Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Big Farewell to Clarence Clemons

"When the change was made uptown and The Big Man joined the band, from the coastline to the city the little pretties raised their hands." -From "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out"
I was planning on publishing my intended Father's Day post now. Instead, I am compelled to share my thoughts on the passing of Clarence Clemons, the legendary saxophonist for the E-Street Band. The Father's Day one will come tomorrow.

I write this with tears in my eyes, for I feel like a friend of mine has passed away. I feel like a part of my childhood is gone. Although his legacy will live on in his music in whatever form I own now and in the future, I am still going to miss The Big Man.

I was born and raised in New Jersey. I grew up listening to Bruce Springsteen. Although it was more by osmosis than anything else. My parents weren't Springsteen fans. Having grown up in the 1950's, their era precluded Bruce. My brother and sisters were more into The Grateful Dead, James Taylor, and some others. But I picked up Bruce anyway. Thank goodness.

We did all manage to unite under the E-Street umbrella every Christmas, with their rendition of "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town." To this day, Christmas season does not officially begin for me until I hear this song. And because I can play it myself whenever I want, I have to hear it on the radio for it to truly bring me back to my childhood.

There was obviously no digital music back then, not even compact discs. And we didn't even own the cassette recording of this song for whatever reason. So my brother would set up his Sony boom box (very Jersey) in the kitchen with a blank cassette tape waiting for it to come on. When it did he would record it. Then, the real magic of Christmas...

He would press rewind, we would all take our places, my parents and sisters on the couches, my brother on lead vocals, I on the saxophone. He would press play, and after some garbled noises from the rudimentary recording device you would hear those familiar jingle bells marking the opening of the song. Then, we would lip sync (very 80s). My brother would start, "It's all cold down on the beach..." And I would wait with the anticipation of a child trying to fall asleep on Christmas Eve. But to me, even then, this was Christmas.

  He would continue, and I would wait. He was lead vocals not because of his superior talent. It was because of his being four years older, and nothing else. I accepted this, and waited, because I always thought Clarence was cooler than Bruce anyway. My brother would lip sync his part, "...He knows if you've been bad or good. You better be good for goodness sake."

Now I'm on... I'd come in on his "mic," which was really a wooden spatula, pretend to have a deep voice by burying my chin into my chest, furrowing my eyebrows, and pursing my lips in a perfect circle, and fake utter the same line, that last line, the ultimate backup singer, as Big Man " better be good for goodness sake."

And a few seconds later, my solo... on air sax... I killed it every time.

Fast Forward twenty-five years, and now I'm the lead, and my wife is Clarence (I dare not refer to her ever as "Big Man"). And she knows. She knows that it could be December 15th, our tree could be trimmed, most of our gifts ordered or purchased, but if the E-Street Band's rendition still hasn't come on the radio while I've been listening, it still doesn't quite feel like Christmas season to me yet.

This is the year I instill in my daughter the importance of this tradition. She doesn't have to know about Big Man's passing yet. She does have to know that me and her uncle used to look forward to this song at Christmas, and now me and mommy do, and that she will be a part of it.

Clarence Clemons was a part it. Is a part of it. Will always be a part of it.

Thanks for this and thousands of other memories, Big Man. You'll be missed.

Here's a great live version of the song:

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