The Big Man

Clarence Clemons

Cover of Clarence Clemons

Devastating news over the weekend about the passing of Clarence Clemons from complications arising from the stroke he had a week ago. I suppose it shouldn’t have been such a shock since the early reports on his condition weren’t that great, but it was. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen Scooter and The Big Man over the last almost 40 years and knowing I won’t see the two of them together again makes me sad.
As I’ve had time to think about this over the last 36 hours, two things did cross my mind that I think are right for this space and I hope you do as well.

I wrote the other day about collaboration.  Bruce’s partnership with Clarence was actually one of the examples that popped into my head at the time (John and Paul was the other).  While it’s not obvious on the recordings, if you ever saw the band live years ago you immediately recognized how integral that relationship was to the intensity of the live performance and the quality of the music.  I say years ago because as Clarence’s infirmities grew and he became less mobile that interaction was reduced.  Clarence served as an onstage foil, a muse, a driving spirit (listen to crowd reactions during any of his solos) and the deus ex machina that intervenes in many of the stories Bruce tells.  Clarence was a catalyst, and we all need those in business:  something that makes things happen.

The other thing about Clarence was his unique tone and phrasing.  I played the sax pretty seriously through college and I can play a lot of the same solos note for note.  Does it sound the same?  Hell no, and that’s the other business point.  It’s not just the content, it’s context too.  How someone does what they do and the extent to which they’re unique make them less of a cog in the machine and more of a critical part of the band.  Too many bosses think that anyone is replaceable since others can do the same job but they ignore that unique sound even as they fixate on the notes.

Hopefully Bruce will bring another sax player into the band and they’ll go on much as they did after Danny Federici passed.  The music, the stories – they’ll go on.  But they’ll never be the same.  Then again, they’ve been different as the years have passed, and that ability to change is part of what makes Bruce and the band great.  It’s what we all need to do as our businesses – and our lives – face new challenges.

But it still doesn’t take away the sadness of his passing…

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Filed under Growing up, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

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