Clarence Clemons, 1942-2011, a saxophone shredder

Clarence Clemons, 1942-2011, a saxophone shredder (photo)

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In a recent piece for Slate called “Bringing Saxy Back: The sax solo returns to pop music,” critic Jonah Weiner connected hits by Katy Perry and Lady Gaga to proclaim that “the saxophone is repopulating” pop music. In earlier decades, the shiny, serpentine cylinder had been a staple, used by everyone from No Wave noiseniks and Lou Reed to red-blooded American rock bands and Elton John. But with the ’90s–or the rise of grunge gruffness and indie irony, countered by the popularity of soft-jazz sax anti-icon Kenny G–the instrument fell out of favor, relegated to bit comedy and very minor musical roles.

Interestingly, Weiner claims that the saxophone suffered during the last two decades because it was wimpy, a one-time rock ‘n’ roll accessory that lacked much of rock ‘n’ roll’s requisite machismo. Better tools could be brandished. “Compare the fanboy hyperbole. A guitarist shreds. What does a saxophonist do? Blow? Cook?” It’s a notion to which any Bruce Springsteen devotee should take umbrage.

Clarence Clemons, who died Saturday in Florida from complications stemming from a stroke he suffered two weeks ago, was a shredder. Despite the PR and personnel troubles Weiner notes of the saxophone during the last 20 years, Clemmons was a commensurate showman, the sweaty, hulking centerpiece that always took high moments only higher. I only saw Clemons play live once, two years ago. I’d never before seen the E-Street Band, despite all the talk I’d heard of how they were a rock unit that couldn’t stop climbing. I was cynical upon going, a disciple upon leaving. When you thought their energy had peaked, they’d somehow get bigger, better, bolder. When I saw the E-Street Band, Springsteen himself crowd-surfed early in the show. That, somehow, was less inspiring than each time the band locked in as a tireless unit, when Van Zandt looked down at his hands, checking himself, while Clemons arched his back and puffed his cheeks to find just the right phrase or howl. Despite the warnings, I wasn’t ready for Clemons, a supreme showman among showmen. After that night, I always assumed I’d have another chance to see the E-Street Band, a touring machine for decades. I won’t, at least not with Clemons. I regret only seeing him once.

At least, as Weiner notes, Clemons lived long enough to see his instrument of choice return to favor. He was a professed Lady Gaga fan who played on two tracks on her latest record, as well as American Idol just before the stroke that finally killed him. What’s more, the saxophone is creeping back into the underground that Weiner suggests helped silence it. Last month, when I interviewed Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, he talked about the sounds on his new record, including the saxophone. He studied Duke Ellington charts and recruited two modern giants of the instrument, Mike Lewis and Colin Stetson, to make his latest LP. “Colin and Lewis are literally my favorite living saxophone players–like Happy Apple is my favorite jazz group in the world,” he said, speaking with a candor that shut down any ironic winks the record could suggest. What was unhip, then, has returned somewhere near the top, just as the guy who carried the instrument through decades of what otherwise might have been atrophy has died.

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Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

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He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”

Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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GIFS via Giphy

On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”

But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

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Draught Pick

Sam Adams “Keeps It Brockmire”

All New Brockmire airs Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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From baseball to beer, Jim Brockmire calls ’em like he sees ’em.


It’s no wonder at all, then, that Sam Adams would reach out to Brockmire to be their shockingly-honest (and inevitably short-term) new spokesperson. Unscripted and unrestrained, he’ll talk straight about Sam—and we’ll take his word. Check out this new testimonial for proof:

See more Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC, presented by Samuel Adams. Good f***** beer.

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