Clarence Clemons: Centaur of the Saxophone

From the churches to the jails, tonight all is silence in the world
As we take our stand, down in jungleland

Dear Friend and Reader:

As you may have heard, Clarence Clemons, the saxophonist for the E Street Band, died in Florida on Saturday. One of the most beloved figures in all of rock music, Clemons played beside Bruce Springsteen for four decades, providing an impassioned, soulful presence and giving the band much of its atmosphere. But the sax does much more than create a mood. It provides a voice without words, speaking in a language of feeling that goes beyond the intellect. Springsteen has always sought to explain what cannot be explained, peering behind the veil of human experience. To the extent that he succeeded, Clemons had a profound role.

The phone just rang; it was Corbis, calling on behalf of rock photographer Neal Preston; yes we can use this image as part of our tribute to Clarence Clemons — The Big Man kissing Bruce Springsteen in Los Angeles in October 1985. Or rather, on the mouth.

In addition to his musical contribution, he also provided a kind of spiritual foundation for Springsteen, a connection to something deeper. When Springsteen referred to him as the “Master of the World,” he may have been showing his respect for a friend, but he was also referring to something that he sensed in Clemons, and depended upon. Their relationship is illustrated in many photos — of them playing head to head, and even kissing onstage — but none so memorable as the cover of Born to Run, where Bruce is depicted leaning on someone’s back. When you open the LP cover, you can see that it’s Clemons.

Though he was most associated with the E Street Band, he played with many other performers, from the Grateful Dead to Lady Gaga. He was 69 years old and died from complications of a stroke he suffered on June 12. For many years he had struggled with his health, for example having both knees and both hips replaced, and was wheelchair bound for some years. When he could, he continued to perform, despite the pain he was in. He is survived by several of his past wives, who by his request will, together, scatter his ashes in a particular spot in Hawaii. He’s also survived by four grown children.

“Clarence lived a wonderful life,” Springsteen said in a statement this week. “He carried within him a love of people that made them love him. He created a wondrous and extended family. He loved the saxophone, loved our fans and gave everything he had every night he stepped on stage. His loss is immeasurable and we are honored and thankful to have known him and had the opportunity to stand beside him for nearly forty years. He was my great friend, my partner and with Clarence at my side, my band and I were able to tell a story far deeper than those simply contained in our music. His life, his memory, and his love will live on in that story and in our band.”

At Clemons’ funeral on Tuesday, Springsteen gave a eulogy, then played a solo version of “10th Avenue Freeze Out,” which commemorates Clemons’ joining the band. My friend Michael commented, “I have no idea how he got through it.”

To glimpse inside the role that Clemons had among his friends on a social level, think of him as the guy without whom everyone else would have been eating Chef Boyardee. Michaelene Contino, who was Danny Federici’s girlfriend during the Asbury Park days in 1973 and 1974, remembers Clemons as the guy who loved to cook, therefore, everyone else got to eat. He was always the one making sure there were groceries in the house and something on the stove.

Cover of Born to Run, photographed by Eric Meola, shows Springsteen leaning on his musical soulmate Clarence Clemons.

“My impression was of a genuine, loving, kind, centered person; a strong personality, a very big guy, and just a delight,” Contino recalled in a conversation this week. “Always a smile, and he and Danny were very close.” Federici, the organist for the E Street Band, died in 2008.

Clarence Clemons was born in 1942 with the Sun in introverted Capricorn and Mercury in expressive Aquarius. He seemed to express both the inwardly-looking and the gregarious sides of his nature in perfect balance. His chart draws equally on all of the elements, but it’s difficult to miss his Scorpio Moon. Highly sexed, passionate and an unabashed lover of women, that Scorpio Moon is the sensation you felt when Clemons played: soulful, dark, intentional and with a lot of Mars power behind it. The sax can have a lonely or introspective feeling, and that is reflected in his Moon square Pluto.

While it’s fair to say he was not as technically proficient as a trained jazz sax player might have been, nobody else would have played with the same evocative tone or raw power, and of course he wrote his own parts. In the extremely disciplined, even regimented world of Springsteen’s creative process, Clemons was given the most leeway to do what he wanted — and that meant pour out feeling. The background of the world that Springsteen illustrated, from the back streets of Asbury Park to the badlands of Nevada, was painted in the colors of that Scorpio Moon saxophone playing.

Then his voice would step forward from the shadows to tell the story a different way, in a more intuitive and feminine way. Think of the sax solos on “Thunder Road,” “Rosalita” or “Jungleland” (If you’ve never heard this or need a refresher, here is a sample).

Sample of the natal chart of Clarence Clemons (noon chart, no time available) showing two of his centaur conjunctions. Pholus, in light green, is conjunct the sun directly overhead. Nessus, in light blue, is conjunct Mars, on the left. The centaurs give an edgy quality, blending animal and human qualities, speaking of sexual power and a quest for healing. View complete chart here.

Clemons did something else in those performances, which was hold a space for Springsteen to go a little wild, or more than a little wild. Clemons has the first three centaur planets — Chiron, Pholus and Nessus, the ones represented by half-man/half-horse beings — prominent in his chart. This makes him a guardian of the edge, and a facilitator of change. Chiron, the best known of the centaurs, is in a square aspect to his Moon, bursting with sexual and transformative energy, focused through his stage presence (Chiron and Pluto in Leo). Moon-Chiron aspects can give the sensation that a person is on fire, burning with personal charisma. That, in turn, helps fill a special need for attention, though he used this to everyone’s advantage.

Next, he has the Sun conjunct Pholus, which adds the sensation of something coming out that cannot go back in. With Pholus you can get excess, alcohol and partying (for all of which Clemons was famous), but you also get the small cause and the big effect. You get that subtle tone quality that completes the scene and makes it real. With that horn going, a song is no longer ‘about’ something — suddenly you’re there.

His Sun and Pholus are in earthy Capricorn. This helped him set limits, and gave him a tap into the distant, even ancestral past. They are talking directly to an equally explosive conjunction — Saturn (the container) and Uranus (pure energy) in Taurus. It’s as if he played his instrument with every cell in his body — a total identification. The sax is a wind instrument, but in Clemons’ case it’s more like an earth instrument. The sound seems to rise up out of the ground and linger in the air.

As for one last centaur: he had bad-boy Nessus conjunct his Mars, immersing his desire nature in the dark side, but emphasizing healing. Clemons was himself a centaur, half-man, half-beast, who gave Springsteen permission to contact his animal side, essential to rock music. He held space for Springsteen to open up and express his power, like a cosmic bodyguard. He was blind in one eye, which can be taken symbolically as one with second sight, who can see into both worlds.

Clarence Clemons playing his “Born to Run” solo on April 24, 2009 with the house lights up at the Hartford Civic Center. Photo used under Creative Commons/Share Alike license from Wikipedia.

In a way, Clemons’ whole life seemed to turn on this quality of holding space for the people around him. He had Vesta, the keeper of the flame, in Sagittarius. Positioned on the Great Attractor (a galactic point that concentrates a lot of energy), Vesta rises above the landscape of his chart like the flame burning high above an oil refinery. It’s also square the lunar nodes (at a point I’ve just learned about recently, called the north bend), meaning that space-holding is an essential evolutionary factor; a focal point of both his personal growth and his chosen service role. In a sense, his life turns on this role.

Centaurs are planets from the borderlands. This is an interesting way to think of the saxophone as well. The instrument was invented as an orchestral instrument, meant to crossover and fill in between the woodwinds and the brass section. Patented by Belgian clarinetist Adolphe Sax in 1846, it has the articulate, emotional quality of the woodwinds (think of the clarinet) and the projection power of a brass instrument (think of the trumpet). It’s an unusual mix of male and female energy, which is why everyone wants to listen, and why it does so well standing on its own. And of course its ‘crossover’ status evokes the role of the centaurs (whose orbits always cross those of other planets).

Like Clemons’ own chart, the chart for the saxophone’s patent has a full-strength Sun-Pholus aspect — an opposition. It’s as if there is something under pressure inside the thing all the time, pushing its way out into the wider environment, where it seems to keep expanding. That the charts of Clemons and the sax both have Sun-Pholus aspects involving Capricorn gives the feeling that he was born to play that thing, but we know that without astrology.

Adolphe Sax, inventor of the sax. He saw the need for an instrument halfway between the woodwind section and the brass section.

The chart for the saxophone has the Sun in Cancer (opposing Pholus in Cap), suggesting that it’s inherently emotional, human and a bit salty. If the sax is seductive, that’s because it’s nourishing. You come back because you feel emotionally fed, not because it leaves you hungry.

The saxophone has come to epitomize jazz, especially in rock bands. There’s a tradition going back to the beginning of rock and roll of having a saxophone player in the band. At a certain point it started to seem quaint and was left out; Springsteen and Clemons revived the tradition in style. The sax is a contact point to the roots of rock music, the saucy, smoky, backroom feeling of jazz. That is the world of Black, a tap into something that has been denatured about humanity in European culture and that rock music expresses so well.

The instrument was brought over from jazz into rock and roll, something that is often credited to Louis Jordan, one of the most successful musicians and songwriters of the 20th century. Jordan’s chart has the Sun and three planets in Cancer — all of them square Pholus. So this emotive power of the sax, always with a strong water-sign, seems to have a Sun-Pholus signature. Even John Coltrane, perhaps the best-known saxophonist in history, has Sun square Pholus in his natal chart.

So the saxophone itself, and three of the most significant sax players, all have Sun and Pholus in similar aspects. Three of these charts involve a strong Cancer-Capricorn chart picture. In the relatively new field of centaur astrology, we have something certifiably interesting here. (If you’re an astrology student and want to see all four charts side by side, here is a link).

But who cares about astrology? Clarence Clemons was a force of nature in his own right, though one with his feet on the ground. He was the guy who liked to cook and who was really, really into chicks — he worked that more than any other member of E Street. He was married five times and there were a lot of special ladies in his life.

One of my personal contact points to the early days of the E Street Band is someone named Jenny Singer, who saw them play many times before they became superstars. She just sent me the following in an email:

“Perhaps I’m just waxing nostalgic, but looking back it seems like we were living in simpler and in many ways better times. In the 1970s, teenagers did not have their noses pressed up against the computer reading the status reports of their virtual Facebook friends, because there was no such thing as a home computer. Teenagers did not have Nintendos, or PlayStations or X-Boxes. My playmates were college boys who went to Monmouth County College, one of whom procured me my very first fake ID, enabling me to gain entrance into Asbury Park hotspots like the famous Fast Lane and The Stone Pony.

Clarence Clemons stands in with the Grateful Dead at Shoreline Amphitheater, on June 26, 1989, shown here with Jerry Garcia. Image from music video posted to YouTube.

“I remember my hand shaking with fear and excitement as I handed my fake ID to the man guarding the door at The Stone Pony for the very first time. I think he noticed my young, barely-covered breasts more than the shaking of my hands. An older man could lust after young girls without having to register on the National Sex Offenders Registry, and plenty lusted after me. I began to hang out at The Stone Pony and the Fast Lane with one of the roadies who worked for another local band, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. He was a great kisser who kissed the breath from me in between each and every set. My nickname at the clubs became Jailbait. In that moment, Bruce, Clarence and the E Street Band were just on the precipice of the big time. Born to Run would be released a year later, so they could still mix with the crowds, showing up at local clubs to party and at other times to play an unannounced guest appearance.

“There were whispers one night at the Fast Lane that Clarence was in the house. Always one to chase adventure, I set off into the crowd to find and hopefully get a glimpse of this man everyone was so excited about. As I charged ahead, rudely shoving people aside, anxious to find him, I ran right into what seemed like a big hard wall but really was a big large solid black man. I looked up. Way up. It was Clarence Clemons. He really was The Big Man and he looked down at me in amusement with a gentle kindness in his eyes as I clumsily apologized.”

Clarence, we love you, and you know it.

Lovingly,
Eric Francis

Planet Waves

Weekly Horoscope for Friday, June 24, 2011, #865 – BY ERIC FRANCIS

Revised and Updated! Click for Eric’s Zodiac Sign Descriptions

Aries (March 20-April 19) — Talk less and write more. Write less on Facebook and more in essay format. This will help you focus your ideas, and get a return on the mental energy you exert. You may not be a patient writer; you think it’s supposed to happen fast. Nearly all good writing is based on an editing or rewriting process, which is really a rethinking process. Part of that rethinking involves seeing around your own point of view and being aware of both opposite viewpoints and those which surround the topic you’re considering. Therefore, rewrite and rethink. Take the time to understand the implications of what you’re saying. Let conversations develop over time. And remember to allow your natural instincts to be just that — not something you try to rationalize out of existence with rigid concepts, including the all-too-human drive to be right. At this point you can afford to be circumspect, and you can afford to test your integrity rather than trying to prove it.

Taurus (April 19-May 20) — You might find yourself entering the mental loop or psychic hall of mirrors. If that happens — that is, if you find yourself thinking the same thing over and over again — I suggest you go to another level. That other level will call on you to let go of your rational belief systems and slip into something that is not exactly irrational, but which is based on a higher kind of logic. How will you know you’re there? Well, you will get feedback in the hall of mirrors (this by the way is illustrated by Venus and Mars transiting through Gemini). If you like who you see in your reflection — any and all reflections count — then you’re working with that ‘higher kind of logic’, which is basically a creative healing impulse and corresponding flow of energy/information. If you find yourself in competitive states of mind, then you’re probably not quite there. When the creative flow starts, competition melts.

Gemini (May 20-June 21) — There is only so hard you can push before you have to do something like listen, feel or consider all of your options. It will also help to know what you want before you make any demands on others, particularly those in close relationships. If you find close partners acting rebellious, the chances are that you’re uncertain what you desire. If you find others willing to assist, it’s most likely because you’re clear what you want. Jealousy is not an option — or rather, not a viable one, and it can be unusually damaging if you let that genie out of the bottle. The remedy for jealousy is the recognition that the people in your life are free, and you are free. It’s true that freedom is controversial and the attempts at human bondage are commonplace, but that’s an invitation onto the level ground where we can see one another eye to eye.

Cancer (June 21-July 22) — This is a miraculous time to feel your purpose, though this is not a passive thing: the sensation of knowing why you’re here is a call to action. Let’s take those developments in order, starting with the sensation of awareness of your purpose. This is likely to come in a series of revelations over the next week or so, which will open one inner door after the next. I suggest you keep track of what is happening rather than nonchalantly going through the aspects and the bursts of awakening they represent. The more conscious you are the better. That will ease the flow such that awareness will blend into the knowledge of what to do next. You may have the feeling of rediscovering something you knew all along; you may have the feeling that your soul is bare and others can look right through you. Those are signs that you’ve caught the scent of truth.

Leo (July 22-Aug. 23) — This time of year you’re blessed with insight into yourself, as well as the emotional needs of others. There will be moments when you wonder whether you exist, or whether your existence is significant, and the answer to both is yes. Now, while I can say that, you will have the pleasure of discovering it. This particular solstice you’re blessed with an unusually deep flow of understanding, indeed, one that is likely to change your perspective on life. There is something here about resolving the paradox between your needs and the needs of others; there is something here about both commitment and emotional balance, and getting that formula right as an intuitive thing that brings you into alignment with your environment and the people in it. It’s vital that you not overcommit, and equally vital that you make sure you’re fully participating in everything to which you are committed. This may require some friendly negotiation, give-and-take and tangible adjustment.

Virgo (Aug. 23-Sep. 22) — One disadvantage to Pluto’s movement through Capricorn — your 5th solar house, which addresses creativity, pleasure and risks — is that the progress you’re making may seem at times to be self-indulgent. That goes against your nature, and it’s also a development that would qualify as ‘right on time’ in the sense that you’ve spent your whole life so oriented on service. Lately, though, you’re seeing that you’re the missing piece in the puzzle of your life. The risk here is guilt; it’s an old story. There is a solution illustrated in the planets, which involves Jupiter in Taurus trine Pluto in Capricorn. The process you’re in is far beyond self-indulgent (or that term is applicable in the best possible sense). Whatever you are focusing on, or rather, whatever you want to focus on, is your growth point. The key is emphasizing your personal preference — not a sense of responsibility or obligation.

Libra (Sep. 22-Oct. 23) — This is a profound time of reorientation for you; you might say it’s a moment for setting goals, or perhaps for deciding what is the most important to you. Here’s how I would phrase it as a question: what is the relationship between what you want and who you are? They are influencing one another; there is a place where there’s 100% overlap between the two. Let’s call it ‘the spot’. It’s the place I suggest you find and that you work from. As an eclipse of the Sun approaches during the next week, you may have the feeling that your goals are defining your personhood. I would say that your personhood is providing a container for your goals. Therefore it would help immensely if you knew what they were, and if you maintained the container. That could be any one of several life circumstances within which you feel held. That is the distinguishing characteristic of the spot.

Scorpio (Oct. 23-Nov. 22) — There are definitely two sides to every story, or rather, at least two sides to everyone who tells every story. You may not be able to determine precisely where another person is coming from, or what about their own opinion they are leaving out of any discussion. And you likely have your doubts. But you can surely know all of your inner viewpoints intimately. For example, be aware when you have two ideas about something but only express one of them. Be mindful of when you don’t tell the whole story, or when you give one person one version and someone else another version. Now for the rub: see if you can figure out why you would do this; what would motivate you? I am not taking a wild guess when I ask you, what are you rebelling against? Or rather, whom?

Sagittarius (Nov. 22-Dec. 22) — To be effective, healing must reach the levels within ourselves that we’re not conscious of. Said another way, healing is a process of raising awareness. There is something deep about your past that you’re beginning to notice, and this something influences so many aspects of your existence it would be challenging to name them all. But first among them is whether you feel safe in the world, in your home and in your own feelings. Or perhaps I got the order of those three things backwards, because your sense of belonging starts within you, extends to your home environment and reaches out much further. I will say this, however: you are close to homing in on a past influence that has, at times, seriously jeopardized your sense of safety and belonging within your own existence. This factor was denied or obscured in your early environment, but it was there, and it goes back a lot further than one generation.

Capricorn (Dec. 22-Jan. 20) — You are approaching a goal from an unusual angle, perhaps in an effort to see something from the point of view of someone you care about. I suggest you take their viewpoint under advisement, but take your own approach to the goal as you define it. Be aware that you may have decided this is a problem that cannot be solved, or that could only have been solved in the past. Let me offer you another idea, if you would. During that past episode, you were pushed or compelled to take a certain approach that was based on a crisis, and which in turn was based on several other challenging situations. Now you’re in a position to assess this issue with things being more or less equal. You can take your own approach. Yes, others are involved and how you think of things, and what action you apply, matter — but your judgment is sound, and is likely to work for the people around you. But that doesn’t matter.

Aquarius (Jan. 20-Feb. 19) — You cannot outsmart yourself. If you think you can, then you’re deceiving yourself and you might want to look at that. The only way to get motivated is to make a decision; there really is no trick involved. The challenge you may face, though, is seeing two roughly equivalent possibilities that might have vastly different consequences. It’s just that you don’t know what those might be, and this sensation of choosing is truly ominous for some reason you cannot put your finger on. You may be inclined to hold yourself to a high standard of integrity, feeling that you may have lapsed in the past. That would only work for as long as it didn’t become a mental block, and it could well do so. In truth, you want what you want, and I suggest you don’t let some sense of past injury or having to be a ‘better person’ get in the way of admitting that to yourself.

Pisces (Feb. 19-March 20) — It’s time to carefully consider what you think of as possible, and how you define that term; then get busy putting that definition to work. Two points on that: One, you have rather incredible creative power and mental leverage at the moment. The challenges you face are like being within a latticework that is pretty easy to scale from the inside — even if you cannot see the scenery changing outside the structure. Second, remember to do what you can to feel good. The Sun is now in a water sign, and there’s an eclipse on the way — these are pattern-setting events for you, and the patterns involve the emotional tone of the next few months. Rise to the challenges and leave behind the feeling of struggle. Emphasize creativity over effort as best you can. Remember that love and passion are your best points of contact with the world.

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