The new issue of Rolling Stone, on stands and available through Rolling Stone All Access on July 22nd, contains an in-depth tribute to Clarence Clemons, who died on June 18th. In the piece, Clemons’ widow Victoria shares her memories of life with the Big Man. Here is the complete e-mail interview with Victoria Clemons.
How did you meet Clarence?
We met in Mill Valley, California at the Piazza D’ Angelo restaurant. He walked in, saw me and said: “Thank you for bringing beauty into my day,” and handed me a flower. He never left. Clarence was old school. He sent white roses to me every day. Even after he left town, the roses never stopped coming in. He came back in about a month later. That is when our love story became reality. He brought beauty and meaning into my life.
What initially drew you to him?
I saw his soul and his spirit deep inside his eyes. I knew then he came for me. He was real, he was humble and as sweet as any person can be and I was very attracted to that.
I spoke to him in February and he told me that the last Springsteen tour was “pure hell” because of his many ailments. What drove him to stay on the tour despite the pain?
He would always say: “My purpose in life is to bring joy to people all over the world through my music.” He was music. To him, life without the ability to play his sax was similar to death. His spirituality also helped him enjoy his life, despite his multiple ailments. He pushed himself every step of the way, every day out of the four years we were together. He was a compilation of love, strength, wisdom, willpower and spirituality.
He also seemed overjoyed to be on the Lady Gaga record. Is that accurate?
I saw it coming. The phone rings on a Friday afternoon: “Lady Gaga wants you in Manhattan tonight at her studio.” We started packing right after he hung up the phone. We barely made the last flight out of Ft. Lauderdale that night. We arrived in New York at midnight. By 3:00 a.m. they recorded three songs together. I remember Gaga saying, “Oh, my God, I might need to move to another planet . . .” Everybody was absolutely ecstatic. To me, Clarence’s sound brought so much soul and power to the songs they recorded. He was so honored to be part of it.
What were his experiences like on American Idol and filming the video with Gaga?
Clarence thought his collaboration with Lady Gaga was a new highlight of his professional life. She took him to “The Edge of Glory.” On the set, Gaga grabbed Clarence’s hands, looked into his eyes and said: “I believe in you seven days of the week, not just five.” I will never forget that. He needed to hear those words to get through the night. He loved Gaga dearly.
What was he like offstage? I mean, the only Clarence that most people knew was the Clarence playing the sax on “Badlands” and other Bruce songs. What was he like the 99.5 percent of his time when he wasn’t doing that?
When Clarence wasn’t out blowing his sax, he really was a homebody. We did enjoy going on fishing trips, but at home he liked to cook, watch movies and smoke cigars. He loved to watch sports, especially NBA basketball and the NFL (his teams were the Miami Heat, and both the Dolphins and the Jets). He played golf in his imagination. He broke 100 every time. He liked to help around the house too. A couple of his chores were to fold laundry and wash the large broiling pans. He put a lot of “elbow grease” into washing those pans. For the four years that I was with him he wasn’t able to walk without crutches. We enjoyed our life together without taking romantic walks on the beach or in the park. It worked for us . . . Clarence had physical therapy three times a week. His therapist Mike inspired him. Clarence came back stronger physically and emotionally every time. My husband had a routine that, as his wife, I had to learn. I served him breakfast in bed every day of the week. His favorite breakfast was Russian pancakes. He was an original guy who appreciated things from original sources: authentic cuisine, Italian wine and cheese, Cuban cigars etc.
Clarence was very peaceful. People that talked too much annoyed him. Often he would ask me to lie next to him and just be in a moment. He often recorded voice memos of his thoughts and melodies that he developed in his head while driving, cooking, watching TV, etc. Clarence was the same person under any circumstance – always kind and generous. He was the most giving person I’ve ever met. In our relationship, it translated into the most caring husband and lover.
I’m sorry if this is painful to remember, but how did he spend his final days before the stroke?
Clarence was getting himself ready to go back on tour with the E Street Band. He lost 20 pounds. He was motivated and driven by the opportunity to play his sax again. He was working on a couple of his own projects: a one-man Broadway show and a movie about himself. Recently his friend Bob asked him: “What is the movie about?” Clarence replied: “About me. You have to write about something great!”
Shortly before the stroke, Clarence lost sensation in his index finger and his thumb. He had carpal tunnel surgery performed. He was seriously concerned about the ability to play sax again. He had his cell phone silenced for a few days. He only spoke with a few people. He talked to Bruce several times a day. He learned something new about Bruce that week that he never knew. It made Clarence very happy. Clarence and I spent the last week of his life cooking, going out to dinner and watching movies on Netflix.
How did he keep such a sunny and joyful exterior when he was enduring such chronic pain?
His spirit was stronger than physical pain. He compared himself to a mule that his grandfather used to have on a farm. He would tell me how strong and powerful the beast was. There was nothing he wouldn’t be able to endure.
I know he liked to fish. Tell me about some of his other hobbies.
He was such a connoisseur. He loved to cook. One of his favorite meals was Cornish hen with “Old Bay” spice and corn on a cob. He shared his passion for cooking with me. We enjoyed spending time with our friends and family. He loved to tell jokes too. He was really funny! His favorite music was Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. E Street radio was always on whenever we took a ride in a car. Clarence collected unique cars: 1978 Rolls Royce Cornish, Twin Star Cadillac, etc. He collected scented candles, candle holders and teddy bears. His favorite teddy bear was “Puggs.” I called him “Bugs” to make him laugh. He took him on tour. Clarence enjoyed taking a long, hot, salt baths. He loved heat. His comfort indoor temperature was 80 degrees. He couldn’t tolerate cold at all. The only water Clarence consumed was Fiji. He made no exceptions.
How would you describe his relationship with Bruce?
He admired and loved Bruce as his friend, lifetime partner, his boss and his brother. Bruce’s phone calls and text messages would make Clarence very happy. He would always let me know that Bruce called him and smile inside. Clarence had tremendous respect for the Boss. He called him “Genius.”
In February, Clarence told me about his spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy. How was important was religion/spirituality in Clarence’s life?
Clarence’s spirituality was a key to his love, friendships and music. It came across everything he did and anyone he ever encountered. You couldn’t help to love him for everything he was.
Springsteen said this in his eulogy: “C” never approached anything linearly, life never proceeded in a straight line. He never went A… B….C… D. It was always A… J… C… Z… Q… I…! That was the way Clarence lived and made his way through the world. I know that can lead to a lot of confusion and hurt.” What exactly did he mean by all that?
My interpretation of that is that Clarence had many sides to him. He could embark on myriad projects at the same time. He had so much going on at any given moment of his life. He got divorced, got married, wrote a bestselling book, had a bilateral knee replacement surgery, started a two-year tour with Bruce and bought a house during the year of 2008. Most people don’t experience that in their lifetime. Clarence didn’t have stereotypes. He loved to experiment. He was married to women from five different continents.
How would you like the world to remember Clarence?
Clarence Clemons was an exceptional person whose dedication to his family, friends, his band and his wife had no boundaries. He loved passionately. He lived his life like he played his sax – without holding back. He undoubtedly was one of the most genuine human beings that ever put his footprint on this planet. He became bigger than life. His soul broke free when his body couldn’t tolerate another struggle. He moved on to another dimension.