Photo by Manuel Martinez Perez

Even Father’s Day brings the rituals of a Sunday and reading the paper or watching Sunday Morning or turning on the radio as you take a drive for fresh baked goods is usually a part of it. This morning, many of us were met not with the familiar, but with the shock of losing someone we didn’t exactly know with whom we had a very clear relationship.

Clarence Clemons has died.

You don’t need blue collar roots to care about Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, but if you have them, you care in a particular way. You care about the way your father is represented in the songs of hard work, struggle and near despair. You care about the promise you know was there in him that necessity claimed and returned as a steady dispatch of duty. You care about the music as much from raw instinct as intellectual connection, because any sound that comes from commitment to the truth invades a body and circles around the place that can only be called the soul. The word reverence is one you wouldn’t mind putting to the emotion of caring about the Springsteen/E Street experience and the road to that experience was, more often than not, rolled out by the wailing of The Big Man’s sax.

Today I think of my father, long gone, because a 6-foot-5-inch monument of a rock musician has left a hole in the future as big as the doorway through which legend has him striding during an electrical storm decades ago. The story goes he felt propelled to the door of that bar. When he got there he locked eyes with a young man on his way to becoming an icon and the New Jersey stage they shared that night became the birthplace of a friendship and rock ‘n’ roll magic.

I’m from Jersey and my dad was one of those factory guys Springsteen sings of and for. It was Clarence Clemons who wailed out the joyful sorrow and sorrowful joy that working class men brought to the surprise of finding themselves in moments when work was over and exhaustion was at bay. It was Clarence Clemons, who rose from a wheelchair and hobbled on shattered knees to play with his soul mates at the Super Bowl in 2009. He had the grace to be the silence that gives music its sacredness and apparently he took the abundance of pain in his life and thought of it as a training ground for good things to come.

With maturity comes the acceptance of inevitability, but even maturity is a poor match for the shock of loss that accompanies death. It’s hard to imagine what music will come from the E Street Band when the shock of this death passes. Perhaps it will be what memories of lost fathers bring — not so much recollections as feelings — of warmth without words and the essence of something that was just about enough to last forever.

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  • Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. June 19, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    Dear Laura,

    We would be lost without your compass to guide us to knowledge of so many things…poetry, music, and the many places that you visit with your soul. Your words of memory of this man of music and your father tied together make me weep.

    Pat Allen