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And the Big Man left the band

The news of Clarence Clemons’ death called to mind a conversation I had with my friend, Jimmy, during Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s last tour.

Jimmy, who has seen Springsteen in concert eight times, said that tour would probably be the band’s final hurrah.

His statement perplexed me and I asked, “Why? Is Bruce going out on his own again?”

“He might,” Jimmy answered, “but they won’t be playing together much longer because of Clarence’s age and health.”

As Jimmy filled me in on Clarence’s health issues, I considered the Big Man’s age. I guess I always knew he was older than Bruce and that Bruce wasn’t much younger than my parents.

But in my mind, Bruce and the band are frozen in time circa 1985, because that’s when I discovered them. Oh, I had heard “Born to Run” and “Hungry Heart” on the radio, but it wasn’t until “Born in the U.S.A.” exploded onto the airways and onto MTV that I immersed myself in their music. I bought all the cassettes, yes, cassettes, including “Live/1975-85.” Actually, that was a gift from my mother. She gave me a choice – the 40-track live anthology or a sweater. I believe I chose well.

Bruce and the band parted ways in 1989. But they worked together on individual projects before reuniting in 1995 to record tracks for Bruce’s greatest hits compilation and again in 1999 for a tour.

I didn’t plan on attending any shows. I’ve never been one for concerts, but Jimmy had two tickets to the Louisville show and asked if I’d like to go.

Since you’re asking…

When we arrived at the arena, the instruments were on stage, waiting for their players. My eyes drifted past the drums, guitars and keyboards and rested on a saxophone.

“Jimmy,” I said, “that’s Clarence Clemons’ saxophone.” I said this as if he had no idea, as if he thought the sax belonged to Charlie Parker, to Lisa Simpson or to a random kid in the local marching band.

It was when I spotted the sax that I became nervous, anxious even, because I knew Clarence Clemons would soon walk on stage.

And when Bruce, the Big Man and the other members of the E Street Band came on stage that night, they rocked my world. It didn’t matter to me that I wasn’t witnessing them during their heyday because, remember, in my world, they’re always stuck in a mid-80s time warp.

Well, except when they’re younger.

I’ve always appreciated the “Born to Run” album cover. There’s something symbolic about the way Bruce leans on Clarence, and I love the mixture of admiration and mischief in Bruce’s face as he looks at the Big Man.

I had mentioned this to Jimmy and, one year at my birthday, he gave me an original poster print of the album cover. It hangs in my hallway. Sometimes when I walk by, I nod to the fellas. And I like to think the Big Man watches over things for me.

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