B-Sides (Music & Other Ephemera): R.I.P. Danny Federici

Apr 22, 2008 at 5:02 pm

A sad, “They’re breaking up that old gang of mine” moment came when the news hit, this past Thursday, that a member of the E Street Band had passed on.

No rockstar-lifestyle-takes-its-toll car crash and nothing drug-related. It’s an everyday occurrence for a pale-complected man in his 50s to finally exhaust a years-long fight against melanoma, and that’s what happened to Dan “Phantom” Federici.

Springsteen has certainly helped us prepare for such news, with many songs about working-class strivers who get worn down and depart before it seems reasonable. But this was the band that brought that honest truth out, so some of us thought they should earn a pass on any losses before geezerhood.

LEO Editor Cary Stemle is still kicking himself for not making a recent sudden impulse trip to a distant concert (which he regularly does). It turned out to be that night in Indianapolis, where the departed sat in for the last time.

On Springsteen’s seminal “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy),” Federici revisited his accordion part that perfectly grounded that song’s uniquely confused yearning. According to guitarist Steve Van Zandt, the band was over the moon to have the convalescing keyboardist among them again. That performance has been preserved and is ready for streaming at www.brucespringsteen.net.

Federici often was slow to smile and kept to a back corner of the stage. But it was his sound, along with Clarence Clemons’ sax, that cast the E Streeters’ basic sound far beyond the range of a rock backup band.

With organ on “Kitty’s Back,” “Racing in the Street,” “Hungry Heart” and “You’re Missing.” And that rejiggered glockenspiel with which Springsteen melodies sounded even more like hometown anthems. A great big hometown is now in mourning over this … and some boomers are getting around to overdue physicals. Farewell, Phantom.

T.E. Lyons is a contributing arts editor for LEO. E-mail him at [email protected]