Bruce Springsteen's Big Man

 |  NCR Today

When I was a kid, you didn't see many white and black musicians sharing the glory of an album cover. Clarence Clemons broke all that down.

The saxophonist for Bruce Springsteen (who dubbed him "The Big Man"), died this weekend at age 69, after a severe stroke. Obits will remember his talent and on-stage stamina, along with the trademark saxophone wail that punctuated several of Springsteen's best song.

But I'll always remember that album cover.

It was "Born to Run," Springsteen's breakout hit, released in the summer of 1975. Up until that point, musical frontmen were a segregated lot. Session artists of all races and creed had long populated big pop albums, but when it came to the face on the cover, it was a case of black or white. R&B artists like James Brown displayed hot passion; white rock artists from Led Zepplin to The Eagles projected cool -- and the two sides did not mix.

In 1975, disco made things even worse (it always did). It started as a largely urban phenomenon, and was the music of the marginalized (blacks, Latinos, gays), until the very white Bee Gees stepped in and took it away. (Try to find a face of color on the album cover for 1977's "Saturday Night Fever." You won't.)

That's why the photo for "Born to Run" was such a stunner in my Bronx neighborhood. There was a skinny, scraggly-bearded white guitar hero named Bruce Springsteen laughing with and leaning against saxophone-toting Clarence Clemons, like they were the best two friends in the world. Which they were.

Laudato-Si_web.jpgExplore Pope Francis' environmental encyclical with our complimentary readers' guide.

And Springsteen was no crazy eggheaded radical we boys from the Wakefield section could quickly dismiss. He was from dilapidated Asbury Park, New Jersey, a blue-collar shore town with a demographic very similar to the outer boroughs of New York.

And he was hanging with Clemons like it was no big deal -- just two buddies sharing a moment, happy to be alive and making music.

That cover has become iconic, imitated by other musicians and even by Bert and Ernie on Sesame Street. ("Born To Add.") There's also a book of outtakes from the photo session, by photographer Eric Meola, called "Born to Run: The Unseen Photos."

But few reviews comment on why that shot became so iconic. It's the brotherhood displayed by those two guys, and the unsaid message it sent to an evolving world thirty-six years ago.

Support independent reporting on important issues.

 One family graphic_2016_250x103.jpg


NCR Comment code: (Comments can be found below)

Before you can post a comment, you must verify your email address at
Comments from unverified email addresses will be deleted.

  • Be respectful. Do not attack the writer. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the original idea will be deleted. NCR reserves the right to close comment threads when discussions are no longer productive.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through. If you see something objectionable, please click the "Report abuse" button. Once a comment has been flagged, an NCR staff member will investigate.

For more detailed guidelines, visit our User Guidelines page.

For help on how to post a comment, visit our reference page.

Commenting is available during business hours, Central time, USA. Commenting is not available in the evenings, over weekends and on holidays. More details are available here. Comments are open on NCR's Facebook page.



NCR Email Alerts


In This Issue

  • Special Section [Print Only]: Peace & Justice