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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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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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