Thoughts On The Dead

Musings on the Most Ridiculous Band I Can't Stop Listening To

Tag: clarence clemons

This Story Has A Twist Ending

bruce young afro leather jacket

Hey, Bruce. Whatcha doing?

“Well, you know, man: sometimes ya gotta fight injustice. Also, I’m wanted in Greensboro.”

For what?



“No, it’s the injustice.”


“Y’see, man: I was driving in my car the other night. Nobody else on the road, no cops, nothing. A good driving road, y’know? And before I knew it, I had missed my stop and found myself on the Highway of Hard Decisions.”

Oh, God, you’re gong to tell one of your stories.

“I was makin’ good time, and I passed the Gas Station of Bigotry, and the Stuckey’s of Pettiness, and I had the radio up real loud.”

Roy Orbison?

“Obviously. And I started thinkin’ about something my father used to say.”

Wouldn’t be a Bruce story without your dad.

“He said ‘Stop playing that goddamned guitar.'”

What does that have to do with anything?

“Lemme introduce the band–”

No one has time for the band introductions.

“–on the organ, now you see him, now you don’t: Phantom Dan Federici; on the piano–

Two keyboardists? That’s a terrible idea.

“–Professor Roy Bittan–”

Everyone knows everyone’s names. Stop it.

“–and on the saxophone! The king of the world! The master of disaster! The Big Man, Clarence Garcia!”



“Hi, there.”

We’re done.

From A Tenement Window, A Transistor Blares

I didn’t imagine it.

Is There A Big Man In The House?

You don’t understand my feelings about Bruce Springsteen; that’s okay: I don’t, either.

My childhood was spent in New Jersey and during the 80’s. My best friend Jay Dorfman’s mother attended Freehold High at the same time as Bruce; my music teacher Amadeo Ciminisi had a framed picture of the time Bruce jumped onto the stage to jam with his bar band. My friend and bandmate Matt Tahaney and I drove down the shore on Sunday to see the Stone Pony: there was no band playing, and we were too young to get in, anyway. That wasn’t the point.

The night after I graduated from high school, Jeff Shulberg and I skipped all the parties (not that we were invited) to see Bruce at the Brendan Byrne Arena. The highway-facing side of the building was covered with a sign stretching the length of the facade, with 20-foot high letters: WELCOME HOME, BRUCE. The sign had been up for all eleven nights he sold out, and it could have stayed there all summer and he would have sold out every show.

(Jeff and I spent our pre-show parking lot time brainstorming how to steal the sign.)

This was the 90’s, and Bruce had gotten divorced and fired the E Street Band; he had also put out two records at the same time like Guns ‘n Roses, Lucky Town and Human Touch and there’s a reason you haven’t heard of them.  Like all double albums except London Calling and Exile, what could have been one great album was instead two unsteady and forgettable records. Plus, this was during the initial years of CD bloat, so both albums had 14 or 15 songs on them; I didn’t buy them.

And his new band was a mess. The guitarist was a rocker dude, but he had chubby thighs stuffed into his rocker trousers and a massive bouffant that shimmied and swayed when he did his rocker moves. The drummer was the dreadlocked guy who played with the B-52’s in the Love Shack video. Roy Bittan was still in the band because Bruce owns him, just like Bobby owns Jeff Chimenti.

I don’t remember if we had tickets or scalped them in the lot, but our seats were two rows from the roof of the arena, and straight back; Bruce still managed to make eye contact with both of us and sing at least one verse of Bobby Jean to us.

The man can work a room.

At the time, Bruce was doing two sets (just like the Dead, but with more fining musicians for missing cues) and a long encore, but not this show: Steve van Zandt (whom most know as Little Steven, but will always be Miami Steve to those of us from New Jersey) came out to thunder and raised arms and flicked lighters at the end of the first set, and Bruce called an audible and kept the band playing through the break: it was like he couldn’t stop himself.

Somewhere along the way, Max Weinberg slipped behind the drums–he wasn’t announced or anything and we all just kinda realized he was there after a few songs–and the arena lifted up its petticoats and did the frug, and the horn section came on and the song was Tenth Avenue Freeze Out, which has this lyric:

Change was made of town;
And the Big Man joined the band.

And there he was: our black shining prince. Twelve feet tall and just as wide with bare arms like waterfalls of muscle; I know there was jewelry involved, but I cannot confirm denim. He needed his sunglasses to protect him from the shine coming off his saxophone.

The woman next to me was grown, at least from my 18-year-old perspective, and heavy. Her hair was light and cut short, and we had been cordial the entire show, but not more than that.

When Clarence Clemons walked on that stage, that woman and I hugged like refugees reunited after the war.

So maybe when I see people talking shit about Bruce on Twitter, I overreact.

Oranges And Lemons, Say The Balls Of Clarence Clemons

band clarneceA-HA, fucker! You tried to trick ol’ TotD, didn’t you? You were tricksy and false, weren’t you, David Browne?

Oh, are we accusing someone new of insane conspiracies?

I J’ACCUSE YOU, DAVID BROWNE, newest shadowy figure in the international cabal of Big Dead. Covering up murders, starting up wars, looking up skirts: these are bad folks.

We’ve always known that Keeper of the Vault David Lemaeiouandsometimesyx has been behind most of the lies and death. He is assisted by The Most Right and Honorable Reverend Dr. Captain Nicodemus von Merriweather the VII, DDS, EMT, AKC (Ch.) who maintains the visual archive at UC Santa Cruz (Go Banana Slugs!)

McNally: he’s in on it. David Gans? That sumbitch knows where bodies are buried. Blair Jackson once invaded Cuba. It was in 2006, and he and his wife went with a local university and had the best time. But still: invaded Cuba.

The band may or may not know or care about any of this. Several internecine secret societies were started during the band’s run, most notably the Billuminati and the Philluminati, but they were much less Masonic societies with secret aims than they were two guys squabbling who read too many Robert Anton Wilson books and whose names rhymed with “ill.”

Bobby, it should be noted, is and has long been a member of an actual honest-to-shit Secret Society.

Anyway, in Browne’s new book, which I am not linking to again, but is called So Many Roads, he tells the little-known story of Clarence Clemons from the E Street Band befriending the band (specifically Garcia and Bobby) and getting asked to officially join, only to have someone who isn’t named in the book (ilPhay eshLay) shoot the idea down.

That’s a good story, but the short aside that follows is better: Garcia, Bobby, and Clarence fucking Clemons were going to get a bachelor pad together in the city. It would be Full House, except without the children, and the teenaged girls would be getting rogered. Also, Uncle Jesse is black and enormous.

If TotD had access to Time Sheath technology, this moment might be my new number one: the conversation where Garcia, Bobby, and Clarence Clemons decide to get a place together. Apparently, Clarence brought it up, but the idea gained enough traction to make it into a book thirty years later.

It’s a late night/early morning at Front Street:

“Man, do I love hanging out with you Grateful Deads! Shee-it, is it a change from Bruce.”

“We run a loose ship here, y’know?”

“Slack sail.”

“Gotta follow the rules in the E Street Band. Number one rule: watch Bruce. You look away for a second, he changes it up, and you miss your cue. One time, Max Weinberg got distracted by a girl in the crowd and missed a tempo change. After the show, Bruce put a hornet in Max’s ear.”

“Kind of a question of the punishment fitting the crime here.”

“Where’d he get the hornet?”

“Now, you see: there’s you two in two lines. Philosophic and practical. Bruce had the hornet in a glass jar backstage, and he also had the tweezers, and no one wanted to ask about it.”


“Mostly, it was fines. Phoning it in onstage? He’d give you this wink and a smile, but it wasn’t really a smile if you knew him: he was pissed and you just lost a hundred bucks.”

“Whaddya think Billy would do if someone fined him a hundred bucks?”

“Like someone in the band fined him for an infraction?”




“Yeah. He would murder.”

“Who, y’think?”

“Let’s not find out.”

“See: there’s Bobby being down-to-earth. You guys are great.”

“You’re great, Clarence.”

“C Dog, I am enjoying the fuck out of our visits.”

“Yeah, me too, guys. We should get a place.”

“Ha! Yeah, we should.”

“Sure, right, yeah.”


“I’m between wives at the moment.”

“–you’re between wives at the moment.”

“So is the Big Man.”

“Can we get one of those globes that opens up to reveal a bar?”

“I have one in storage.”

“Awesome. I’m in.”

According to Mr. Browne and Big Dead’s lies, the plan was abandoned for many reasons, chief–though probably unspoken amongst them being that three aging rock stars moving in together is kinda creepy and sad even for the eighties. Also, you know: someone would die. Shortly after moving in, right?

In reality, Garcia, Bobby, and the Big Man moved into a charming triplex in North Beach where they remain today, even after two of them have died. That’s how strong their bro was.

Things That Bruce Springsteen Has Fined People For

  • Missing cues.
  • Lateness.
  • Not saying “spoiler alert” before discussing GoT.
  • Not saying “spoiler alert” before discussing Quantum Leap. (Bruce hasn’t caught up; he means to.)
  • Smoking doobies
  • Imbibing intoxicating spirits.
  • Missing curfew.
  • Looking bored while Bruce tells his stories.
  • Touching Little Steven’s bandana.
  • Looking too long at Little Steven’s bandana.
  • Coming right out and asking, “So, what’s the deal with your head, bro?” to Little Steven.
  • Stealing all of Little Steven’s bandanas, forcing him to take the stage with a bath towel turbanned around his skull like Carmen Miranda.
  • Y’know what? Fuck it: everyone’s getting fined for that bullshit.
  • Lawyering up.
  • Dummying up.
  • Ponying up.
  • Declawing cats. (It’s barbaric.)
  • Cropping a puppy’s ears for aesthetic reasons. (It’s cruel.)
  • Folding a dog’s big ol’ floppy ears on top of his head and watching him do that dog thing where he  shakes his head and goes “aSHmumph.” (It annoys the dog.)
  • Pretending to say “BRUUUUUUUUCE,” but just booing.
  • Giving up on that American dream they promised us.
  • Losing sight of the Promised Land.
  • Racing in the streets. (Someone could get killed.)
  • Inviting draculas inside, thereby granting them their full powers. (Looking at you, Stan.)
  • Getting cut-rate chimi and day-old chonga for Chimichonga Night. (Still looking right at you, Stan.)
  • Taking out your dick at Foot Locker. (Why would you do that, Stan? That’s sick, and were having such a nice day off at the mall.)
  • Screaming “Let’s play Altamont!” and stabbing Clarence with a banana. (Y’know what, Stan: fuck you; you’re fired. You’re a menace.)
  • Forgetting the changes to Born to Run.

Blow The Horn, Tap The Tambourine

bobby jerry clarenceI might just devote all of tomorrow to So Many Roads: The Life and Times of the Grateful Dead by David Browne, the new doorstop-sized history/tell-all/overview/Mickey and Justin Kreutzmann interview. (Seriously: Justin is quoted more than I remember, say, Jason Bonham being in Hammer of the Gods.) It is well-written and capacious and digressive and wonderful: purchase the fucker.

One particular story I hadn’t heard needs more immediate attention, though: not only was Clarence Clemons semi-seriously asked to officially join the Dead, but he, Bobby, and Garcia were going to get a bachelor’s pad together. Like in Three Men and a Baby, but without the baby. Two Men and a Bobby, I guess.

The Dead all hit it off with Clarence, who was legendarily extroverted; for his part, Clarence was just happy not to be playing the same two-note vamp for twelve minutes while Bruce talked about his father or cars or that dream he kept having where his penis turns into Mr. Roger’s cardigan.

There was a lot more freedom with the Dead, Clarence found. You were allowed to trip your balls off onstage. Bruce had never made it explicitly forbidden to eat several handfuls of mushrooms before going on, but it was to be assumed: he had once caught Garry W. Tallent smoking a doobie; Bruce threw him down a flight of metal stairs and fined him a hundred bucks.

Clarence was also used to being the only black guy, so that was cool.

As far as joining the band goes, Clemons is blackballed by someone in the band whom David Browne does not name but is Phil. Garcia and Bobby asked him in the first place, so they vote yes; Mickey, as we know, had an open-stage policy. It was Phil.

Clemons took it in stride, went down to the bar, and did some blackballing of his own.

Oh, for fuck’s sake.


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