Saying goodbye to the Big Man


A year ago I had to sit down and figure out how to write Clarence Clemons’ obituary for Backstreets, which remains one of the hardest things I have ever done. (It’s at the bottom of that page.)

Most news orgs have staff to write obituaries of famous or significant figures in advance, while others use the occasion of serious illness to get one ready and prepared, because (as I know well from my day gig) it will happen on a night/weekend/holiday when you’re operating at half staff or people aren’t available. In this situation, we had about 36 hours’ notice that it would probably be a good idea to start seriously writing, instead of the “Maybe we should do this but no one wants to think the worst” which was of course our initial reaction.

Most of that advance time was spent digging out quotes and show dates and going through recordings to find the various things that floated to the top of my brain when I tried to wrap my mind around it. This is where living with your own in-house Springsteen statistician and archivist came in handy; I could tell Glenn what I needed, vaguely describe the quote or the show or the song interlude, and he would find it for me, while I put together a rough outline of what I wanted to make sure was covered. I could not have written the obit without his assistance, which is why it was a dual byline.

All of this advance research meant that once there was official word of the Big Man’s death, it was just a matter of sitting and writing the thing, which was of course harder than it sounds. It had to be good, it had to be solid, and it had to be right. The other publications could worry about the neutral historical record, I wanted to make sure that this was the fans’ obituary.

This was one of those magic instances where the first draft was fairly complete. After Glenn fact checking and correcting and pointing out one or two other things I might want to include, I finished up around 11 and sent it off to Chris Phillips. Then I needed a drink. Badly.

Once we had confirmation by phone that he had it and didn’t need any changes, we were off duty. That’s when we got in the car, rolled down the windows, and cruised through Williamsburg with Born To Run on full blast. (No one noticed, to our dismay.) Then we drove down to Asbury (I think I finally started crying right about the time we hit the Verrazano), stopped briefly at the Stone Pony memorial, and then went around the corner to the former site of the Student Prince (which should have a plaque on the sidewalk, as far as I’m concerned) and drank a toast out of my hip flask.

Miss you, Big Man.