The Big Man


By Jason D. Johnson

“Glory days, well they’ll pass you by
Glory days, in the wink of a young girl’s eye…”
– Bruce Springsteen, Glory Days (1984)

I came to Bruce Springsteen’s music late. Of the now legendary talents that sprung to prominence in the 1970s and solidified their reputations in the 80s, Bruce was the one I ignored the longest. Led Zeppelin, The Allman Brothers, The Police, John Prine, Waylon, Willie and the boys all took a leading role in my musical landscape while Bruce hung stage right.

He eventually showed up, only last decade, to make permanent room for himself on my turntable. But he didn’t show up alone. He brought Clarence Clemons and the rest of the E-Street Band with him.

Connoisseurs of Springsteen’s music will likely site sax solos on cuts like Jungleland and Born to Run when asked of Clemons’ power, but the real testament of him (and the E Street Band) isn’t the recognized classics of thirty years ago…it’s the overwhelming spirit and artistic grandeur that the band brought to Springsteen’s 2007 album, Magic.

Contemporary music critics consistently adore new albums from “legendary” artists of advanced age. See any of Rolling Stone’s critical reviews of Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash or Bruce’s albums in the last fifteen years. Magic gets lumped right into that mix receiving very favorable reviews…same as The Rising… same as Working on a Dream…same as We Shall Overcome. This critical tendency causes some great albums to get overlooked.

However, the above Springsteen albums shouldn’t be overlooked because of the critics’ trends. They deserve a listen. Among them, Magic certainly doesn’t deserve to be overlooked. It doesn’t because of the beautiful use of metaphor that Bruce uses to describe the America he was seeing. It doesn’t because of the sheer “rockness” that is so readily present throughout the album, almost sounding as if the band were just discovering each other for the first time. And it doesn’t because of Clarence Clemons’ flourishes throughout.

Whether it is the icing-on-the-cake solo on the hard driving Radio Nowhere, the tilt and waver punctuating the end of the choruses on I’ll Work for Your Love or the welcome mat he lays down on Livin’ In the Future, Clarence’s imprint on the E-Street band and The Boss is everywhere. When his tenor sax sang on the waves, the most identifiable horn in all of rock endeared itself to millions.

Clarence passed this weekend at the age of 69, from complications of a stroke suffered approximately a week earlier. While The Big Man will not walk out on the stage again and listen to cheers from the thousands in attendance, his legacy perhaps just widened. Upon Clarence’s death, Bruce said, “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.”

It will also live on in any number of people who saw their great hero collapse because of a stroke. Perhaps that wake up call…that sound…that silence of the sax…will cause them (and you) to stop, pay attention and listen as their (your) own heart continues to play.

For more information on stroke and stroke prevention:


3 Responses to “The Big Man”

  1. M. Dale says:

    Very cool, I’m a huge music fan.

    • Betelhem says:

      P.S. To be clear, The Big Man is E Street, and Bruce’s music with E Street will change, now that the Big Man has made it to the Promised Land. but I think that no mteatr what Bruce plays, the Big Man will be in that music The love, music, and Brotherhood they shared is ingrained within each.. The Big Man will be there, with E Street and Bruce, forever along with Danny their music will go on

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