El Niño, Downtown Los Angeles 1966 - age 3.

El Niño, Downtown Los Angeles 1966 - age 3.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Clarence Clemons Rest in Peace. Springsteen at the Los Angeles Coliseum 1985

In the mid-1980’s I was just a casual worshiper of the Church of Bruce Springsteen and The East Street Band. I merely listened to the big radio hits such as Born to Run, Dancing in the Dark, and Hungry Heart much like a non-practicing Catholic who only attends service on Christmas Day and Easter Sunday. I was still holding on to bands like X, The Blasters, The Ramones, The Who and The Clash in 1985 while the legions of Bruce Springsteen fans around me praised "The Boss" and those legendary five hour shows at The Los Angeles Sports Arena in 1981.

Like most of the events that impact us in our young lives, listening to the experience second hand is never enough, one has to experience the “light” first hand and that is what I was about to do towards the end of The Born in The USA tour in 1985. Four of my classmates from Cal Poly Pomona were planning on attending one of the sold-out Springsteen shows in September of 1985 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and my curiosity started to peak. I needed to find out what this was all about so I took the plunge of 20 dollars for the sole spare ticket that they had. We arrived early in the afternoon on the day of the show and went through the motions of tailgating and decadence in the parking like most concert goers did in that era. When the show finally began we were comfortably nestled among 100,000 worshipers at The Los Angeles Coliseum on the perfect night of September 29, 1985. The band was relentless and beautiful in their showmanship. Bruce’s stage presence was exactly as described to me during all those years of “non-believing” but there was something special up on stage besides the famous New Jersey band leader that caught my attention, a big beautiful saxophone player name Clarence “Big Man” Clemons. The saxophone solos on Born To Run, Jungle Land, The Promised Land, Rosalita and Tenth Avenue Freeze Out were like something that I had never before experienced in my life. The rockabilly band The Blasters had a Saxophone player, but with all due respect that was like a small candle compared to the Olympic Torch that Clarence was blowing. I have no words to describe it at the moment of this writing but lets just say that I was immediately “converted” to the Rock N’ Roll Church of Bruce, Clarence Clemons and the rest of the East Street Band. I went home later that evening completely different than the person who had left earlier that day. Shortly after my conversion, I discovered the 1980 double LP, The River which continues to see constant rotation on my turntable as well as the rest of the East Street Band's catalog which I had largely neglected up until that incredible night at the Coliseum. By the end of the decade, Bruce put The East Street Band on hold while he ventured into a solo career and a Hollywood marriage to Julianne Phillips. Clarence went on to a successful solo career and became a highly sought after element by other musicians including Ringo Starr, Aretha Franklin and Jackson Browne. For ten years, the millions of worshipers waited and waited in the pews of the Cathedral and finally The East Street Band was reassembled in 1999. Hallelujah !!

I had the good fortune to be able to see the reunited East Street Band in almost every Southern California venue over the years including the inaugural event at the Staples Center in 1999 as well as Dodger Stadium, The Honda Center, and those wonderful shows at the Los Angeles Sports Arena in 2007 and 2009. Over the course of those years, Clarence was hobbled with hip replacement surgery and needed a cane and a big stool to support his massive frame on stage, but the Big Man always gave it everything he had on the stage and every show was simply “Magic”. His big beautiful baritone voice was the cornerstone in the song “Out in The Streets” where every member of the band would step up to the microphone and belt out “Meet me Out in the Streets, baaaaaby”. Clarence Clemons passed away today at the age of 69. You are irreplaceable Big Man and I will never forget you. You are forever in the soundtrack of my life. Rest in Peace.

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