Monday, June 20, 2011

The Big Man

It would take TigerBlog nearly 12 hours to listen to the 173 Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band songs he has on his I-tunes.

And it's not like he's listened to these songs one time each. Here are some numbers from the "plays" column:

Prove It All Night (live from New York) - 142 times
Out In The Street (also live from New York) - 163 times
Out in the Street (studio version) - 145 times
My City of Ruins - 171 times
Mary's Place - 175 times
Badlands (live) - 146 times
Born To Run (live) - 203 times
Santa Claus Is Coming To Town - 112
Land Of Hope And dreams (live) - 177 times
Thunder Road (studio) - 152 times
4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy) - 171 times

The list goes on and on, and that's just plays on I-tunes. None of that includes times listening to the same songs in the car on CDs or on the radio or, going way back, on albums.

TB isn't sure when he first started listening to the music of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. By the time he was in high school, though, it was taken for granted that everyone knew every song by the Boss.

And why not? TB's high school was about five miles from where Springsteen went to school, and TB took his SATs and achievement tests at Springsteen's school, Freehold Boro High School. One of TB's favorite teachers in high school, Mrs. Behson, taught Springsteen in math as well.

The news that Clarence Clemons, the saxophone player for the E Street Band since its inception, passed away this weekend at the age of 69 after suffering a stroke a few days earlier hit TB hard, as it probably did for 80 percent of the people in TB's age range from the general Monmouth/Ocean County area.

Clarence Clemons was a man TigerBlog never met, but he came across from a distance as a great man, a great musician and someone who would have been great fun to hang around with for a day.

Those 173 songs are filled with Clemon's unique style, and his long, overpowering solos - especially on "Jungleland" - are everywhere on the playlist.

More than his music, though, Clemons - known as the Big Man - brought his larger-than-life persona to the band, and it was obvious to any fans of the group that there was an incredible bond between the saxophone player and the lead singer, described by Clemons in an interview that TB saw over the weekend as simply "love."

In the case of almost any other group, TB prefers the studio version to the live version, unless he happens to be there live, because the sound is just better in the studio.

In the case of Bruce and the E Streeters, the opposite is the case, as the live version is almost always better. Why? Possibly because the sound of the live version brings back memories of the Springsteen concerts TB has been to, or possibly because of the energy and power that comes through the sound when it's played live.

On two of the 173 songs - "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out" from "Live In New York" and "American Land" from "Live In Cleveland" - Springsteen introduces the members of the band, one of the highlights of any of his concerts.

In the New York one, he introduces each one by one, finally getting to his wife Patty Scialfa. Then he offers up:
"Last but not least. I'm talking about the minister of soul. Secretary of the brotherhood. Do I have to say his name? Do I have to say his name? Say who? Say who?" As he asks "Say who," the crowd yells back "Clarence."

In the Cleveland one, he says each by name with nothing else, until he gets to the end when he says:
"Saxophonist. Author. Man of letters. He's bigger than Shakespeare. The biggest man you've ever see. Clarence Big Man Clemons."

The Big Man stood 6-5 and weighed 270 pounds, and until reading his obituary, TB didn't know that Clemons was a college football player at Maryland-Eastern Shore who earned a tryout in the Cleveland Browns training camp before a car accident ended his career.

He got his start in music when he was nine and his father gave him a saxophone for a Christmas present. He recalled his first meeting with Springsteen, which happened in Asbury Park, this way:
"One night we were playing in Asbury Park. I'd heard The Bruce Springsteen Band was nearby at a club called The Student Prince and on a break between sets I walked over there. On-stage, Bruce used to tell different versions of this story but I'm a Baptist, remember, so this is the truth. A rainy, windy night it was, and when I opened the door the whole thing flew off its hinges and blew away down the street. The band were on-stage, but staring at me framed in the doorway. And maybe that did make Bruce a little nervous because I just said, 'I want to play with your band,' and he said, 'Sure, you do anything you want.' The first song we did was an early version of 'Spirit In The Night.' Bruce and I looked at each other and didn't say anything, we just knew. We knew we were the missing links in each other's lives. He was what I'd been searching for. In one way he was just a scrawny little kid. But he was a visionary. He wanted to follow his dream. So from then on I was part of history."

That history took them in 1978 to Jadwin Gym, where the band played a concert.

Back when TigerBlog helped celebrate the 40th anniversary of the building's opening, he came up with the 40 greatest moments in Jadwin history.

Of the 40 events that TB chose, 25 were Princeton intercollegiate events. The other 15 included concerts, political events, professional events, high school events.

Looking back at the story now, TB would probably enter one of the moments the women's basketball team had in winning its back-to-back championships the last two years and possibly something from men's basketball from this past year, though the great moments for the men all came on the road.

As for the top events, there was the 1971 men's win over North Carolina, a team that featured Bob McAdoo, Bobby Jones and George Karl, at No. 3.

No. 2 was the 1991 men's basketball win over Loyola Marymount on Selection Sunday, a win that gave Princeton a 24-2 regular season record. TigerBlog remembers how the building was packed more than an hour before tipoff and just how electric the atmosphere was.

As for No. 1, though, TB wrote this:
Nov. 1, 1978 – Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band play at Jadwin Gym. The Boss opens with “Badlands” and, more than three hours later, finishes with an encore of “Rosalita,” “Born To Run” and “Quarter to Three.” Among the other songs he plays are “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” “Prove It All Night,” “Racing In The Street,” “Thunder Road,” “Jungleland” and “Backstreets.”

There were some who wondered how a non-Princeton event could be the No. 1 event in Jadwin's history. To have Springsteen and the E Street Band play in this building, though, is not something that's going to be equaled.

Clarence Clemons is the second member of the E Street Band to pass away, after Danny Federici died of cancer a few years ago.

TigerBlog walked out of every Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band concert he's ever been to with the same feeling, one of total awe that people could be that good at what they did.

Clemons pushed it all the way until the end, passing away 60 years after he got his first sax as a child.

His passing ends a four-decade run with Springsteen that produced the greatest music TigerBlog has ever heard.

So thanks, Big Man.

It won't be the same without you.


Anonymous said...

The music of Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band was the soundtrack of being a student at Princeton University from the mid-1970s through at least the mid-1990s. His songs were played just as loudly at other Northeastern colleges but Princeton students embraced Springsteen like he was singing just for us.

If you didn't already love Springsteen by the time you arrived on campus, your first college course was in the Jersey sound.

Maybe it was geographic proximity. Maybe it was because the blue collar themes in Springsteen's music made us all a little more comfortable attending a school with such a preppy image. But mostly it was simply the music, the best music of our lives for the best years of our lives.

BMcD83 said...

A hearty amen to a great post paying tribute to a great artist. I was fortunate to be at the 1978 concert in Jadwin where the basketball floor seemed to be moving up and down about 2 feet. Here's a clip of the Big Man playing the national anthem earlier this year with a bonus close up of our very own Chris Young in a Mets uniform:

Anonymous said...

December 5th 1980 at the Spectrum . It was The River tour. I was lucky enough to sit in the 5th row. Born to Run was the opener. When the Big Man took the center of the stage for his solo, it was one of the most incredible things that I have seen or heard! It will never be the same. RIP Clarence. Thanks for over thirty years of the best live rock of all time.