The Boss has a big problem.
While Bruce Springsteen is and always will be universally recognized as one of the greatest rock 'n' roll singers and songwriters of all time, his dilemma involves his role as a bandleader.
It is, when you get right down to it, also a classic business-school case study, centering on this point: How do you replace someone who is irreplaceable?
The tragic but not wholly unexpected death a few months ago of E Street Band mate Clarence Clemons, who had been in ill health for some time, forces Springsteen to make a difficult decision. King Solomon’s patience would be tried in this situation, as a matter of fact.
Should Springsteen find another saxophone player to fill Clemons’s spot on stage or should he try something totally different?
Either way, Springsteen is risking the wrath of his fans. If he replaces Clemons, some will howl that he is a cold-hearted mercenary with a short memory — which would be patently unfair. If he forms a new approach in concert, others will inevitably yell, “Where’s Clarence?”
No, Bruce clearly can’t win.
Clemons’s death forces Springsteen to have to decide whether to continue to push forward with the artistic and business model of the E Street Band — a backing group that has been intact for decades and routinely sells out football stadiums and large arenas all over the world.
One of the big reasons was the audience’s expectations of seeing “The Big Man,” as Clemons (who was Springsteen’s co-best man at his wedding to Patti Scialfa, another E Street Band member), perform one of his breathtaking saxophone solos on such songs as “Badlands,” “Out in the Street,” “Rosalita” (when Bruce deigns to play that chestnut on stage!) and, of course, Springsteen’s ode to his New Jersey roots, the 1975 anthem “Born to Run”).
I wouldn’t want to have to make this decision, but I know Bruce will do the right thing and honor Clemons, his own legacy, and his audience.
Jon Friedman writes the Media Web column for MarketWatch.com. Click here to read his latest column.
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