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New author Clemons sees no end for the E Street Band

John J. Moser
The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.) (MCT)

Tuesday marked the last show Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band will play at The Spectrum in Philadelphia, which will close in less than two weeks.

But Clarence Clemons — the band's saxophone player and venerable Big Man — says he doesn't think it will be the last time they will play their beloved Philadelphia.

Because despite aging (Springsteen's 60; Clemons, 67) and physical limitations (Clemons has had hip and knee replacement surgeries and back problems), Clemons says Springsteen "just seems to be getting stronger and stronger."

"So I guess the stronger he gets, the stronger we'll have to become, just to keep up with him," Clemons says in a telephone call from Philadelphia.

"So it's an incentive to work, and it's an incentive to keep yourself in good shape. And we seem to be getting stronger and stronger."

That wasn't always the case, as Clemons writes in a new book, "Big Man: Real Life & Tall Tales," released this week.

With co-author/friend Don Reo, Clemons writes he was so sure Springsteen's tour for the CD "The Rising" in 2003 would be the last, he tearfully grabbed Springsteen's hand after the final show and told him, "Thanks ... for everything."

The book, the first memoir from a member of the E Street Band, is sprinkled with details you would expect. It touches on Clemons' "serious recreational drug use." Smoking pot with comedian Redd Foxx. Snorting cocaine during a high-speed ride on the Jersey Turnpike. A 1973 traffic stop after a show in Bryn Mawr, Pa., that terrified Clemons because he had a joint in his pocket and Springsteen had a no-drugs policy.

It also touches on the availability of sex not just for Clemons — "It was unbelievable. It was possible to have a different woman every five minutes. It actually was too much" — but of other band members, such as keyboardist Danny Federici, who died of cancer in April 2008.

But the book is far from a tell-all, concentrating instead on revelations such a how the band got its name (from a Springsteen suggestion after a long wait for member David Sancious outside his mother's home on E Street in Belmar, N.J.).

It also says Robert DeNiro copied his "You talkin' to me?" line in "Taxi Driver" from a Springsteen phrase he shouted at audiences. It tells how Clemons, playing for Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band, got a comforting hug from Starr when Springsteen dissolved the band in 1989.

"Tell-all books are boring," Clemons laughingly says in the phone call. "What you did, nobody wants to know about it, unless you did something exciting. ... I'm an entertainer, and this book is very entertaining, I think."

But the book freely talks about Clemons' health problems, opening and closing with the October knee-replacement surgeries he feared would prevent him from playing the band's Super Bowl show Feb. 1. He also has had two hip replacements and a mild heart attack that ended his smoking and drinking. And when the book was written, he faced back surgery.

But Clemons says that his health is improving, and doctors have told him his back bones are "fusing themselves" and he may not need surgery.

"I call the stage 'the healing floor,' because I walk out there and nothing hurts, nothing bothers me for the three hours," he says with a laugh.

He says Federici's death helped focus the entire band on caring for themselves, "because this is a big responsibility that we have as a band, to our fans."

"We'll all pass on eventually, but I hope that this band stays together until we do."

Clemons says the Philadelphia shows have "been great. The Philadelphia audiences, they're like our home crowd."

But he says it saddens him the building will be razed.

"It's sad to see these old buildings go because they have so many memories, and it's a real personal kind of thing when you play these places," he says. "It's part of our history just gone.

"But we're just creating new history in new places."

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