I saw Therapy? play JB'S in Dudley when I was 18. And that became the benchmark for great gigs. No matter who I saw, or on occasion played with, that gig was unbeatable. For the most part, I always knew, it was nostalgia. It was because I'd seen them when I was 18, and there's few forces on earth that can play a trump card over the nostalgia of an 18 year old's memories.
I first saw Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band in Dublin a couple of years ago. I'd always wanted to see them play, but it took a long time for the stars to line up. They were as exciting and tight as expected, and it was a great gig. They battled to keep our attention away from the Irish rainclouds overhead, and they blew a curfew that cost them 50,000 to keep going for another of their marathon gigs. But there was one thing that you could sense playing on the mind of everyone in the crowd -Clarence.
He was struggling to move. His pain was visible even as far back as we were, and he was n't managing to hit all the notes on his sax. There had been stories of double hip replacements and back surgery, and there was the worry that this 67 year old was on one gig too many, and that his body wasn't going to let him do what it did in 1974.
We saw the band again two nights later in Glasgow, and my benchmark for a great gig was destroyed. I'd always heard of the nights when the band produced something truly amazing, and then I got to witness one. They went for over three hours, they rocked, they goofed off, they had fun with the crowd and there was a real feeling of spontaneity in the air.
And the difference? Clarence Clemons. Two nights after he'd looked like the pain had finally gotten the better of him, he nailed it. He moved around the stage like he owned it, and he hit every single note. He didn't just hit them, he hit them. The whole band took their lead from him. They played with the confidence that it was going to be one ofthose nights. Bruce was a revelation. That was the first time I truly saw how much he drew from Clarence- when the big man was on, Bruce could kick loose and fly.
And It shouldn't have been a surprise because the defining image of Bruce's career has always been that black and white cover of Born To Run. A skinny leather clad rocker leaning on the shoulder of his partner in crime. A telecaster, a sax and an easy smile.
Bruce and the band had always been one of those things that I had to enjoy alone. In the punk, grebo and indie circles that I mixed with, everyone was too busy being cool to admit to a liking. In the days before Ipods -and when I never really liked walkmen- that sax filled my bedroom and gave me visions of something beyond my dying industrial hometown.
So for those teenaged nights, and for that epic night in Glasgow, I thank you Clarence.
And I'm going to miss you Big Man.