, even if, as Rush says, “we are only immortal for a limited time.”
Our thoughts are with Clarence’s friends and family and with the Big Man himself. Our thoughts are with Bruce and the whole E Street Band. Out thoughts and prayers are to see the E Street Band back on the road real soon. While no one will be able to fill the Big Man’s shoes, nor the concert halls and stadiums, the music needs to play.
Life needs music and music needs life.