Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Songs by Which I Remember Clarence Clemons

I’ve been jotting down some nice thoughts about Clarence Clemons the past week and a half.  It’s been a bit of a struggle, as I’ve found myself in “looking for the perfect word” mode, in an effort to best capture my impressions of him as the saxophone player for Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band.  He passed away a couple of weeks ago, in case you hadn’t heard.

Initially, I had a list that I assembled in my mind of my 5 Favorite sax solos by Clarence on Springsteen songs.  Then I realized I didn’t have enough musical knowledge to say much more than “And I REALLY like this one…” and so on.

So I started writing more impressionistic thoughts about his music with the intent of tacking the song list on the end.  Until I found myself in “looking for the perfect word” mode, which I mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago in this very post.  Remember?

Now here I am, full circle, thinking that even if my nice-thoughts-on-Clarence post may end up in bloggatory, my list shouldn't be doomed to the same fate just because it was attached, right?  As my daughters might say, “It’s not fair!”

So here’s the list.  Incidentally, all 5 of the songs that made my list began with the letter “B”.  This means nothing, as far as I know, but I figured I should point it out just in case anyone is thinking, “Why did he limit his choices to ‘b’ songs?”  That’s the thing: Completely unintentional.  Finally, this list could easily be 25 instead of 5.  But 5 is nice.

5.  “Back in Your Arms”:  Springsteen once said something nice about this sax solo, but for the life of me I can’t find the quote.  Just imagine something nice here, and attribute it to Springsteen.  Now imagine me concurring with it.  When I find it, I’ll stick it in here.  This is a different style than a lot of Bruce’s songs: I think it’s bluesy, but I may be confused about genres.  Either way, the sax brings you into the melancholy mood of the song, and being the final impression, it leaves you there.  Very pretty.

4.  “Born to Run”:  I never thought of the sax standing out so much in this song, so much as building along with the other instruments to the musical climax right before the third verse.  This feels more like a team effort, but the greatest team efforts wouldn’t be nothing without team players, and Clarence shows he can play nice with other people.

3.  “Badlands”:  This solo is pretty short and is wedged in between solos of others in the band.  Oddly though, I never really recognized this progression of solos until I re-listened to this song (for about the thousandth time) a few days ago.  I had always remembered the sax solo, but never really noticed the preceding and following solos.  The sax solo stood out—saxophones kind of do that—but on careful listen, I hear it as both a solo of its own, as well as a transition between the others.

2.  “Bobbie Jean”:  From melancholy to even melancholier, here’s the first Bruce song that made me cry.  And if you’re gonna cry, you may as well have a saxophone playing in the background, crying right along with you.  Clarence definitely lets it wail on this one.

1.  “Brothers Under the Bridges [‘83]”:  From what I’ve read, solos in general and saxophone solos in particular can, if not properly used, disrupt the flow of a song.  This might be a song that some people think suffers from that fate, as the sax solo is both abrupt and long.  To me, this solo is its own little microcosm of the entire narrative of the song, imbedded within the song itself.  It’s like someone giving a speech pausing to say, “Let’s recap where we’ve been and foreshadow where we’re going.”  But rather than doing it in a boring and redundant sort of way, Clarence’s solo here recaps and foreshadows with a different but complimentary voice to the song.  It’s almost like Clarence is saying, “This is how I see it, and I think you’ll agree it’s the same story just told a little differently.”  Meanwhile, he draws it out and builds it up, allowing the rest of the band to offer their perspectives as well, piggy-backing on his broad shoulders for support and credibility.

I can’t imagine seeing Bruce and the band without the Big Man.  Something very sweet ended with the passing of Clarence Clemons, but I am grateful for the chance to reflect on his powerful and wonderful contributions to the world of music and art.

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