I didn’t cry when I read that Clarence Clemons had died. Instead, I watched a video clip sent via email from my friend Alan with the headline: “Best Rosalita Ever?” It was an old bootleg of Bruce and Clarence doing their thing in black and white. I shared it with my daughter Annie. I also read part of a eulogy Bruce had written, and there was a phrase in it that hit me: “Too Big To Die.” But it wasn’t until yesterday, more than a month after the fact that the tears came.
The emotion was prompted when my friend George Lange, someone who I’ve shared a love for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band with for 37 years (I was 14 the first time I saw Bruce in concert), showed me a video of Bruce and Clarence in Buffalo for what turned out to be their last performance together. In the clip Bruce told yet another highly dramatic version of the magical, night-I-met-the-Big-Man story (scary, dark, Asbury Park) that all Springsteen fans have come to know and love. They reenacted the Born to Run cover pose and then went on into the music.
I was watching while sitting on an old couch my late father had built in a house at the Jersey Shore my parents bought when I was twelve. This is the place where I listened to Springsteen non-stop throughout my teenage summers. I’d lay on an old mattress next to the speakers hooked up in our garage and before or after I worked scooping ice cream or waitressing, or on rainy days or any time I needed company, I’d take in the music. It comforted me. It gave voice to my angst and fueled my dreams. So it seemed fitting this would be the place where it hit me that Clarence was really gone. This was also the place that my dad told me, the summer before he died of cancer, “You reach points in your life when you realize the time to do that thing in your life is over.”
I haven’t seen Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band in a while though I’ve attended about 25 of their concerts over the last four decades. So with the loss of Clarence, I realized with a very tangible sense of finality, that a certain time in my life was over. The end of the POSSIBILITY of that experience and all that came with it, truly hit me. It was more than great music they shared with anyone lucky enough to see them on stage. They shared a love story—with each other and with all of us watching— and it will be shared in the same way no longer.
There are people who think it’s funny that I refer to Bruce Springsteen as Bruce and to Clarence Clemons as Clarence. I get that in the real world they are not my friends, but what they gave me makes them so. And in saying so long to this icon with a saxophone I know I am closing a chapter in my life I was lucky to have. And in a way, I think Bruce was right about Clarence being too big to die. He made himself big to me through the music and the performances and I will carry them with me in memory.
Tonight I am hoping to ride my one speed up the island to have a beer with my friend Joe. We met when he was a line cook and I was a waitress at the Mooring restaurant in Beach Haven, N.J. in 1978 and we’ve been friends ever since. When I was in college, Joe kept in touch by sending “Greetings from Asbury Park” postcards. I am planning to propose a toast to the Big Man and to giving it your all until the time to do that in your life is over.
(written July 2011)