I was at a retirement party for a friend when I got the news Clarence had passed. Texts were coming in and one seemed to sum it up best; “tears fall on E Street”. My body suddenly felt heavy like lead and the sense of simply overwhelmed me. I felt like I had lost a friend.
Bruce and Clarence first met in 1971 and a year later he became a member of the E Street Band. This photo I shot of them in 1974, for me, seemed to depict a glimpse into their friendship. While many great shots of Bruce and Clarence over the years depict one of them leaning on the other, facing each other, cavorting with each other, this one seemed to evoke the opposite. Bruce, his eyes shut, seems almost transcendental and wandering off to wherever the music is taking him. While Clarence appears poised, focused and on note right at his side, giving Bruce the comfort and assurance to let him be who he is.
At the heart of all communication is our inert desire to tell a story. Theatre evolved from a story being shared around a fire. Marshall McLuhan explained it well when he said “the medium is the message”. The mechanisms we use to tell our story craft the way it is told. Social media today is proof point of that assumption. Music is a medium to tell a story. Early folklorists talk of the troubadour and how their travels became the subject of their songs. As they moved from town to town their music became the instrument in which one learned of life outside the boundaries of their physical. emotional and spiritual existence.
While much of music as we know it is rhythm and beat it’s also stories. A craft that begin to wane at one time, Bruce Springsteen resurrected. Perhaps his ability to concoct a tale of love lost, friends in need and personal triumphs and tragedies woven into a steady beat, is one reason for his overwhelming appeal. In our hearts we all love a good story and love the story teller.
From February 1974 to August of the same year, Ernest “Boom” Carter sat behind the drums for the E Street Band. Though only a short stint many “musicologists’ credit him with being instrumental in adding the jazz and funk flavor to the band's early sound. Later he, and E Street Band pianist David Sancious formed “Tone”, a jazz fusion combo that would eventually feature Patti Scialfa. Here's “Boom” at the Harvard Square Theatre show with the E Street Band.
Musicians and all artists alike have always lent their voice to the political scene. While many of us recall the “protest songs” of the 1960’s, the legacy of musicians speaking out goes far back. In the 1940’s Woody Guthrie, in response to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America”, composed “This Land is Your Land”. Many believed this to be a song of patriotism. It was actually a call to protest that in a country meant to provide equality to all, many Americans were living in poverty and hunger. As Woody traveled across the country he was struck by this and could not remain silent.
What piece of music isn’t a statement, what work of art isn’t an expression? We all carry in us a voice that wants to be heard. The arts provide this path to articulate these thoughts. Find the story behind any painting, sculpture, photo or writing and you will find a story of a voice looking to for expression.
Bruce Springsteen had said he wouldn’t perform during the 2012 presidential campaign. He has changed his mind. He will lend his voice. He will be heard.
"Bruce Springsteen’s values echo what the President and Vice President (Biden) stand for: hard work, fairness, integrity" said Jim Messina, Obama for America’s campaign manager.
What values, beliefs do you hold that echo with those of others? You’ve heard the voice of others. Now listen to your own.
There’s been a lot of words written about Bruce Springsteen. But perhaps the best piece to date is this week’s New Yorker profile by David Remnick. The piece profiles Bruce from his earliest days to the current Wrecking Ball tour. More is revealed in these seventeen pages then any bio to date. We learn about Bruce’s struggles as a teen, his struggles with the loss of Clarence, and yes, with his depression. For some reason the latter is what mainstream media is picking up on. So what? Who hasn’t dealt with depression themselves or known someone who has. I have on both accounts. But the real message in this piece, and in Bruce’s history, is that he is a work in progress, always determined to do his best. His best for his craft, his best for the band and his best for the audience. When he says he feels an obligation every night to deliver to each and every member of his audience a performance that will be invigorating, stimulating, resuscitating and incarnating, he means it. And he wants to make sure you get every dollar’s worth you paid for. Seriously.
When I first encountered Bruce in 1974 I discovered a young man hard at work. At what, I wasn’t sure. But I knew it was mastery in the making. Somewhat diminutive in size he pranced the stage and worked the room like a sorcerer conjuring up a spell. And he did. He laid down a spell on us, a spell that made us feel good. It was a Rock and Roll healing in all it’s glory.
This shot is from a series I did when he came over to the piano and did his solo version of “For You”. Another shot from this series has reached semi-iconic status having appeared in numerous exhibitions, galleries and publications. But a colector from New Jersey saw this shot in my collection and said “that’s the one”. Bruce, his eyes closed, lost in the moment, perhaps for a second feeling the healing himself.
In the New Yorker article Bruce says of the band and his role, “We’re repairmen - repairmen with a toolbox. If I repair a little of myself, I’ll repair a little of you. That’s the job”