Dennis P. Laverty’s new documentary “The Story of The Big Man” is, like its subject— the legendary Clarence Clemons— dauntingly large. This lovingly detailed look at the E Street Band member’s music and life clocks in at more than five hours.
Like Laverty’s previous low-budget documentaries — devoted to Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes, Elvis Presley’s influence on Bruce Springsteen, and John Cafferty & the Beaver Brown Band — this one was compiled from previously existing film and audio clips, and photos, and is being made available on the internet, at no charge. (You can watch it below.)
Ambitiously, Laverty doesn’t just address Clemons’ work as an E Streeter, but tells the story of his entire life, starting with his Virginia upbringing, his time at Maryland State College (where he played football), and his pre-E Street stints with Norman Seldin & the Joyful Noyze and other bands. Along the way, Laverty addresses subjects such as Clemons’ music as a solo artist and the leader of the band, The Red Bank Rockers; his work with other musicians ranging from Ringo Starr to Lady Gaga; his on-again, off-again acting career; his charity endeavors; the many tributes that were paid to him, after his death; and the way the E Street Band carried on, in his devastating absence.
So while there is ample footage here, of Clemons with Springsteen and the other E Streeters, playing music or just clowning around onstage, you also see him playing sax for Aretha Franklin; duetting with Jackson Browne in the video for their hit, “You’re a Friend of Mind”; acting in the movie “New York, New York” (with Robert De Niro) and in the landmark TV series “The Wire”; working as a guest VJ on MTV; and appearing in a Miller Lite commercial. Among many other things. Laverty dug deep and hard, finding many clips that will be new to virtually all viewers.
Of course, the main thread of the film has to do with Clemons and Springsteen— their magical musical partnership, and the almost mythical way in which both men viewed their relationship. The story has been told many times before, of course. But the thoroughness with which Laverty re-tells it makes this a film that should be seen— and will undoubtedly be cherished— by all E Street fans.
Laverty’s other documentaries are about:
Jan. 11, incidentally, marks the 75th anniversary of Clemons’ birth (he died in 2011, at 69). The Stone Pony in Asbury Park will present the annual Big Man’s Bash concert, honoring him, on Jan. 6. For information, visitstoneponyonline.com.