Clarence Clemons (1942-2011): An Appreciation


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ate last night, I saw the email light blinking on my phone. A single new message had come in from one of my writer cohorts. The subject line read “Blood Brothers" ... and I knew. By the time you read this, thousands of obits will have already been published. The Clarence Clemons' story is well known and will not be repeated here. Instead, let's talk about how people change the world.

On Friday, I wanted a little dream sequence to weave my own messy thoughts into ideas about music and the news of Clarence Clemons' illness. Sometimes it's hard to address your own issues head on, so some indirection and mind mist can be quite useful.

That was then. Somehow, Friday morning seems like a long, long time ago. In fact, it was. It's a different world now. Clarence Clemons is no longer in it. I can hardly believe I just wrote those words. My hands are shaking, so it must be true.

Several weeks ago, I had a conversation with a coworker about reading . I mentioned that a re-read of Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential was in the plan for my vacation. He wondered why I would bother to read a book twice, his point being that there are so many as yet unread titles out there that deserve attention. There's some merit to this if you look at books from a “literary opportunity cost" angle. I revisit books occasionally because things have changed since the last read—I am a different person, so there are new ideas to be taken way from this new perspective.

What does this have to do with Clarence Clemons? His influence is a prime example of how all of us are changed, not just by the passage of time, buy by exposure to art and music. The meeting of Clarence and Bruce is the stuff of legend (several, actually), but the reality is that without Clarence Clemons, we would not have the E Street Band. And yet it's not just the music, it's the line that extends from it and passes through all of us. So while there is “Thunder Road," “Badlands," “Rosalita," and “Born To Run," there are the millions of interconnected associations—past loves, firsts of all kinds, that special summer day, epiphanies ... sad remembrances. This collection of thoughts necessarily changes though time. In that process we become different people. It's why the music is worth revisiting.

And now the world has changed again. Clarence has left behind a void that's impossible to fill. In Bruce's words:
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.

Yes, Clarence Clemons changed the world. Even in his absence, he will continue to do so.

Thanks, Big Man.

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