Towards the end of Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band’s 2009 world tour, fans noticed that saxophonist Clarence Clemons looked like he was having a rough time. He often sat through much of the show and seemed to have difficulty getting on and off the stage.
“That last tour was hell,” Clemons tells Rolling Stone. “Pure hell.” In the previous few years before the tour Clemons had his knees and hips replaced, but he was still in a lot of pain – and the constant travel didn’t make it easier. “The tour was wonderful musically,” he says. “But I knew when it was done that I had to have more surgery.”
In the past year Clemons had both knees replaced (again) and spinal fusion surgery. “The timing was perfect because it didn’t interfere with a lot of stuff that was going on in my life,” he says. “It made me stronger, and for the past year I’ve been in physical therapy a few days a week working my ass off to get back in shape. I’m walking better now, though I still use a cane and crutches. But now I’m having hip problems again. I don’t know why.”
Clemons hasn’t heard anything official from Springsteen about a 2012 tour. “I know nothing and I’ve heard nothing,” he says. That being said, “those [2012 tour] rumors feel true. I always say we’re going to do it again though.”
Despite his medical issues (and his 70th birthday next January), Clemons says that virtually nothing will keep him off the road with Springsteen if a tour does indeed happen. “As long as my mouth, hands and brain still work I’ll be out there doing it,” he says. “I’m going to keep going ’til I’m not there anymore. This is what’s keeping me alive and feeling young and inspired. My spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy told me that my purpose in life is to bring joy and light to the world, and I don’t know any better way to do then what I’m doing now.”
Clemons plays on the new Lady Gaga album, and he hopes he’ll have the chance to perform live with her at some point. “If she asked I’d love to,” he says. “If Bruce and Gaga both needed me around the same time I don’t know if you could hold me down to the ground. If both of ’em came to pass in the same year or two years it would just be…I can’t even think like that. [laughs] It would be so crazy. The thing I’d really love to do is have the chance to go out with both of them.”