Tag Archives: E Street Band

Clarence Clemons: A Tribute

I’ve written a lot about how Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street band captures the sounds of summer.  Much of this really has to do with Clarence Clemon’s instantly identifiable saxophone playing.  Clemons elevated Springsteen’s most classic songs into anthems of warmth and comfort perfect for afternoon sing-alongs even if the subject matter was a little bleak (see “Badlands”).  Clemons offered a fun and soulful side to the band – a perfect foil to Springsteen’s earnestness an sincerity.  The cover of Born to Run says it all – these two musicians were bonded in brotherhood and music.

“Well, I got this guitar and I learned how to make it talk,” Springsteen declares mid-way through “Thunder Road”.   Even back in 1975, no one believed in the power of rock and roll like Bruce Springsteen and Clemons breaks into his famous sax solo at the end of the song, it’s the perfect embodiment of that idea.  Rock and roll can mean something.  The ending to that song is so perfect, that if the rest of the album weren’t so damn good, you’d be inclined to never listen to the rest of the album.

Without a doubt Clemons was the most famous saxophone player in rock and roll.  Who else is there?  He had no contemporaries – maybe Bobby Keys (who played saxophone on many of The Rolling Stones songs from their classic era) – because in a way, for many Clarence Clemons was the saxophone.  When you picture the instrument, you automatically envision Clemons with his lips pressed to the horn ready to wail.  To the public, he seemed to live for music.  There was always a joy in his eyes in interviews when talking about playing.  Even recent health issues couldn’t keep him from playing on the last couple of E-Street Band Tours.

I came to Springsteen late in life.  I had a few of his albums but never really “got” him until I heard the Live at the Hammersmith Odeon ’75CD.  It was the performance of “Spirit in the Night” that truly made me a Springsteen fan.   It was a wild, and chaotic treatment of the song – nearly veering out of control. (I’ve heard many version of the song played from that era, and none of them are as commanding as this one.)  Springsteen can barely contain himself as he spits out the lyrics – a song about drinking and summer love turns into something erotic and and sinister – the chanting of “all night” becomes “all damn night”.  Amidst all this chaos, Clemons playing remains grounded – holding the song together.  When it comes times for the instrumental break, Springsteen shouts, “Big Man! Woooow!” – as if there is no other option, but for Clemons to take control of the song and bring it back to some sense of normalcy.    It’s one of those performances that almost feels unreal.  How can a band be this amazing?

E-Street will never be the same without Clemons.  While Clemons was surely Springsteen’s brother in music and life, he also felt like ours as well.  Rest in peace, Big Man.  Heaven surely got a lot cooler with your saxophone playing.

 

 

 

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The Top 10 Post “Blood on the Tracks” Bob Dylan Albums: 7. “Street Legal”

After the masterpieces of Blood on the Tracks and Desire, it seems inevitable that Dylan’s follow-up would dip slightly in quality.  Blood on the Tracks was a naked emotional affair, and Desire was a wild, gypsy sounding outing – the perfect studio counterpart for the Rolling Thunder Revue.  And Street Legal?  Parts of it sound like a cross between E-Street Band (there’s saxophones) and a Vegas theme-show (the first appearance of the backing singers).

Lyric-wise the album finds Dylan swimming in similar waters as the past two albums – the break-up of his marriage, and his divorce.  He’s looking for new women in his life – even if it’s just for one wild ride as suggested in “New Pony”.  “New Pony” is among the grittiest songs Dylan has recorded. Its fierce riff and pounding drums perfectly suit the menacing equestrian/sexual theme of the song.  Dylan has written many songs about sex, but “New Pony” is probably his most explicit – it almost makes the listener feel dirty.

If there was ever a song that begged for the acoustic Dylan it would be “No Time to Think”.   “No Time to Think” is 1970s Dylan in full protest mood with views on mortality.  (In a way, it’s a sort of pre-cursor to the Christian albums, which would shortly follow Street Legal).  It’s a dense song – lyrics such as ” You glance through the mirror and there’s eyes staring clear At the back of your head as you drink And there’s no time to think” would have hit harder if it weren’t for the big-band production.

Street Legal finds Dylan at a cross roads.  Throughout the album, he’s taken the yearning for lost love as far it can go.  It’s not surprising that in the year (1978) when punk rock was at its apex, Dylan would go the opposite route and put out an album full of grandiose arrangements and a full-band.  Ultimately, Street Legal can be a rewarding album on its own merits, but unlike Dylan’s best albums, the gems aren’t on the surface.

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Revisiting Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising”

Since it’s getting warmer out, it’s the perfect time to listen to Bruce Springsteen.  For me, he’s always been one of the quintessential “summer artists”.  He’s the guy you go to when you’re driving around with the windows down, thinking about the possibilities of the open road.  Listening to Born to Run, simply taking off not only seems romantic, but feels like it could be your destiny.

So last week I put on the usual Springsteen albums, taking in the warm weather – Born to Run, Greetings from Ashbury Park New Jersey, E-Street Shuffle, and the Hammersmith Odeon Show in particular.  While I enjoy his newer albums, I tend to gravitate towards his older music. For whatever reason, sometime last week, I reached for The Rising, which I admit I haven’t listened to in a good few years.

And at first, I listened to it casually.  Production-wise I think it’s one of his best sounding albums.  There’s a warmth and comfort to it, musically.  As I listened to it, I found myself enjoying it more than I ever have.  Perhaps I never really gave it a listen, I thought.  This seemed odd considering I’ve listened to it dozens of times over the year.  And then it hit me, that maybe I had subconsciously started listening to it, as a result of the biggest news story of the past few years.

The Rising was an album only Springsteen could write and make.  Like thousands of others in the New York/New Jersey area, Springsteen saw first-hand the devastation.  As New Jersey’s Favorite Son, it makes sense that he would be the one to put these feelings into a record. It’s an Rising filled with confusion, loss, sadness, and most of all hope.  Springsteen has always had a penchant for creating seemingly real characters out of fictional ones.  On The Rising he composites real stories of the heros and lost loved ones of 9/11.

The Rising provided a comfort for many people when they couldn’t make sense of the world around them.  And like the best Springsteen records underneath the sadness, he also tells us that it’s okay to continue on.  There might be darkness on the edge of town, but the American people are resilient, and that’s at the heart of The Rising.  Even so, when Springsteen invites us to Mary’s Place for a party, he asks: “how do we get this thing started?”  He doesn’t know.  He’s just sending out the invitations.  It’s up to us to follow and be united.

Listening to it now is entirely different beast though.  At the time of its release it guided us through tough times.  Now it’s a reminder of the way things were in the first few years after the attacks.  For some , now there’s a sense of closure in what happened on May 1st/2nd, but the turmoil still remains. We’re still waiting for a sunny day and counting on a miracle, even if the clouds have lifted a little bit.

The Rising offers a view of unity that hasn’t been felt for some time.  Everybody dealt with tragedy in their own way, but there was a sense of solidarity.  It’s present in the music – not just the lyrics.  Springsteen may have considered reuniting The E-Street Band for an album (they got back together for a tour in 2000) before he wrote these songs, but the very idea he bought back the members he fired an severed ties with a decade before got back together also speaks volumes.  The E-Street Band was back and the old feeling were gone.  There was work to be done, and stories to be told – and it could only be told through the power of a family.

After listening to it again, with a bit of perspective, I’ll rank The Rising up with the best of Springsteen’s albums.  It may not have changed the face of rock and roll in the way that his earlier records did.  There’s no romanticism, just real-life.  And sometimes, that’s just as good, if not better.

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