“Myth-eulogizing” Clarence Clemons (“Scooter and the Big Man”)

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“Together, we told an older, richer story about the possibilities of friendship that transcended those I’d written in my songs and in my music.  Clarence carried it in his heart.  It was a story where the Scooter and the Big Man not only busted the city in half, but we kicked ass and remade the city, shaping it into the kind of place where our friendship would not be such an anomaly.”

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Last month’s passing of saxman Clarence Clemons has inspired numerous reflections and reminiscences, none more revealing and evocative than that from his longtime friend and bandleader Bruce Springsteen. Mythfire was struck upon reading this eulogy that Clemons, a.k.a. “The Big Man,” exemplified in his larger than life persona both healthy and unhealthy aspects of what it means to live mythically and psychologically. The present post looks at the mythological dimension of the man; perhaps next week’s post will address the psychological. Springsteen’s eulogy is recommended reading alongside these posts.[1]

One way in which mythology can be distinguished from psychology is to look at their root words.  While the “psyche” in psychology stems from Latin and Greek words meaning mind, soul, or spirit, myth and mythology come from the Latin mythos and Greek muthos, both of which mean word, speech, or story. Myth, you might say, is the story we tell ourselves and others about our innermost individual and collective soul lives.

Taken from Springsteen’s eulogy, the quote at the head of this post reveals not only what Clemons’ personal story or myth was but also that Clemons, Springsteen, and the rest of the E Street Band are themselves mythologists, i.e. storytellers. They see themselves and the world mythically, knowing that all the world’s a stage and as artists they are but to contribute the proverbial verse. (Springsteen’s initial statement following Clemons’ passing also made note of the “story” they lived and told together.)[2]

In terms of Clemons’ personal myth – the story which gave meaning and purpose to his life – the busting and remaking of the city remarked on in the above quote brings to mind a book mentioned last week: Lewis Hyde’s Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art. With nicknames like Scooter and the Big Man, can there be any doubt that both Springsteen and Clemons express (and expressed) trickster energies in all three areas: mischief, myth, and art? Springsteen’s descriptions of his almost four decades of friendship with Clemons suggest there is only one correct answer to that question.

As something of an aside, for students and teachers of mythology it can be irritating that in general parlance the term myth is most often used to mean lie, untruth, or misconception. As this post (and entire Mythfire blog site) attempt to show, there is a frequently unappreciated depth and breadth to myth. We do not fully appreciate the ways in which we have lived and continue to live as characters in the narratives we call our lives.

In the way Clemons and Springsteen have told it (beginning with their very first magical meeting four decades ago) the narrative of Clemons’ life is mythical in the sense of being created anew each time it is told or embellished.  Clemons’ myth consists of basic units, or mythologems, such as his Temple of Soul, and his personae as trickster, shaman, exotic “towering fairy tale figure,” “dreadlocked giant” and “Dark Soul.” These units or mythologems are then put together in actions, thus forming mythemes.  The shaman working nightly magic in his Temple of Soul; the Big Man laying down a riff on his sax (while circular breathing his way through seemingly endless phrases) or, again, blowing a front door (to the establishment where he would first meet Springsteen) completely off its hinges and then parting the crowd on his way to the stage.  The Big Man making a big entrance is one big mytheme.

That these mythemes resonate with us, are believed in and have even been witnessed by us, speaks to their mythic stature and power. Finally, this stature and power – this “Bigness” – leads us to mythologize, a process “by means of which the details of a life are composed into a story, receive a vision, and thereby a mythical person becomes the personification of a fate which issues into the therapeutic process.”[3] Readers of Springsteen’s mythologizing eulogy, or “myth-eulogy,” certainly get a sense of Clarence Clemons as a flawed yet fated soulman whose therapy for himself and for others was the mythical (and mythic) story he fully personified both on and off the stage.

As hinted above, at the same time that Springsteen promises to continue the mythologizing of Clemons he also states that these creatively mythic energies both preceded and will long outlast their present incarnations in Scooter and The Big Man. Indeed, his promise is very reminiscent of C.G. Jung’s comment that “The most we can do is to dream the myth onwards and give it a modern dress.”[4] Clearly, both men have given a modern dress to the myth that they lived and are living – or rather the myth which has lived and continues to live through them. Check out these concluding words from Springsteen:

  • “But [Clemons’] love and his story, the story that he gave me, that he whispered in my ear, that he allowed me to tell… and that he gave to you… is gonna carry on.  I’m no mystic, but the undertow, the mystery and power of Clarence and my friendship leads me to believe we must have stood together in other, older times, along other rivers, in other cities, in other fields, doing our modest version of god’s work… work that’s still unfinished.  So I won’t say goodbye to my brother, I’ll simply say, see you in the next life, further on up the road, where we will once again pick up that work, and get it done.”

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Coda: In Archetypal Psychology, James Hillman writes that myth, understood psychologically, allows us to “see our ordinary lives embedded in and ennobled by the dramatic and world-creative life of mythical figures . . . The study of mythology allows events to be recognized against their mythical background. More important, however, is that the study of mythology enables one to perceive and experience the life of the soul mythically” (31). The present post has attempted to show that Clemons’ life facilitates just such a mythic perception and experience of “the life of the soul.”

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Next Tuesday: The Temple of Soul-Making?



[1] http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/bruce-springsteens-eulogy-for-clarence-clemons-20110629. Unless noted otherwise, all above quotes come from this eulogy.

[2] “He was my great friend, my partner and with Clarence at my side, my band and I were able to tell a story far deeper than those simply contained in our music. His life, his memory, and his love will live on in that story and in our band.” (http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/bruce-springsteen-on-clarence-clemons-his-loss-is-immeasurable-20110618)

[3] Hillman, James. Re-Visioning Psychology. New York: HarperPerennial, 1975:155.

[4] CW 9i: 271.

This entry was posted in Art/Creativity, Culture, Myth, Tributes, Trickster. Bookmark the permalink.

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