Ladies and gentlemen, the “Big Man” has left the arena. On June 18, it was announced that Clarence Clemons, the legendary saxophone player and member of the E Street band, had passed away due to complications from a stroke he had suffered the previous week. As a member of Bruce Springsteen’s band, and arguably to most iconic backing band in rock and roll history, Clemons’ role was instrumental in creating the uplifting landscape that was present on such classic albums as Born To Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town and Born in the USA. His signature tenor-sax solos were certainly a force of nature, pushing anthems such as “Born to Run,” “Thunder Road” and “Badlands” to their absolute peaks and shaking stadiums around the world to their very foundations. The Big Man had some pretty big lungs and will most definitely leave behind some big shoes to fill.

Joining Springsteen in the first incarnation of the E-Street band in 1972 after an impromptu performance of “Spirit In the Night,” Clemons’ playing would bring an old-time rock and roll flavor to the group that had been missing in the larger scope of popular music at the time. His style conjured the playfulness of doo-wop, the richness of soul and the romanticism of jazz, while propelling Springsteen’s songs of longing and empowerment toward the rafters. A style that was his signature, and when heard almost impossible to ignore.

Growing up I never really seemed to get or understand the spectacle that was the E-Street Band. I always thought of them as this hyper-patriotic version of the animatronic jug bands you would find playing in a Chuckie Cheese, and whose performances were long drawn out displays of everything cliché about rock and roll. Even more so I always believed that the large, usually gleefully clapping and outlandishly clad, saxophonist exemplified these pre-existing notions. When I finally started to delve into my parent’s record collection, and became a fan of Springsteen and his music, I realized that none of this was true. If anything, their music was honest and encompassed all of the early ideals and integrity of rock and roll. I also began to understand what a powerful and utterly breathtaking musician Clemons was and the emotional depth his playing brought to the band and their classic songs. In particular, the extended solo in “Jungle land” from Born to Run proves to be one of my all time favorite moments in music, acting as the highlight to one of rock and roll’s most consistently applauded albums.

Much like the cover photo of that record, Clemons and Springsteen had a very visibly playful dynamic on stage, with Clemons playing the role of the strong silent body guard to the overly exuberant and charismatic loud-mouth kid that Springsteen has been perfecting for decades. Springsteen would introduce him to the crowd like a bewildered carnival barker, creating the sense that only he himself knew the powers that Clemons possessed as a musician and wanted the whole world to share in his amazement. He was definitely the Ace up the Boss’s sleeve, and with no doubt irreplaceable.

With this being said, it is hard to speculate the future of the E-Street Band. With the passing of Clemons, Bruce and bassist Garry Tallent are the last remaining members of the original E-Street band lineup. Bruce must be in a pretty low place right now. I’m sure he can’t imagine the thought of trying to rehash his body of work with anyone else. The shadow is just to big. Rest in Peace Clarence “Big Man” Clemons. Thank you for everything.

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