Friday, April 12, 2024

Remembering the Big Man

Clarence Clemons, the spirited sax player who raised the roof for four decades as an integral member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, died in Palm Beach over the weekend from complications due to a stroke. He was 69.

Boca Raton magazine was fortunate enough to catch up with the Big Man for a feature in our December 2007 issue that, appropriately enough, focused on some of the lessons he had learned during his storied career. Here is that profile in its entirety.

From the feature “Live and Learn” / December 2007, Boca Raton

Fans of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band know him as The Big Man, a nickname that would have served Clarence Clemons well had he fulfilled his post-college goal of playing professional football. But that dream was crushed when the Norfolk, Va., native suffered injuries in a car accident. So the former lineman at Maryland State returned to a passion that he had put on the backburner, but never totally abandoned: playing his saxophone.

Clemons, who was bouncing around the music scene in New Jersey, met Springsteen on a stormy night in 1971. As Springsteen tells it—during concerts and on albums—he was performing at Asbury Park’s Student Prince club when an imposing figure ripped opened the front door with such force that it flew off its hinges. Clemons and Springsteen began to jam—and the rest is rock history.

In addition to his 30-plus years with the E Street Band, Clemons has acted in TV shows and movies, and has dabbled in scriptwriting and music composition.Clemons also performs with Temple of Soul, a band that infuses the saxophonist’s beloved rock ’n’ roll with the Latin sound he has discovered since moving to South Florida in 1995. The Singer Island resident also makes time to support the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation of South Florida and Home Safe, a nonprofit aiding abused and neglected children.

Here, the Big Man shares some of what he’s learned as a rock superstar:

• The saxophone is my first love. It’s such a personal instrument; everybody [who plays it] sounds differently. I look at the saxophone as an extension of myself.

• Fame is dangerous.

• I’m The Big Man—not just because of my size, but because of what I bring to the table. I bring the spiritual side. I always felt my music was a reflection of my spirit.

• I’ve never planned on retiring. What does that mean? It’s over. It’s ended. Life is about constantly working, constantly doing things. To retire, I would turn to dust.

•  I’ve been able to follow my dream. I visualized this whole thing when I was very young. I saw myself playing music, being on stage, and being a star. It’s hard work. People tell you to follow your dream and all that stuff. But it’s the work that counts.

• I was married for about two years to a Chinese woman [Clemons is divorced], and we bought a place in north China and spent a lot of time there. … In that area, they’d never seen a black man. For me to walk down the street—being a very tall, very big black man—was kind of odd. But it was wonderful. They loved me—with open arms. They were very curious; they wanted to touch my hair. … Being in a strange place where nobody knows who I am—but to still be loved—is a great thing.

• I’m a strong believer in the laws of attraction. If you put out love and harmony and peace, it’ll come back to you. If you put out fear and hostility, it will come back. I am total love. I love myself, number one, and I love everything else around me. My spiritual teacher told me a long time ago that my purpose in life is to bring joy and light to the world. So whatever I’m doing, I try to bring that love and that light.

• Music is love.

• My life is an open book. I’m (65, at the time), and I tell myself that I’m 25 years old every day. I’m starting to believe it, you know? That’s what keeps me going. I’m still ready to rock and roll.

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