In Springsteen on Broadway, Bruce honors friendship.
There is a Twitter thread that contains a bunch of photos of Bruce Springsteen and Clarence Clemons kissing.
The actual story of how Springsteen and Clemons met seems to be lost to time, replaced over the years by various myths.
“A rainy, windy night it was, and when I opened the door the whole thing flew off its hinges and blew away down the street. The band were onstage, but staring at me framed in the doorway,” Clemons said in one interview.
“Bruce and I looked at each other and didn’t say anything, we just knew. We knew we were the missing links in each other’s lives. He was what I’d been searching for.”
In another version of the story, Clemons says “He looked at me, and I looked at him, and we fell in love.” The kissing seemed a natural expression of that.
Bruce Springsteen talks about a lot of heavy subjects in Springsteen on Broadway, and his one-man show that’s now streaming on Netflix (and available as an album). He talks about his father’s depression and other mental health struggles, and how that affected their relationship.
He talks about his darkness. He talks about war and love and the constant struggle to be a better person. There are a lot of opportunities to cry. But no moment made me sob harder than when he talks about Clemons, who died in 2011.
Springsteen introduces “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” with a speech about what makes a great rock band and the “1+1=3” math that has to happen. It’s not about having the best musicians, but the right musicians, the ones that come together and feed off each others’ energies until they make something more significant than all of them.
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Then, in the middle of the song he pauses, right before the verse that begins with “When the change was made uptown, and the Big Man joined the band.” In the original recording, this is followed by a Clemons saxophone solo, and in recent years when Springsteen and the E Street Band perform it, there’s a pause to acknowledge Clemons’ passing.
The song, theoretically, tells the story of the E Street Band’s formation, with “Bad Scooter” (Springsteen) and “The Big Man” (Clemons) joining together. And while he names everyone else in the band, he says “nobody captured my audience’s imaginations or their hearts like Clarence.”
He had the nickname for a reason. He was prominent in size and personality. He was a flashy dresser, and his saxophone sound set the E Street Band apart from other band
s of the same era. No wonder Springsteen fell in love.
Springsteen then talks about the story he and Clemons tried to tell with their music. “It was a story where… we remade the city. We remade the city, shaping it into the kind of place where our friendship and our love for one another wouldn’t have been such an exceptional thing.”
Springsteen and Clemons came from extremely different backgrounds; one black and one white, one raised Baptist and the other Catholic. Perhaps that what’s that kiss was about every time; not just that two men could kiss, but that a white man and a black man could share that much love for each other.
“He was elemental in my life,” Springsteen adds, “and losing him was like losing the rain.” Here’s where I break down.
We don’t often talk about friendships with this sort of power. The most critical relationship in your life is supposed to be your romantic one (and you’re supposed to have a romantic one).
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Love for anyone, but a spouse or an extremely close blood relation is often considered a nice bonus, but not the thing that life is made of.
Most of us understand the importance of friendship but are not often given the language with which to express it. This is especially true for men.
But here is a man who has all those things—a talented and beautiful wife, three successful kids—taking time to recognize the power of friendship, and speaking of it in the grand, metaphorical language we typically reserve for romance.
Because there is romance in friendship, there are infatuation and awe and the feeling of wanting to be around this person all the time, and it’s important to acknowledge that.
It’s the same part of me tearing up at Springsteen’s recollection of Clemons as it is tearing up at a wedding because that connection between people is beautiful and deserves to be celebrated.
Love is love. I hope one day they get to kiss again in heaven.