By Carol Anne Szel
I can’t even begin to discuss how much I love Springsteen. Ever since I snuck out of the house and went into Madison Square Garden when I was 16 years old, I have never known a musical event so pure, raw, expressive, real, and intense since that night.
So it goes without saying that this is a belated birthday blog of well wishes to The Boss, who turned a mind-blowing 61 years old last week.
I had the wonderful trail of serendipitous occasions that brought Mr. Clemons and I onto the same path a couple of years ago, and since then I’ve had the rare honor of spending time with the Big Man. A dream come true for this music journalist with a life-long passion for Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street band’s decades of music. Clarence Clemons is “The Big Man” who has kept The Boss running since their time sleeping under the boardwalk in Asbury Park over 30 years ago.
What transpired when I had the chance to meet “The Big Man” was not only a great interview about the music, but a great hour-long talk about life, friendship, and more.
When you were younger and met Bruce Springsteen, you are well-known for having that blind determination in knowing you were going to make it. The legends of you and Bruce practically living on the boardwalk in Asbury Park sticking it out until catching the ear and the attention of the music industry.
Clarence Clemons: I knew it when I first met him. Because he was what I was looking for and I was what he was looking for. When we met it felt real for me, it felt real for both of us.
When you were starting out like that, what’s the perseverance needed to follow your musical dreams like that?
Clemons: To have faith in what you’re doing, have vision. When I first met Bruce I saw it all happening. I know it would happen.
And bringing in a saxophone to a rock band back then was not the norm.
Clemons: Yeah, back then they weren’t doing it. The sax was always there in the beginning of rock, but then they said it wasn’t loud enough and then the guitar came in. And it was loud and aggressive and kind of pushed the saxophone back. I’d like to think that I had something to do with bringing it back to rock and roll!
It still gives me chills when Bruce announces you on the stage each night, and obviously a great number of E-Street fans around the world too. What is it about you that bring such joy when you’re on stage? I mean, you get the arena fans on their feet in a roaring cheer every night, is that part of that joyful spirit you speak of?
Clemons: I grew up in the church. I never listened to rock and roll when I was growing up. I lived with my grandfather a lot and he never allowed that kind of music in his house. And in church, when the choir sang it opened my heart, what it did to other people. I just saw how people got swept up by the music, the songs, feeling it deep in the soul. The music was rejoicing, cleansing, in the most beautiful way.
You’re known to be a great guy, Bruce Springsteen’s lifelong true friend, just an amazing person as well as musician with your own unmistakable sound,
Clemons: Thank you, that’s the biggest tribute that you can have. One of the best things that ever happens in this life for me definitely is when people hear my saxophone and they say they heard it and knew it was me. That’s great, that people recognize your feeling.
Now I’m not the fastest, my style is not like a lot of sax players, I don’t do what they’re doing.. But I play the notes you need to hear, I play the notes and reach them, you know? What I do is not a lot, but what I do I manage to get the job done.
With Springsteen, when you play a song like ‘Jungle Land’ you tell a story, like you’re bleeding through your notes.
Clemons: Sometimes it is. Sometimes it’s joy. The saxophone is really an extension of me; it’s what I’m saying without words. It’s my heart, my emotions, my real feeling through the sax. And when I can do that then I’ve done my job.
How do you keep that musical passion alive after all these years?
Clemons: Music is who I am, so it’s what I do. I am the music and the music is me. I’ve been through a lot of (physical) pain. But it’s the music that keeps me alive. When I play music, thank the Lord, it’s healing to me. It makes everything okay.
When did you know you were going to pursue music in your life?
Clemons: I was nine years old. I envisioned the whole thing. I envisioned what I am doing right now when I was nine years old. I wanted an electric train for Christmas and they bought me a saxophone. I said “This train has no wheels on it!”
So what did your family say when you said you were going to be a musician?
Clemons: Well, they still think I’m crazy! My family still thinks I’m kind of nuts but they love it when they see what I do and when they see the results of what I do. They understand why now, they understand.
Well, Clarence, I’ve been a huge Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street band fan for nearly three decades and obviously a huge fan of yours. What are your parting words?
Clemons: The universe if there to give you what you want, you just need to be there to get it. What you put out is what you get back.
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