- Associated Press - Sunday, June 19, 2011

A grateful Nation thanks him for his service.

The E Street Nation _ a world-wide community wrapped around the nucleus of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band _ has lost its beloved Big Man, Clarence Clemons.

“The whole E Street Nation is in mourning. This is an awful moment,” grief-stricken Springsteen author Dave Marsh said Saturday night on E Street Radio after the news of the saxophonist’s death.

Besides Bruce, the band, the Nation and of course his family, the sadness enveloped Lady Gaga; she grew up in a Springsteen household, recorded with Clemons and appeared with him on American Idol. After his stroke last Sunday, Gaga spoke about how dearly she loved Clemons and summoned her Little Monsters to say how much they loved him, too, in a compilation of touching, heartfelt videos.

The Big Man just had that effect on people. Sure, there was the music; who hasn’t shed a tear from the exquisite sax strains of “Jungleland”? But the music and the man were a double draw.

“He carried within him a love of people that made them love him. He created a wondrous and extended family,” said Springsteen.

For a week, Clemons‘ devastating stroke had ignited a wildfire of tweets and texts, tears and tributes. Taking their cue from Springsteen, who had urged a climate of hope, fans posted songs with titles like “Tougher Than The Rest” and “Countin’ on a Miracle.”

Clemons, who embraced all of the world’s religions and called the stage his “healing floor,” had beaten the odds many times before. He battled chronic pain after back and knee surgeries.

The former football player willed himself out of a wheelchair just days before playing his sax at the Super Bowl.

He arrived, again, in a wheelchair for his May 2010 children’s benefit appearance, but insisted on walking across the red carpet with his much-adored wife, Victoria, and dragging himself up the stage stairs.

More recently, he appeared at New Jersey’s Garden State Film Festival. His remarks were spiritual, in keeping with the theme of his movie about his journey through China; but he also relished exchanging playful remarks with his audience.

On stage and off, he was a joy to behold _ flashing that million-watt smile as he gleefully pumped up his own larger-than-life persona, mugging for the camera, laughing large in that deep, velvety voice. On Twitter, he billed himself thusly: “Saxophonist, sexual adventurer, poet and author! And the Biggest Man you’ve ever seen!” (Egotistical? Nah. Consider the context: The man was once introduced by Springsteen, among other things, as the future king of England.)

Despite the hyperbole, he touched lives in a deeply personal way.

“There would be no journey without you,” he told fans in one tweet. “Much love, Big Man.”

He once told me he could sense when someone standing near the stage was hurting; he’d intentionally latched his gaze on them as his horn sent forth a healing salve, then sealed the covenant by pressing his hands together in the prayer position.

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