When he was still in his early 20’s my father owned a Camaro. In my head I can still see it in front of my grandparents’ house; blue with a white stripe down the hood with an 8-track player and seat belts that were only a suggestion. I remember how it sounded when it pulled up to the house and I remember what it felt like to sit in the front seat on the rare occasions it was just dad and I going for a ride. Outside of that, the only thing I remember is that one day the car was gone and instead of a Camaro my father was driving an old van, which he later swapped for an old Ford Bronco. My father would never again race someone who pulled up beside him at a light but the Bronco held his tools during the week and his kids on the weekend, which was enough.
The one thing the Camaro and the Bronco had in common was music and by the early 80’s this usually meant Bruce Springsteen. My father played Born to Run like he was preparing my brother, sister and I for a test on it and if there was a test we would have done just fine. We knew it was a town full of losers, we knew about the back streets, we knew most importantly when the change was made uptown and The Big Man joined the band because of all of the songs on that album we liked 10th Avenue Freeze Out best (I never thought about it at the time but I suppose we liked it because it was easy for us to all sing along with.)
In 1986, when Springsteen and the E Street Band released the live set of songs from 1975-1985 my father carefully selected his favorites and copied them onto cassette so we could listen to them in the car. He included a live version of 10th Avenue Freeze Out but our favorite song soon became the live version of Rosalita. By this point in time my father had seen Springsteen live but for the rest of us this 10-minute version of Rosalita was as close as we would get to the live experience. In case you’ve never heard it, that version of Rosalita, recorded at the Roxy Theater in 1978, includes a break to introduce the band which culminates in us learning that Bruce had in his corner, the man he called the king of the world…The Big Man Clarence Clemons. We had seen Clarence in pictures and on TV but it was this song that captured my imagination and set the image in my head of The Big Man as more than just Bruce’s sideman, he was also (as far as I could tell) his protector and confidant which is just what I needed and why in my head, when I recast my family as the E Street Band* I always made my father Clarence Clemons.
*Don’t act like you’ve never cast your family as a famous band. My family has been The E-Street Band, The Wu Tang Clan and many more over the years. Basically any band with more than five members can serve as a stand in for your family. Give it a try.
Here is the Clarence intro from around the same time as that Roxy show.
Yesterday, I was saddened to hear the news that Clarence Clemons had passed away. Today is Father’s Day and as many of you know, my father passed away about a year and a half ago. Today I’m thinking of both big men and I’m grateful for the times we all spent together, I won’t let the fact that Clarence was never actually driving with us stop me in the least. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind.
Happy Father’s Day to the big men in all of our lives, wherever they may be.