Clarence Clemons, saxophone player for the E Street Band, suffered a stroke this past week and is recovering. I'd like to take this opportunity to share a short story and say that as a fan and fellow fisherman, I'm pulling for him.
There was a deafening thunderstorm rolling overhead, probably the worst I've rode out, and I somehow found myself sitting in a cabin with Bruce Springsteen's saxophonist, Clarence Clemons and his brother.
That's when Captain Chris Miller came down, pointed to my arm, and said "Well, have you shown him?"
He was referring to the tattoo I'd gotten the year earlier of Springsteen's 1953 Fender Esquire (technically it's a hybrid, frankenstein of a guitar with a mismatched neck and body) with sneakers hanging from the headstock, an image I pulled from Eric Meola's historic photo shoot that resulted in the iconic cover of Born to Run. I'd used the tattoo to prove my (borderline disturbing) loyalty to all things E Street, which might have helped me hop on board the boat Clarence would be fishing on the week I happened to be staying in Islamorada.
But here I was, trying to keep my mouth shut, trying to be cool, trying not to ask what hidden tracks were still in the vault from Darkness on the Edge of Town, and now I've got to blow my cover and admit to being a total E Street dork. I reluctantly rolled up my sleeve. It didn't take Clarence long to recognize the image, and he started howling with laughter. I admitted to having been to 13 shows. I admitted to spending my first paycheck from working a post-college carpentry gig on a Sirius radio so I could listen to E Street radio. I confessed all, and when he caught his breath he said: "You can't blame me, you did that to yourself. It's not my fault."
Clarence shared a few stories from the road, dusted off some of his best jokes, and we killed time in the cabin until the skies cleared. Then he was back at it, fishing for yellowtail snapper to put on the grill. His knees aren't what they used to be, after an impressive stint as a college football player at the University of Maryland, and the endurance-testing whirlwind tours of the world with Bruce&Co. After all, the guy's nearly 70.
But his passion for fishing was undeterred. He was kind enough to sit down with me and give me an interview, one I've proudly got framed in my Jersey home. We didn't catch a yellowtail bigger than two pounds, but it was undoubtedly one of the more memorable trips I've been on.
There's no doubt that without Clemons' distinctive sound, the unique and influential force that is the E Street band would be missing something important, and so too would Rock and Roll. I can't imagine Jungleland, and so many other Rock masterpieces, without it.
It was a November night in Buffalo the last time I saw Clemons play. The band ripped through an impressive set amidst rumors the show would be their last. They played their first album, Greetings from Asbury Park, in its entirety, something they'd never done. During the rambling poetry of Growing Up Bruce stopped to tell a story, something he'd done routinely early in his career, but hadn't done in decades.
He told the mythical tale of the first time the band played with Clarence, how Clemons strode through the doors of a club, literally blowing them off as he walked in, and asked if he could sit in with the band. Bruce said from then on he fell into a deep sleep, and "woke up in * & #$ing Buffalo, New York."
Maybe something about how the tattoo wasn't just a guitar, how it was about escape and empowerment through music. Maybe something about how Rosalita had given me some courage to approach girls way out of my league. Or maybe something about knowing that I'd found the right one when she memorized She's The One Lyrics and put them in a text message. But all I could choke out was "Please don't stop playing Rock and Roll," and I shook his hand.
"We're gonna get better," was the Big Man's response response.
Here's offering up a prayer that the" Biggest Man You've Ever Seen" recovers quickly and fully, and can make good on his word.
Admitted E Street dork,