His Tenor Saxophone was a centerpiece of the E-Street Band. Remembering the first time I saw him perform.
I will never forget the first time that I saw Clarence Clemons, the Big Man−or even the date, June 6, 1978. He blinded me with his saxophone and then he overpowered me with the sound that came out of it.
To set the stage for what was truly one of the most remarkable musical moments in my life I have to turn back the time to January of that year when my wife and I were walking through the Willowbrook Mall, in New Jersey. At the time, before tickets were sold routinely on the Internet, there were small storefronts that advertised tickets to current and future events. The marquees read “Ranger Tickets” “Grease” “Eagles,” “Crosby Stills and Nash” and you could purchase tickets for events that were scheduled for the next night or going two to three months forward.
Bruce Springsteen had been locked in a legal battle with his original manager over a contract that Bruce had signed on the hood of a car giving almost total control over his music to his promoter. Bruce was broke and penniless and, it would seem, had little to lose at the time. Just as his career was taking off, he was under the thumb of a horrendous contract and making a tiny fraction of whatever he produced. He entered in a prolonged legal battle that kept him from producing any records or touring for three years. Since his hit “Born to Run” had broken what had amounted to a “Tenth Avenue Freeze-out” he was nowhere to be seen, completely out of the public eye.
I was walking past one of these mini-stores and the marquee had the usual list of current events and block letters, “Bruce Springsteen,” jumped out at me. I thought it was some sort of weird joke or ploy to pull someone into the store. I had to satisfy my curiosity. I walked in. The guy behind the counter told me, with a straight face, that they had no idea when he was going to tour and, in fact, there were no scheduled dates. If I were brave, stupid or reckless, I could reserve a ticket by simply plunking down $10.00 for the privilege.
Even then, as now, I was convinced that Bruce Springsteen is the greatest rock and roller of all time. He wasn’t a cute guy, in the right place at the right time, taking advantage of a shift in popular culture, singing love songs (the Beatles). He wasn’t singing songs written by Tin Pan Alley ghostwriters (Elvis) and when asked to explain his songs, he’d willingly take his time to make sure his songs and lyrics were clearly understood, and didn’t act coy, cocky, mysterious, smug or snarky (Dylan). More than just “silly love songs” his music, although carried by the strains of classic rock and roll themes, alienation, angst, and “we-gotta-get-out-of-this-place” desperation, Bruce presents the problem but offers either a solution or, more importantly, a notion that there is hope.