Saturday, October 24, 2009

On the Borderline with the Big Man

Last night the Missus and me eschewed eating dinner at a reasonable hour in order to make the short trip to the Borders bookstore in Bridgewater. There we waited in line - along with a surprisingly large number of other folks - to meet Clarence Clemons and to have him (and his co-author Don Reo) autograph a copy of his just-released book, "BIG MAN: Real Life & Tall Tales". Proving that Walt Disney was right and that the world is remarkably cozy regardless of how it appears from space, while we were waiting in line we ran into Laura (of the Sisters Kizis) and her daughter Olivia (of the May 23, 2009 duet with Mr. Springsteen on "Waiting on a Sunny Day" at the Meadowlands.)

Having had the pleasure of seeing the Big Man do his thing in numerous arenas, halls and stadiums over the course of the past two and a half decades, I enjoyed the chance to see him - however briefly - from a much closer vantage point. Whether the book will make any 2009 Top Ten lists or emerge as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize I know not - although as a betting man I can think of better things upon which to wager next month's mortgage payments.

That being said, it is an entertaining read. I know because we were in line long enough to permit me time to read most of it (well, the "real life" part of it) by the time we reached the Big Man. It is a series of stand-alone anecdotal stories that pays no regard to chronology. He is in print as I have always suspected he would be: passionate and very direct. He does not mince words when he discusses his dislike for the E Street Band's original drummer, Vini "Mad Dog" Lopez. He does not sugarcoat his own limitations and failings. And he does not dispel the notion that for as long as he and Springsteen have been friends and band mates, neither has seen color. Rather, each has simply seen the qualities he admires and loves in the other, which has enabled him to understand and to forgive the other's shortcomings.

After spending slightly more than two hours in line, we reached the table where the Big Man and Don Reo were seated signing the book. Although the rules that were distributed to all who attended specifically stated that no pictures were to be taken with the authors Clarence kinda, sorta honored that rule in the breach. With a smile on his face, he allowed fan after fan to lean his or her face down towards him so that someone could take a picture of that person with him. We had a chance to observe him from close up for about 5 minutes before we reached him and not once did he shoo someone away from him.

That being said, the Big Man being the Big Man his eyes lit up when he saw Olivia. She is about as big as Margaret is, which is to say she is not big at all, and she and Clarence are fellow saxophone aficionados. He spent a minute or two talking to her about her playing, including how long she has been playing for and he gave her some very humorous and useful career advice. He posed for a photo with her (although I suspected that if she had wanted one or two (or a dozen) more he would have gladly obliged) and was still smiling and talking to Don Reo about her and her saxophone playing as he signed my book.

After signing his name to my book he briefly made eye contact with me as he slid the book over to Reo to sign. Not knowing what else to say (and only having had three decades and two-plus hours to prepare for it) I simply said, "Thank you for all of it." He smiled, nodded his head and thanked me as well. And that was it. After two hours in line and thirty seconds in his immediate proximity our business there was completed. Laura and Olivia headed off to their car and Margaret and I headed off to ours - not regretting a single moment of the time we had spent inside of the store.

In the "From the Massive Desk of Clarence Clemons" introduction he writes, "My heart will always be filled with gratitude to Bruce for one simple reason: without Scooter, there is no Big Man."

And as someone who has enjoyed and embraced their music for most of my life and someone who has had the pleasure of being in more than one of those cities that they have busted in half, I too am thankful that one found the other and that - as the saying goes - the rest is (and has been) history.

-AK

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