- Associated Press - Sunday, July 3, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) - Homeless runaway? Backstage intruder? Daredevil gymnast? Rock guitar virtuoso, playing to tens of thousands of fans?

Nils Lofgren has been there, done that _ and more.

Lofgren _ who was struck by creative lightning at a Jimi Hendrix concert, plucked from relative obscurity as a tenacious teen by Neil Young, and went on to go guitar-to-guitar with Bruce Springsteen _ shared some of his eye-popping past, and his heart-wrenching present, in a freewheeling interview with The Associated Press.

His new mission: Unleashing the “therapeutic” joy and energy of music as he soldiers through U.S. tour dates while gripped with grief.

Lofgren was performing in England when his dear friend and E Street Band mate Clarence Clemons suffered a stroke. He intended to fly to Florida and “sit with Clarence as he recovered.”

It was not to be. The Big Man’s funeral was held on Lofgren’s 60th birthday.

“Turning 60 is a pretty big deal,” said Lofgren. “And if someone said, `List 10 million awful things you don’t want to do on your birthday,’” he never, in his most “diabolical” musing, could have fathomed that.

After the funeral, “I was just devastated, like everyone else, and ready to go to a dingy hotel, just sit there, watch bad TV … forget about my birthday.”

Instead, his wife, Amy, rallied shell-shocked band members and other friends to mark his milestone at a restaurant. “It was really a beautiful respite from the sadness and sorrow of the day.”

Lofgren also was drawn to the E Street Band’s “London Calling” DVD _ “just to see me standing there with him, or running over and talking about a song, or just doing a little dance move with him.”

Lofgren returned to stage Wednesday night, wearing a vulnerable expression as the spotlight revealed him. Employing his ethereal voice, guitar pyrotechnics, piano, harp and even his tap shoes, the versatile musician instantly whipped the crowd into a frenzy at New York’s historic Tarrytown Music Hall. And soon, he was smiling, too _ doing his trademark spins, playing guitar with his teeth, recalling how a feisty, 85-year-old Cab Calloway once gave him hell as they did a TV show together.

The set list included “Miss You Ray,” a song on his upcoming fall album that was inspired by Ray Charles and other departed souls. His live version was updated as an homage to Clemons: “…The morning sun, it don’t shine as bright _ the evening stars are dim tonight. Your ancient voice stills my fearful soul. I miss you, `C.’ I miss you, `C.’”

He and Clemons shared the same side of the stage, to Springsteen’s right, for many years _ the towering black sax player spending night after night alongside the diminutive white guitarist.

Some of Lofgren’s happy memories help ease the pain. During the “Born in the USA” tour, he’d often dive through the air and then roll while clutching his guitar.

“Because we’re both hams,” he said, Springsteen started getting down on all fours for Lofgren to dive over him.

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