Born to Run (2016)
The rest of 2009 was taken up with the release of our Working on a Dream album and tour. Max’s son, Jay, stepped in for his dad, who was taking care of business with Conan O’Brien, and at age eighteen Jay became only the second man to sit on that drum stool in thirty-five years. After a few ragged starts, it was obvious Jay had the power, the precision, the ears, the discipline, his father’s work ethic and willingness to learn. Plus he brought his own brand of young punk energy that kicked the shit out of our playbook. Still, something didn’t feel quite right. When Jay initially started playing with us, my skin wasn’t moving right. Then, I realized, with all his technique and power, he was playing “on top” of the band, riding over the surface of our arrangements. We took a break. I walked over to him and quietly explained that the drums are not part of the exoskeleton of these arrangements. The drums are the soul engine, buried down and breathing inside the band. You play not on top but immersed in the band. You power everything from within. I said, “Take a breath, take it back down and dig deep. When you hit that right position, when the beat is placed correctly, you’ll drop inside the band naturally.”
That could be a pretty sophisticated idea for anyone to wrap their head around, much less an eighteen-year-old who up to this point had mostly played in front of approximately thirty people at a local club. But like father, like son.
That afternoon, Jay Weinberg took out his shovel and dug himself a hole so deep inside the rhythm section that the question of who was going to do the job became moot. Jay brought fire, youth, intensity and his own brand of showmanship to the band. When we stepped on stage in front of 50,000 screaming fans, he blew the place apart.
Later that year we played the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We had a blast backing Darlene Love, Sam Moore and Billy Joel. I sang “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” with U2 and “Because the Night” with my second-favorite Jersey girl, Patti Smith.
We had three weeks of touring left. My great concern was Clarence’s physical condition. This is something I had watched deteriorate for a long time. First, the knees, then the hips, then the back, then it got worse. C traveled with a trainer and someone who monitored his medical condition but he still had to sit through much of the Working on a Dream tour. Getting him on and off the stage became a small production. An elevator was built. We walked on together so he had some support. But his inner strength, heart and commitment to playing never wavered. He had mellowed greatly with age until he often felt like this half-sleeping lion. He was not the danger he once was but you still did not want to disturb him.
C’s presence remained large and his will ironclad. That’s why he was still there. He willed it, and if it’d been up to him, he would’ve died there. That always worried me. We found doctors before each tour to provide him with a full checkup. Somehow he was always ready to play. I told him, “I need to know exactly what you can do and what you can’t do,” but he grew furious if I poked my nose too deeply into his medical business. During the Dream tour he brought along a young mixed-race man as his assistant. For months I never really knew who he was. I just figured he was one of C’s people, who fluctuated regularly and brought some service or comfort to him. It was Jake Clemons, Clarence’s nephew, a saxophonist himself, though he never played, with the exception of joining C one night on “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out.”
Clarence was always the last band member off the stage. As I held up that big body night after night and we slowly made it down the stairs, he often whispered, “Thanks for letting me be here.” I was thankful he was there. Even in his diminished state Clarence’s presence remained rocklike and essential to me. We flew up to Buffalo, New York, where we played the Greetings from Asbury Park album start to finish for the first time. It was the last show of the tour, and the night was filled with high anticipation, camaraderie and the excitement of an adventure completed. The place was in an uproar and the party was on. Old ghosts were there. Mike Appel had accompanied us to the concert, stood in the circle of hands before the show and was deeply welcome. We were alive and farther down the road. The place filled with Mike’s old cackling laugh and carny energy; music played, people drank. Back on the plane, as we drew closer to Newark, from his seat, Clarence lifted his glass and said, “I’ve just got something I want to say . . . this could be the start of something big.” Everyone laughed.
But that’s how it felt. The band was playing great and we were navigating this part of our work life with grace and energy. Half of our set was drawn from new material of the past ten years and we were still thrilled to be amongst one another. We remained in love with the music, with our band and with our audience. With the lights of the Eastern Seaboard sparkling beneath us, carrying us home, we knew we’d worked hard and been lucky.