Tried to post this on Facebook on the occasion of Clarence Clemons’s passing. Too long. So here you go. A couple adventures with the Big Man (and just dig that Eric Meola cover photo):
Met Clarence after a Springsteen show in Detroit, ’75 or ’76, while I was at Creem. When Bruce crashed (he never was into partying), I found Clarence, who was. It wound up around 3 am with me challenging the truly Big Man, an ex-college player, to some kind of football duel. Whereupon he jovially, but terrifyingly, set up in his 3-point stance and blasted me across the hotel room.
Hung out in New Orleans in ’78, too, but sober: two of us walking down the middle of Bourbon Street. White cop confronts Clarence, accuses him of stealing a purse from a nearby bar. Pure harassment, seeing as how we had yet to enter any bar. And little choice but to take it. I’ll never forget looking up at the Big Man afterwards to see tears welling in his eyes.
Big soul, big talent and big fun and taken too soon.
The long tail struck again the other day.
For about a decade, starting in the mid-’70s, I was an editor for a rock magazine called Creem and then a freelance writer for dozens of rock rags. The Internet, of course, was beyond imagining, and so was the idea that any of that writing would endure into the 21st century. I do have semi-carefully packed boxes of some of the mags I wrote for squirrelled away in my basement (just as my wife, a former rock photog, has semi-carefully packed boxes of photos of a bloody Iggy Pop, for example, and Muddy Waters without his toupee). But the world moved on, and so did we.
Periodically, however, a stranger will email or call and want to talk about a near-forgotten story from back in the day. The latest came from a writer in New Orleans named Ben Sandmel who’s writing a biography of Ernie K-Doe and who had stumbled on an article I had written for Creem about Bruce Springsteen. There is a paragraph or two in the story about a concert after-party where Ernie was the entertainment, and Ben wanted to know more. Anyway, he sent me the story, which I hadn’t seen in more than 30 years. It’s far from exemplary — too long, too gushing, a little self-involved (thereby demonstrating all the flaws that continue to afflict my writing) — but it’s not bad, for a 24-year-old punk. And for Springsteen fans, especially in light of the imminent release of the Darkness on the Edge of Town box set and documentary, maybe even worth the slog. Anyway, I couldn’t resist posting it here, flaws and all.
One funny historical note is that there were enough people in 1978 — especially, I suspect, in the South — who seemed to think the name Springsteen, which is Dutch, was Jewish and probably spelled “Springstein,” that two of them wind up in this story of three days on the road with Bruce.
LAWDAMERCY, SPRINGSTEEN SAVES!
Testimony from the Howling Dog Choir
(or Tramps Like Us, Baby We’re Born Again)
I walk with angels that have no place — Bruce Springsteen, “Streets Of Fire.”
The middle-aged white man who runs the biggest oldies shop in the very old city of New Orleans is ranting hysterically on the edge of tears. He has recently seen the movie American Hot Wax and senses that history has passed him by one last time.
“That’s right. I was a disk jockey in Canton, Ohio when Alan Freed was a d.j. in Akron. I was playing [n-word] records, and you know what Alan Freed was playing??? He was playing country & western! Country & western music! Then he starts playing [n-word] records and they fire him after a day. One day.
“Well, I’m sitting in this coffee shop with him afterward, and he’s stirring his coffee real slow and looking over my shoulder out the window. I says to him, ‘Alan, just look at what you’re doing.’ And he says, ‘What?’ And I say, ‘Alan, you’re stirring your goddamn coffee with a spoon! And there’s the cream and sugar sitting right over there and you haven’t put a one of them in!’
“Then I tell him that I’m just going to have to write his next contract for him and that he’s not going to get fired no more! A no-fire contract! I told him that you got to ask for what you want ’cause if you don’t, they figure you ain’t worth nothin’ anyway! And I did it! I did the contract! I did his contract! Listen to me! I created Alan Feed!!! Did you read that in the history??? Did you see that in the goddamn movie??? I said, Did you see that in that goddamn movie???”
And he falls into a little red-faced jig behind his cash register with one arm stretching forward to detain us further and the other stretching beseechingly towards the sky. All we asked was how much for a Huey Smith record.
Several hundred miles up the road from New Orleans, in an empty, hermetically modern conference room that is acutely air conditioned against the buttery summer air, Bruce Springsteen, who’s never met the white man in New Orleans, tells me what he has been thinking about.
You know those folks who take long vacations and feel the need to explain that it’s their first vacation in five years/ten years/since I can’t remember when/since I started working here/since I got married/since I had kids/since I moved to California/since I moved back to New York. (Or, as the Hold Steady put it in “Chill Out Tent”: “…it was his first day off in forever, man.”)
Well, I won’t put you through that. I was away from the office for two weeks. And fuck it.
I also won’t try to explain that the vacation actually started out as work. Because you’d never believe that attending Hard Rock’s concert series in Hyde Park is work. Certainly not if you were there, what with the amazing VIP tent and free food, booze and service all day, not to mention guys named Springsteen, Neil Young, Paul McCartney and the Killers onstage. Not to mention the after-parties.
Yeah, I won’t even try. It was work. It was fun. And it rapidly devolved into pure, stout-soaked sloth.
6/28/09, Hyde Park, London, backstage at Hard Rock Calling
– What’re you doing here?
– I’m working for Hard Rock… What are you doing here?
– That was great, you goin’ up onstage with those guys [Gaslight Anthem]?
– Really cool. Really fun.
– Yeah… [Hug.] Good to see ya, Bobby.