Sunday, June 19, 2011

RIP Clarence Clemons

June has been hard on legendary sidemen. On June 8th, we lost Alan "Mr. Fabulous" Rubin. And this weekend, Clarence Clemons, the ultimate saxman sidekick, passed away after suffering a stroke on June 12th. The Big Man was 69.

Clemons, of course, was a member of the E Street Band, but he was so much more. He dabbled in acting ("The Wire," "Nash Bridges," "Jake and the Fatman"). He jammed with Ringo Starr and the Grateful Dead. Just last month he was wailing with Lady Gaga on "American Idol." And according to just about everyone except maybe his four ex-wives, he was an incredibly  nice guy. Hell, I'll bet even his ex-wives thought so.

To honor The Big Man, I present my favorite thing he ever did: "You're a Friend of Mine," his 1985 duet with Jackson Browne. It's not a great song. But it has a killer video. I am totally not saying that 1985 was the best year in the history of the world because I graduated from high school that year. Yet how can you deny the greatness from which this video sprang? You've got Jackson Browne and his iconic anti-fashion hair. You've got Jackson's then-girlfriend Darryl Hannah, dabbling at a truly mediocre painting and capturing her boyfriend and his saxophonist friend on a 600-pound "portable" camera. And you've got Clarence Clemons, dressed in his best Jermaine-Jackson-action-figure chic but still grinning as if he were the coolest cat in the world. Oh right, he was.

So screw 1967. I say 1985 was the real Summer of Love, and the video for "You're a Friend of Mine" is one of the reasons why. The power of Clarence Clemons was such that Jackson went an entire four minutes without beating Darryl, and MTV put maybe the least hip song released that year into heavy rotation. That's magic.

God bless you, Big Man. I guess the Lord decided we had had your mad sax skills long enough, and now it's His turn to jam out. I'm glad we still have the videos.

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