Saddened to read this week of the passing of both Columbo, or Peter Falk as his mum knew him and The Big Man, Clarence Clemons to you, me and his boss, Bruce Springsteen.
As well as acting in several of John Cassavetes' movies Peter Falk was in one of my 'all time' favourite films, Wim Wender's Wings of Desire. In it he played himself as a former angel making a film in a Cold War Berlin redolent of Heroes era Bowie. Very good portraitist too, something that Wenders incorporated in the film. There was a remake set in Los Angeles but it didn't have Columbo in it, opting instead for Nicholas 'earnest' Cage and a post Harry and Sally Meg Ryan. Needless to say it wasn't very good. Columbo seems to belong to a different era, Kojak, Rockford, Quincy and Columbo. Like comparing Dr Findlay's Casebook with Doctors, the present appears somewhat wanting.
The Big Man, born with the power of a locomotive and able to leap tall buildings with a single bound was a different tenor altogether. I first stumbled upon Bruce as a teenager and can clearly remember being sat on a wooden bench in the waiting room of my old man's surgery (the surgery was in the house and doubled up as an after hours games room) clutching a transistor radio to my head listening to Born to Run and THAT sax solo for what must have been the first time. Then it was buying the albums, books, bootlegs until finally achieving communion with both Boss and Big Man at the NEC as part of the 1981 River tour. Clarence, Bruce's suited and booted onstage foil, being leant upon on the cover that I poored over, lyrics and credits devoured with a religous attention to detail. I guess that what Clarence lent the band was authenticity, a direct line back through Junior Walker and The JB Horns to the R&B that Bruce absorbed in his youth. For Clemons it must have been bittersweet, a black man in a white band in an industry in which many people, but black musicians in particular, had been riped off being feted night after night by a predominantly white audience.
Three years later, Bruce had joined a gym and beefed up to a point where the bubble had to burst. Little Steven had moved out of E Street and into my imagination with Men Without Women, his wonderful rock/soul LP album and then Bruce was lost to me, no longer the loosely guarded secret of my flaxen haired youth but a reborn bicep bulging stadium rocker, as at home on the pec deck and the ab lab as treading the boards at the Bottom Line.
Our paths crossed again last year when I bought the CD box of Darkness on the Edge of Town outtakes. Originally relaeased in 1978 it ushered in a less urban sound than it's predecessors and with it a reduction of honk, that most urbane and soulful of sounds. For a reminder of the great days the recent release of a live gig at Bryn Mawr performed on the cusp of BTR greatness has Springsteen weaving a wonderful account of how the change was made uptown and the Big Man joined the band.
And another thing...........both irreplaceable.