Will Bruce Springsteen’s 2012 Tour Be the Same Without Clarence Clemons?

After seeing the band 11 times, I'm not sure I can deal with the next generation of E Street.

“I miss Bruce.”

At least once a week for the last two years, my boyfriend and I have said this to each other. We’ve seen Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band 11 times—in Philly, Hershey and New York between 2007 and 2009—so being unable to see a live performance in more than two years has felt a little like going through withdrawal.

Seeing the E Street Band live is an experience unlike any other: the camaraderie among fellow members of E Street Nation; the traditions of each concert; the quiet, unvocalized hope that maybe they’ll play “Atlantic City” so we can go crazy when Bruce sings about blowing up the Chicken Man in Philly. To invoke a cliche, when I look around the crowd of a Springsteen show, I think, These are my people. To say I “miss” Bruce–and most other members of the E Street Band—is putting it lightly; I mourn their absence.

This sadness deepened last May when beloved E Street saxophonist Clarence Clemons died of a massive stroke, forever altering the band. Though E Street has lost musicians before—organist Danny Federici died of melanoma in 2008 and Steve Van Zandt took a break from the band in ’80s and most of the ’90s—the loss of Clemons leaves an indistiguishable hole in the lineup.

Shortly after Clemons’ death, I wondered if the band should even continue touring. Commenters and E Street Nation members vehemently disagreed with me. Yes, there are other saxophonists, but the Big Man, as Clemons was fondly known, was the heart and soul of the group. (Though Springsteen has not yet formally named a replacement, rumored candidates include Clemons’ nephew Jake, Ed Manion from the Asbury Jukes, and the addition of a full horn section.)

On Tuesday, U.S. tour dates were announced—tickets for the Philly shows go on sale tomorrow—and I thought long and hard about what I’d do. Instictively, I started mentally rearranging my schedule for the evenings of both Philadelphia shows and looking up dates for nearby cities. In the past, it wouldn’t have been strange for me to purchase tickets to every Philly appearance and then tack on another show just for good measure.

But where will we stand?, I wondered, since I have always, always stood on Clemons’ side—mostly out of respect for the Big Man, but also to be as far away as possible from Springsteen’s wife Patti Scalfa. How will Bruce introduce the musicians? I can’t imagine hearing Springsteen sing about the Big Man joining the band in “10th Avenue Freeze Out” without Clemons’ distinctive sax. “Jungleland”‘s bridge cannot possibly fill me up the same way with someone else playing the notes.

In the end, I’ve decided to buy tickets to only one Philly show and hope that the performance and the experience are so fantastic that I’ll be pumped for a second leg of the tour. But I worry that instead of leaving feeling relieved about no longer missing Bruce, I will walk out saying, “I miss Clarence.”