I picked up Greetings From Asbury Park after hearing “Blinded by the Light” on WBRU and a station in Springfield, Ma was playing “Spirit in the Night” when I was up there seeing Santana with some friends. Who was this guy? He had these lyrics that would stand up against anything that Dylan had to say. He has this “Joisey” accent and would pack more lyrics in one song, than many would in a whole album. And the band was this funky collection of musicians, including a sax player, Clarence Clemons.
I remember distinctly the first time that I heard, “Spirit in the Night”, it began with this saxophone intro and then, “Crazy Janey and her mission man…” and this song tied together, “Hazy Davy”; “Wild Billy”; “Killer Joe” and their adventure at “Greasy Lake” The song has this Sax in the background reminiscent of smoky rooms in a dark Jazz club. Stand up piano. Who was this guy? He had this album brimming with characters and stories.
By the end of the album, I knew I was listening to the premiere of something great. And no one else knew, yet. It was January and Rolling Stone wouldn’t review his first album until their July issue. I started playing it for anyone that would listen. This guy had the stuff.
Sometime during that year, He played at URI, opening for Sha Na Na or vice versa. But we were there to see Bruce. I bumped into one of my best friends, Danny. We had been out of touch for a while. Beaming smiles of happiness, knowing that we were still on the same wavelength musically, we were there to witness a phenomenon. Sam, one of Danny’s classmates, the spoiled rich kid at the high school and non descript drug dealer, saw us and announced that he had just met Springsteen backstage.
“How the heck did you do that?” I asked.
“Well Security are all URI students. I just went in a said that I was with Creem Magazine and they let me in.” He responded.
“You need to go back in!!!” I exclaimed. “I have to meet him”
“And what do you propose I do to get you in?”
“I’ll be your photographer.”
“Okay, let’s do it.”
We walked to the same security guard. “I need to ask Bruce some follow up question.” He told the guy. “And Mike here is my photographer”
The guard looked me up and down and said, “Okay”
I thought for sure he was going to ask where my camera was, but he didn’t. We walked down the corridor and could hear laughing. We walked into this classroom. And there was Bruce Springsteen joking with this very tall jovial black man. I was frozen. I took a deep breath and approached Bruce. They were talking about doing their laundry the next day at someone’s Aunt’s house before their Boston concert.
I didn’t know what to say. “Bruce, I love your album.”
“Thanks man, that’s good to hear”
“Did you know that ‘Spirit in the Night’ is getting a bunch of airplay in Springfield?” I continued, “And ‘Blinded by the Light’ is a local hit here in Providence.”
His face lit up as did the others in the band. “Fuck, Columbia hasn’t told us anything since the album came out.” He said. “I heard that Boston is playing the album.”
I proceeded to tell him that WBCN was giving it a lot of airplay. I looked at Clarence. “I’m Mike.”
“Clarence, man, good to meet you.”
I stood in awe. They continued talking about the plan to do laundry at the Aunt’s and that they should call her. Maybe she’d make a meal for them.
“It is an honor to meet you.” Bruce and Clarence shook my hand. “Can’t wait to hear you guys play”
“Well get out there, we are going on in a few.”
I walked out elated. Found Danny and we got to experience the beginning.
Clarence wailed on the Sax, a powerful and integrate part of the show. I was exhausted by the energy they brought to the show.
And that began my affinity for the band. Over the decades, I’ve seen them many times. They never disappointed.
Today Clarence Clemons passed away. We will always have the music to remember him.