When I first heard the news on Saturday night, June 18 at about 7 p.m. that Clarence Clemons had died as a result of complications from a massive stroke he suffered the previous weekend, my immediate reaction was a myriad of emotions that came rushing through me all at once: Sadness. Surprise. Shock. Resignation. Man, this sucks.
Although there was a general consensus that Clemons' stroke had been quite serious — early reports indicated there might be at least prolonged partial paralysis, if he even survived — there had also been reason for hope of a miraculous recovery as recently as just a few days ago. In light of this, and despite concerns for Clemons' health among fans going back for several years now, in many ways the news that he didn't make it still came as a shock. As I write this, I honestly feel like I've been punched in the gut.
You see, I always thought Clarence Clemons was one of those mythical guys who'd live forever.
Part of this is pure selfishness, of course. Although I have seen Clemons perform with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band numerous times dating back to the Born To Run tour in 1975 — that's nearly forty years ago now — the fan in me really wanted to see him do it just one more time. Even if it meant him taking to the stage in crutches.
Clemons himself did nothing to discourage such selfish optimism among his fans. Although he described the pain he felt touring with Springsteen in support of 2009's Working On A Dream album as "pure hell" — this following replacement surgery on both his knees and hips — in a recent interview, he'd indicated he was far from ready for the rock and roll retirement home.
"As long as my mouth, hands and brain still work I'll be out there doing it," he told Rolling Stone. "I'm going to keep going 'til I'm not there anymore. This is what's keeping me alive and feeling young and inspired."
Clemons had also kept reasonably busy in the recent months during one of the periodical E Street Band sabbaticals he'd no doubt become accustomed to over his many years with the Boss. Most recently, he was heard playing sax with pop sensation Lady Gaga on her single "The Edge of Glory."
Springsteen fans the world over have known Clemons by a variety of names, reflecting his larger-than-life persona in the E Street Band for some four decades. Many of these, such as "King of the World" and "Master of the Universe," became part of the universal language of E Street by way of Springsteen's lengthy, played-for-maximum-dramatic-effect introduction of his longtime sax player and all-around crowd favorite onstage. Ever aware of what (or in this case, who) moves an audience, Springsteen always saved Clemons for last when introducing the members of the E Street Band.