Bruce Springsteen

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!


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.

Now that the drama has subsided from Rod Blagojevich being kicked out of the governor’s office, I’m going to relax this weekend by listening to music, reading a book and watching the Super Bowl.

I’m almost finished reading Jonathan Alter’s The Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope. I probably would be done with it already if it wasn’t for Blagogate taking up so much of my attention lately. I’ve been like a sponge soaking in all the Blagogate coverage I could find on television, radio and the Internet (primarily the online versions of the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times, but other newspapers as well) so I could write the most well-informed Blagogate commentary possible for readers of The Bread Line, and because that sort of thing greatly interests a political junkie like myself. Anyway, I should finish reading the book this weekend, so I’ll post a review of it here sometime next week.

Tonight I’m going to Champaign to see Jeff Tweedy (lead singer of my favorite band, Wilco) perform a solo show at the University of Illinois. I’m really looking forward to the show, as I’ve seen Wilco in concert numerous times, but never a Tweedy solo show.

I’m also looking forward to watching the Super Bowl tomorrow since my favorite AFC team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, is playing in it. Like President Obama, my favorite teams are the Steelers and the Chicago Bears (my hometown team). In case you missed it, on Thursday a reporter asked Obama who he hopes will win the Super Bowl.

“I wish the best to the Cardinals,” Obama said. “They’ve been long-suffering. It’s a great Cinderella story. But other than the Bears, the Steelers are probably the team that’s closest to my heart.”

I agree completely. Go Steelers!

In addition to the Steelers being part of the game, the Super Bowl also will feature a halftime performance by Bruce Springsteen, one of my favorite musicians. I don’t know what songs The Boss will play, but it might be fitting for him to perform “Glory Days.”

Anyone reading this have any predictions as to what Springsteen will play?