I first heard about Clarence Clemons’ death from my daughter, who saw an “R.I.P. Clarence” note on her cousin’s Facebook page.
Maybe because the news came on Father's Day weekend, it made me think of the favor Clemons, Bruce Springsteen and the rest of the E Street Band have done for me: They made music that helps me stay connected to my adult daughters.
The first Springsteen songs that I fell in love with were early FM hits like “Spirits in the Night,” “Prove it All Night,” “Rosalita” and “Promised Land.” Clemons’ saxophone blasts defiantly or rocks gently through those songs like a tether to musical history, a direct line back to the R&B cannon. He helped give the songs a weight, an importance, that a lot of the music of the time lacked.
I think my oldest daughter’s interest in that music started when she realized, as I was driving her home from college, that Springsteen had written “Sad Eyes,” a song that was covered on an Enrique Iglesias album. Once she started listening to the real thing, she didn’t stop.
I don’t know why Springsteen’s songs hold up for young people in a way that the rest of my generation’s music does not. Oh, the kids know the oldies, and they’ll sing along to summer-at-the-shore bar anthems like “Don’t Stop Believing,” but they actually like Springsteen.
Some of it has to do with the power of a live E Street Band concert, and an awful lot of that has to do with the power of Clemons and his horn. When my then-college-age youngest daughter was getting ready for her first E Street Band concert with her cousins and friends (Frousins. It’s a family thing) I scored major coolness points by being able to fill her in on the important songs and the members of the band.
The last time I saw Clemons in concert, when I had the priceless experience of dancing with my daughter to music we both loved, Bruce and Clarence were the last ones to leave the stage. They walked arm in arm, Bruce supporting his side man as Clarence had supported The Boss on stage for what turned out to be a 40-year collaboration.
I’ll never be able to listen to Clemons’ long soulful solo in “Jungleland” in the same way again. This has been the music of my 20s, of my rebellion, the music that made me proud to be from New Jersey, that helped me make sense of what I was feeling after 9/11. Now, it seems, it will be the music of losing friends.
But it will also be the music that my 20-something daughters will still sing along to with me when we’re in the car, or when we’re washing the good dishes the night before Thanksgiving.
And for that, I’ll always be grateful.