I was saddened to learn tonight that Clarence Clemons, the E Street Band saxophonist nicknamed “The Big Man,” died today of complications from a stroke he suffered about a week ago.

Bruce Springsteen is one of my favorite musicians, and the loss of his longtime sidekick will be felt throughout the music world. I got to see them perform together in Milwaukee during the E Street Band reunion tour, and that remains one of the best concerts I ever saw in person.

You may be aware that I’m currently working on a book project that involves visiting all 16 of the Midwest League (Class A minor-league baseball) parks. (You can read more about it on my other blog, The Midwest League Traveler.) I go back on the road Monday, and I’ve decided that I’m going to make that two-day trip’s soundtrack Springsteen-based. I’ll bring all the classic E Street Band albums, but I also want to create a Big Man mix CD for the trip. I’m definitely going to include “Jungleland,” which includes my absolute favorite Clarence Clemons saxophone solo. I have other songs in mind, too, but I’d like to know what you would include if you were making the mix CD.

I look forward to reading your suggestions!


As I noted in a post yesterday, today is the 5th anniversary of when then-Gov. Mitt Romney signed a universal healthcare bill into law for Massachusetts. But that’s not the only — or even the most important — anniversary of significance to be marked today.

Of course, the most significant is the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. I began to commemorate the day this morning by dusting off my Guns N’ Roses Use Your Illusion II CD and playing it, beginning with the first track, “Civil War.” Then my wife and I hiked at Starved Rock State Park, where there weren’t many people today, giving us the opportunity to truly appreciate the solitude of nature and, at one point, reflect on how far we’ve come as a society since the Civil War — and even since the 100th anniversary 50 years ago.

You don’t need me to explain all that, but I do wish to take this time to mention a few Civil War-related books I’ve read or that are on my to-read list: Jay Winik’s “April 1865: The Month That Saved America” (about the final days of the Civil War and its immediate aftermath); James L. Swanson’s “Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer” and “Bloody Crimes: The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln’s Corpse”; David O. Stewart’s “Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln’s Legacy”; Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln”; and George B. Kirsch’s “Baseball in Blue and Gray: The National Pastime During the Civil War.”

If anyone has suggestions to add to my reading list, I’d love to hear them. Also, if you have any Civil War sites you recommend I visit between northern Illinois and Atlanta, Ga., during a road trip planned for later this year, I’d love to hear those, too.

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Today is also the 50th anniversary of the first manned space flight (by Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin) and the 30th anniversary of the American space shuttle program’s first flight. NASA celebrated by not giving one of the retiring space shuttles to Chicago’s Adler Planetarium — but at least the planetarium will get the flight simulator used by astronauts during their space training.

The four space shuttles were assigned to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum near Washington, D.C.; the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex near Orlando, Fla.; the California Science Center in Los Angeles; and the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York.

I’ll also be visiting the Kennedy Space Center during my aforementioned road trip planned for later this year. Suggested stops in the TOM (Tampa-Orlando-Miami) triangle are welcome, too. (Baseball games and Everglades National Park are already on the agenda.)

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Finally, today is the 1-year anniversary of when the Chicago Cubs front office started its official Twitter feed, @CubsInsider. This isn’t very notable, except to illustrate a point.

Lately I’ve noticed a few people in my Twitter timeline mention that they’ve been on Twitter for a year now. I’m glad they’ve been on Twitter that long, but I’m not sure why they think the anniversary is a big deal. I’ve used Twitter since early 2009 — proudly ahead of the curve with this form of social media — but I don’t know what day I tweeted for the first time. Nevertheless, if you’re on Twitter and don’t already follow me, I hope you will change that! I’m @thebreadline.

Legendary bluesman Pinetop Perkins died Monday at his home in Austin, Texas. He was 97.

“Two cheeseburgers, apple pie, a cigarette and a pretty girl was all he wanted,” his agent, Hugh Southard, told The Associated Press.

I saw Pinetop Perkins perform a couple times in Chicago in the late 1990s, including once at the legendary Rosa’s Lounge, an intimate blues venue. He was in his 80s then, yet he still played like he was in his prime, with magic in his fingers and the blues in his soul.

The night I saw Perkins at Rosa’s, I approached him during a break and bought his latest CD from the man himself. He handed me the CD and I asked him to sign the liner notes. He gladly did so, but made sure he was paid first.

“Where’s my dough?” Perkins asked, surprising me.

Of course, he was right to ask me that. I had prematurely asked for his autograph before paying him for the CD.

I smiled, embarrassingly muttered “oh, yeah, sorry,” and handed him the $10 I owed him.

I slinked back to my table and told my friends the story. Keeping in mind what era Pinetop grew up in, I understood why he would make sure he got paid for the CD before autographing it. Regardless, the experience made for a good story to tell.

Not only was Pinetop still a phenomenal blues piano man at an age when many men are lucky just to be alive, he released more than 15 solo records during the last 20 years of his life. He also won three Grammys during that time — a lifetime achievement Grammy in 2005, and two for best traditional blues album, in 2007 and 2011. His Grammy win in February made him the oldest person to achieve that feat, besting comedian George Burns, who won a Grammy in 1990 at age 95.

Not bad for a bluesman in winter. Now he joins his old bandmate Muddy Waters in that great juke joint in the sky.

It’s hard to believe the end of the decade is already upon us.

Have 10 years really passed since people worried about Y2K computer problems and how the country would heal in the aftermath of closest presidential election in U.S. history? Has it really been a decade since the last New Year’s Eve celebration free of the terrorism worries that come with living in the post-9/11 world?

I remember New Year’s Eve 1999 well. It was the first time I rang in the new year in La Salle County, and I spent much of it watching the late Peter Jennings anchor ABC’s coverage of “Millennium Eve.” Jennings was on air for 25 consecutive hours, and I recall watching much of it. By the time the night was over, Jennings likely was passed out from exhaustion, and I found myself quietly singing Bruce Springsteen’s “My Hometown” in an attempt to coax the party host’s toddler daughter back to sleep.

Yeah, it was an interesting night, and all the more memorable for it.

So much has happened since then. The Bush-Cheney presidency came and went, with its highest and lowest points arguably both involving warfare. Bush did an excellent job of rallying the country after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but stained his legacy by following that up with the increasingly unpopular Iraq war. (The Afghanistan war seemed like the right post-9/11 move, but unfortunately, Bush switched the military’s main focus to Iraq before the job was finished there.)

Closer to home, Illinois went through two governors who are unforgettable for the wrong reasons. George Ryan was sentenced in 2006 to six years in prison for racketeering, bribery, extortion, money laundering and tax fraud crimes committed while he was secretary of state. More recently, Rod Blagojevich was arrested and indicted on abuse-of-power charges, impeached and removed from office, and continues to be a national embarrassment to the Land of Lincoln.

At least Illinois made up for its political woes by delivering the country its first African-American president. Barack Obama galvanized voters in 2008 and faced numerous challenges throughout the first year of his presidency.

Tiger Woods began the decade by becoming the youngest player to win one of golf’s four major championships. He ended the decade by becoming the butt of many jokes after his wife caught him playing on other courses.

There were several notable natural disasters mid-decade: the tsunami that killed more than 225,000 people; Hurricane Katrina, which decimated parts of Louisiana and Mississippi; and a 2005 earthquake that killed 80,000 people in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India.

Of course, these things are just the tip of the iceberg that was the first decade of the third millennium. It will be interesting to look back to this moment of time 10 years from now. If there is anything this past decade has proven, it is this: You can expect the unexpected to happen.

Glad to see the Chicago Bears won one for Walter Payton today.

Today is the 10th anniversary of Payton’s death from a rare liver disease called primary sclerosing cholangitis. The Bears honored the late Hall-of-Fame running back during halftime of their game against the Cleveland Browns. The Bears won the game 30-6; my wife and I watched part of the game at Duffy’s Tavern in Utica before going for a walk along the I&M Canal.

I remember the day Payton died. Don Baylor was announced as the new manager of the Chicago Cubs that day, and during the press conference, Baylor asked that everybody say a special prayer for Payton.

I heard about Payton’s death later that day as I was leaving the Villa Park police station. I was there to check the weekend police reports, and a secretary asked me if I heard the news.

I also remember seeing Bruce Springsteen in concert about a week later. That concert, at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, was one of the best I’ve ever experienced live and it hooked me on Springsteen for life.

Good thing we have tickets to see Aerosmith in Chicago later this month, because at the rate the band is going, this tour may be its last.

Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler, 61, is recovering from a broken shoulder and minor head and neck injuries after falling off stage Wednesday at the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in Rapid City, S.D. Apparently the last 18 scheduled dates of the band’s summer tour are in doubt now. And that’s OK, since I saw Aerosmith in concert twice before in the ’90s and only got tickets this time because a friend was able to procure several lawn tickets for $15 each. (With ZZ Top opening for Aerosmith, the $15 classic-rock concert sounded like a great deal to me.)

What’s amazing to me is the number of health-related injuries the Boston band has incurred during this tour. I found this rundown of Aerosmith medical problems on

The Tyler tumble is the latest injury to befall the veteran hard rockers on the road. In February, the international kickoff in Venezuela was canceled because of an infection sustained by (lead guitarist Joe) Perry that required emergency surgery related to a knee replacement he underwent in 2008.

Last month, the band was forced to cancel seven shows due to an unspecified injury, rumored to be a pulled leg muscle, sustained by Tyler onstage. That was followed by bassist Tom Hamilton’s departure for a handful of dates in order to recuperate from unspecified “non-invasive surgery.” Earlier in the trek, guitarist Brad Whitford was forced to sit out the initial dates due to a head injury, which required surgery, sustained when he was getting out of his Ferrari.

Several months before the tour, Tyler checked into rehab to recuperate from foot surgery. In March he contracted pneumonia, which pushed back sessions for the group’s new album.

It seems time has caught up with these aging rockers.

By now you’ve heard that Walter Cronkite, once dubbed “the most trusted man in America,” died Friday evening. He was 92.

I’m too young to have watched Cronkite during his heyday — I was 6 when “Uncle Walter” signed off as anchor of  “The CBS Evening News” for the last time. But as a student of journalism and history, I certainly have long been aware of Cronkite’s significant impact on our society. Often when famous people die or a notable milestone passes, it is a cliche for TV talking heads to say we’ll never see another like him/her/it. But it is not hyperbole to say so in the case of Cronkite.

My concern is how few people under 30 may know this. If you are 28 or younger, you were born after Dan Rather took the “CBS Evening News” anchor reins from Cronkite. I have never been one to subscribe to the notion that events happening before you were born is a good reason not to know about them. But people continue to surprise me with their ignorance of notable people and events that should be known by all. For example, a former colleague of mine — he is the same age as me — shocked me a few years ago by professing that he didn’t know who Bob Woodward is. The former colleague is a sportswriter, but I still can’t believe he — a professional newspaper writer — didn’t know a man who probably is the most famous print journalist of the past 40 years. (He also is skeptical of the Apollo 11 moon landing and the scientifically-determined age of glaciers, so naturally he still has his job writing for the newspaper.)

Unfortunately, it seems the cable news networks’ coverage of Cronkite’s death reflects the younger generation’s knowledge of the former newsman versus, say, Michael Jackson. I found out about Cronkite’s death just before 9 p.m. last night and watched a couple hours of coverage before turning off my television. After reading for awhile, I turned the TV back on at 1 a.m. and saw that CNN was the only network still talking about Cronkite. MSNBC had returned to its scheduled programming — a Michael Jackson documentary.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t there pretty much wall-to-wall coverage of Jackson’s death for over two weeks until Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearing began Monday? Nonstop coverage of Cronkite’s death didn’t even last the night.

Anyway, I’d like to know what you think of this topic. Feel free to share your memories of Cronkite, too.

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It is ironic that Walter Cronkite died as NASA prepares to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the first manned moon landing Monday. Cronkite anchored coverage of the moon landing and was famously speechless after astronaut Neil Armstrong announced “The Eagle has landed.”

The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum is marking the anniversary on Twitter by tweeting chronological updates about the Apollo 11 mission as it occurred 40 years ago. Follow @ReliveApollo11 on Twitter to see what Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins did during their groundbreaking voyage to the moon. If you have school-aged children, this is a cool way to get them interested in a history lesson.

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