Alive Like Clarence

21 Jun

Alive Like Clarence

I’m on an airplane flying back to Chicago to surprise my dad on father’s day. My cell phone doesn’t work, my i-pod is dead and one of my heroes, Clarence Clemons, the saxophonist from Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band has just died. A passenger next to me tears at her laptop, incessantly pounding on the keys as if they were a Whac-A-Mole. The airplanes TV’s are unanimously lowered like a robotic hand revealing 65 of its’ fingers, and The Office is on but I don’t feel much like laughing. So I’m left with my thoughts and this is very dangerous territory.

The first time I saw Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band in concert, it was with my great friend and fellow Brucehead, Matt Gutschick in East Rutherford, New Jersey. We pulled an amazing number in the lottery and somehow obtained second row seats. With no opener, no special effects or flashing advertisements, no massive JumboTron with flame-throwing pyrotechnics, no corporate sponsorship, live twitter feed or options to text your favorite lyrics, a group of ten-best friends whose forty-year friendship is rock and roll legend, took to the stage and played the best three-hour concert I have ever seen. The first words out of Springsteen’s mouth that night, “Is there anybody alive out there?” I hope so.

All of my best memories, the moments that will never die and serve as my proudest accomplishments, are breathing ones. I don’t have great memories of TV shows I’ve watched, websites I’ve been, electronic profiles I’ve read, but I can still smell the grass in my front yard where my dad and I played catch, I can still breathe the air of my 1990 brown Ford Bronco that my friends and I used to pioneer the Chicago suburbs, I still laugh about the garbage party my roommates and I threw in our apartment in Vienna, and I most definitely can still see and feel the magnetic eyes of a beautiful girl who looked at me like I was an answer.

These memories don’t come with an electronic hum or a digital buzz but with a fluctuating pulse and an ever-beating heart. Kurt Vonnegut called human beings, “dancing animals,” and its hard to dance with your cell phone on vibrate.

I’m not fervently against technology; of course it serves some good. And I also understand the irony of me writing this message on a desktop computer of which I will relay into the electronic ether. But I do think that the biggest fallacy behind our rapidly increasing technological world is that it gives us the misleading idea that we are in control. If we have a phone that tells us where the best Mexican restaurant is within three blocks, what time it is in Canada, what song is playing in the bar that we are at, somehow that’s easier, somehow we are safer, and somehow we are better.    

Life has taught me that everything that’s eternal and truly memorable is 100% control free.  Fun, mystery, a sense of wonder and most importantly, love is just a few. When was the last time you logged out of your Facebook account and said, “That was FUNNNNN! Whoa look at me go?!” Now, when was the last time you told someone you loved them and said, “Hey, I should really be on Facebook!”

Speaking of things I love and since it’s Father’s Day, I’m reminded of one my favorite things my dad ever said to me. In high school, I was complaining about how all my guy friends had girlfriends and I always ended up as just their friends, and for whatever reason, this was a big deal to me. My dad looked at me and said, “Brendan, get off the sidelines and get in the game.”

We have become spectators in our own lives, cheering on our own existence from a birds-eye view of a telescope.

Clarence Clemons lived about as full of a life as you can. He played college football, appeared in movies, contributing to several albums including most recently, Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” and toured the world with one of the greatest rock bands of all-time. He loved fishing, cooking, tequila and a good cigar, but most of all he loved people, and he loved his fans.

As I look out of my airplane window to see the clouds seamlessly dusting the checkered Midwest landscape, I’m thinking back to the blackout moment right before Bruce and the band took to the stage that night to rip into “Radio Nowhere,” a song about the importance of human connection in an increasingly vapid technological world.  Bruce, the engine of the band, unleashes his metallic waning guitar solo, which is then interrupted by the Big Man and his bombastic saxophone. The two are standing side by side in music, and just as much in brotherhood. They embrace each other in a hug and high five, and I can’t think of anything more alive than that.


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