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A Big Man's life: Documentary focuses on Springsteen saxophonist Clarence Clemons

A Big Man's life: Documentary focuses on Springsteen saxophonist Clarence Clemons

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Clarence Clemons, the Norfolk, Virginia, native who played saxophone in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, is the subject of a documentary coming out this month.

“Clarence Clemons: Who Do I Think I Am?” combines footage taken before the musician’s death in 2011 with Clemons’ own words and interviews with family, friends and bandmates to depict the lesser-seen side of Clemons.

The documentary features interviews from more than a dozen people, including Clemons’ nephew, Jake Clemons — who now plays in Springsteen’s E Street Band — musicians Joe Walsh and Nils Lofgren and former president Bill Clinton.

The documentary gets a digital release Aug. 13 on iTunes. On Aug. 27, the documentary will be available on DVD on Amazon and wherever DVDs are sold.

For four decades, Springsteen and others called him “the big man,” a nickname that seemed appropriate for the hulking musician. In concert footage shown in the documentary, Clemons seemingly embraced the nickname and his place in the spotlight next to Springsteen in one of America’s most beloved bands.

In reality, Clemons struggled with sudden fame and, ultimately, his identity.

“Everyone knows me as the big man, but inside, who the hell am I?” he asks in the documentary.

Searching for answers, the “big man” traveled to China in 2005 — a place where no one knew his name — to find his off-stage self. The documentary even pokes fun at his overseas obscurity, asking a dozen or so people if they know who Springsteen and Clemons are, being met with confusion and a steady stream of “no.”

The idea for the documentary, producer Joe Amodei said, came before Clemons’ trip to China. Filmmaker Nick Mead accompanied Clemons, and the two compiled footage of the journey.

“I met both Nick and Clarence at the Garden State Film Festival, where the film played to a standing ovation, and discussed adding more footage to try and make a feature-length film,” Amodei said in an interview, explaining how footage and voiceovers provided by Clemons were available.

But Clemons died of complications of a stroke just a weeks after the meeting, Amodei said. The project was redefined and, as a result, examined the trip’s impact on Clemons’ remaining years.

The documentary touches on Clemons’ early years, too. Childhood friend Dave Starkey explains in an interview that though they were both musicians who hung out together daily, the two didn’t play music together. Segregation persisted in South Norfolk, which meant the neighbors went to two different schools.

When Clemons moved north to New Jersey, the racial divide persisted. But Springsteen saw Clemons’ gargantuan talent, Amodei said, and added him to the E Street Band.

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