Let me begin by saying that I love love love love love the music of Bruce Springsteen and E Street Band. I own every album. I know the words to pretty much every song. Even the words to the obscure but haunting “County Fair.” So yeah, I’m that much of a fan.
And oh that yearning, wailing, transcendent saxophone solo that Clarence Clemons plays during the song “Jungleland”! Does rock and roll really ever get any better than that?
So I was saddened to hear this weekend about the death of Clarence Clemmons, a key fixture of the E Street Band for decades. Springsteen is a great songwriter, but it was the group of amazing musicians he worked with who turned him into a superstar. There is no question in my mind that Clemons was an artistic genius. And he was working until the very end. He is featured in the video of Lady Gaga’s new song “Edge of Glory,” which was just released.
But what made me even sadder about Clemons’ passing was the fact that my feelings were complicated by my knowledge of his 1997 domestic violence conviction in Florida. In 1997 Clemons would have been 55 years old. So this was not the behavior of some callow young man out on a bender. Not that that would have been any excuse – there is no excuse for domestic violence. But Clemons couldn’t even claim that it was all some kind of “youthful indiscretion.” No, at the time of the incident Clemons was a grown man. A very big grown man.
And what did he do? According to the woman he victimized, Clemons pushed her to the ground during an argument. Later that night he threw her into a wall, and kicked her and punched her repeatedly. (Find the story here: http://articles.latimes.com/1997-01-05/news/mn-15668_1_clarence-clemons.) Anyone who ever saw Clemons knows that he was huge. He stood 6’ 5” and weighed over 270 pounds. He played college football and had planned to try out for the pros before a car accident ended that dream.
Just take a second to imagine someone that large throwing you into a wall and then punching and kicking you. You might just think that you were about to die.
Let bygones be bygones? Now that Clemons is gone, shouldn’t I just let this go? Shouldn’t I just forget about the fact that he beat a woman? That was the response one person got on a website when he posted the following:
I was lucky enough to meet Mr. Clemons about 18 years ago when he made an appearance at my elementary school. Unfortunately the appearance was made to satisfy his community service obligations after he was charged with domestic violence. Either way, he was a great guy and an even better musician. RIP Buddy.
An immediate reply was posted that read:
Was it really necessary to include this “Unfortunately the appearance was made to satisfy his community service obligations a . . .” I suppose you have never made a mistake in your life. My God, show some respect.
Let’s think about that for a second… Who among us has never made a mistake? I know that I have sure made my share. But throwing a woman on the ground, and later throwing her into a wall, and then punching her and then kicking her… well, that’s no mistake. Those are purposeful attempts by a man to punish a woman. To harm her. To show her who is the real boss.
Those attacks were stupid. They were horrible. They were sexist. They were brutal. But they were no mistake. Men who do these things are not “losing control.” They are regaining control.
So while I am saddened by Clemons’ death, I am also saddened by some of the things that he did while he was alive.
I will still listen to his music. I will still rock out in my car to Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. But Clemons stopped being a hero of mine when I first heard about him beating up that woman back in 1997. To me, that was when he moved from being “The Big Man” to being a very small man indeed.