Or at least that is how the story goes when a still struggling rock and roll band met The Big Man, and the change was made uptown.
It was a stormy night along the Jersey Shore – the wind was howling, the lightening was flashing – and then, and then…suddenly the door not only blew open, it blew off the hinges, and in came the biggest man you’ve ever seen. In a voice as deep as the thunder outside he said, “I want to play in your band.”
Rock and Roll was never the same after that night. At least not for me and the now millions of members of the E Street Nation.
Yes, there is such a thing as E Street Nation. There is only one rule for joining: you have to believe there can be magic in the night. In the four decades since the Big Man joined the band, those magical nights of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band are usually counted in the dozens, if not the hundreds. In my case it is a relatively paltry 73 shows.
Clarence Clemons was one of the greatest sax players in the history of rock and roll, along with King Curtis (his idol) and South Bend’s own Junior Walker. But Curtis and Walker were front men, while Clarence had to find another niche, and, oh boy, did he ever.
He provided soul to a band that already had a big heart and a big beat. His sax solos could express emotions when there were no more lyrics to do so. His sound brought everything from doo-wop to Rhythm and Blues and even 40s and 50s big band jump beat back into the rock and roll fold. If Bruce Springsteen was the future of rock and roll, then Clarence Clemons was its history.
My first three E Street Band shows were all at Notre Dame, and like hundreds of others who saw them we remember those nights like it was yesterday. But my favorite Clarence memory came in Indianapolis in the early 80s. Somehow I wrangled a security job with the folks at Sunshine Promotions. At five foot ten and 150 pounds I sure didn’t look the part but the big yellow jacket that said “security” on the back helped, a little anyway.
By luck of the draw they put me in front of the stage by Clarence. For close to three hours I stared in the other direction like I was supposed to; after all I was charged with watching the audience, not the band. Then came Jungleland and my career in security was about to be short lived. When Clarence started his dreamy solo I turned and stared and I took in every second of it. I thought of that moment at every show since when the band broke into Jungleland.
The E Street Band and E Street Nation will go on, but Jungleland should remain only a fond memory, like Clarence himself.
So to E Street Nation may I say, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
Like a spirit in the night.