The Time I Smoked Opium With A Rock Star
You have to get your stories out there. If you hang onto them too long, you can lose your best listener.
If anybody tells you they grew up around Asbury Park in the 60s and 70s and they hung out with Bruce Springsteen, they’re probably lying. If somebody tells you he hung out with Bruce’s sax player, Clarence Clemons, famously of James Brown and almost the Cleveland Browns, he might not be lying.
Clarence was a much more accessible guy. A black friend of mine said he had to be, as a black man living out there in the white suburbs. Anyway, that’s how I ended up passed out on his living room floor in one of those cheesy garden apartment complexes on Ocean Avenue in Sea Bright.
We had been at a bar in Deal, the town just north of Asbury Park, and when it was closing time, Clarence invited a bunch of us back to his place. There were five of us, three guys and two women, all in our early twenties. It was 1972 or '73.
When we got to Clarence’s apartment, we settled in around his living room. People were drinking, but considering we’d just closed the bar, nobody was extremely drunk. Clarence was there with his girlfriend, this beautiful, blonde white girl. He pulled out a chunk of opium, put it in an ordinary looking pipe, and started to pass it around. We were all having a great time, drinking and smoking opium with “The Big Man” from Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band.
After a while, and it must have been late, the bar closed at 2, Clarence said good-night and taking his girlfriend’s hand, went into his bedroom. I remember thinking how appropriate that was. Believe me if I’d been a big rock star, and anybody in Bruce’s band was, I too would have had a beautiful blond girlfriend.
A little while after Clarence and his girlfriend went to bed, between the drinking and the opium, conversation between the rest of us in his living room died out. Some people stretched out on the couches, others on the floor. I laid down on the floor and just drifted along with everybody else. I wasn’t asleep for a while, just kind of nodding out without quite losing consciousness. Eventually, we fell asleep for a few hours. I don’t remember leaving in the morning. I don’t even remember whether I was driving or not. I never saw Clarence again. He died in 2011. I never got to tell him this story.
The opium was a nice high. You just felt mellow and dreamy. And if the floor you happened to spend those dreamy hours on was Clarence Clemon’s, so much the better. I haven’t smoked opium since that night in the early 70s. But as I write this I realize that I’m working on it in my apartment, 6B, in this building in lower Manhattan. One floor below me, in 5A, the writer Nick Tosches lives. I think he wrote something for Vanity Fair about his search for an old-style opium den in Southeast Asia a few years ago. Easier to find one there than in Sea Bright, N.J., but for one night I lucked out.
I didn’t return to Clarence’s place until a year or two later when I was working for the local cable TV company. Clarence’s apartment was on a list of customers who hadn’t paid their bill. I was supposed to knock on his door and if nobody answered and paid, cut off his service by disconnecting his line in the control room at the complex. I talked to the super who told me that Clarence was never home because he was touring with the band. Clarence gave me a great night and a good story. I gave him a few months of free cable. HBO, too.