Big Man: Tall tales from Springsteen sax man Clarence Clemons

As longtime followers of  Bruce Springsteen know, he’s not the true star of his shows. No, that would be the Master of the Universe, the “Big Man” — or tenor sax player Clarence Clemons, whose larger-than-life persona and stirring sax bombast have been hailed by The Boss relentlessly as part of his brothers-in-arms swagger and legend-in-their-own-time mythology.

Clemons isn’t truly the star of their shows, of course, but in the Springsteen universe, he’s close. After all, who also appeared with the Boss on the gatefold album cover for Bruce’s breakout album, Born to Run? And largely about whom does Bruce tell such tall tales and rousing stories in intros to songs during his concerts?

Now it’s Clemons’ turn to return the favor, with the new book Big Man: Real Life & Tall Tales (Grand Central Publishing, $26.99). Written with Don Reo and with a forward by Springsteen, Clemons’ book takes a cue from Springsteen’s intros to offer a wide array of vivid anecdotes, some of them unashamedly and admittedly embellished (thus, the Tall Tales subtitle), but all containing the essential truths of the Big Man’s life: It’s been a great one.

Though it touches on Clemons’ childhood, the book isn’t an autobiography so much as an entertainment, with yarns culled from his rich ramblings on the rock ‘n’ roll road. Some tales are told in third person, others by Clarence, others by Reo, his friend and a TV writer/producer.

Many are downright riveting and revelatory, including a chance encounter between Clarence and Robert De Niro, who makes a startling confession; Clarence’s calling a Beverly Hills pay phone to reach a girl and having a passing-by Groucho Marx answer; and Clarence explaining how Springsteen named his group the E Street Band. (Hint: It’s a good thing their always-late bandmate didn’t live on Mockingbird Avenue or Wendy Lane when the group sat out front in a car waiting to pick him up.)

All are breezy, cheeky, funny and right in line with the kind of story-weaving that Springsteen himself has incorporated into his shows — in both intros and narrative songs — since the ’70s. And after hearing Springsteen’s takes for so many years, it’s nice to hear the Big Man’s, too.

Also, to Clarence, I’d just like to say: Thanks for your Jungleland sax solo. I love your boss — and he is the Boss — but that inspirational solo, whether in concert or on record, is a crowning achievement in your collective rock ‘n’ roll careers. Big Man, you’re the best.

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