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"The thing in you that made me ache" - Remembering Danny Federici on his birthday...

...with a special image and some very special music

January 23, 2024

"Years may come and go; here's one thing I know... All my life, you're a friend of mine." Big Man and The Phantom sharing some smiles and laughs in NYC, Sept. 2005 - photo by Stephen Lovekin/WireImage - used w/ permission

There they are... our two missing-in-action E Street Band blood-brothers, the Big Man and Phantom Dan, both of them January birthday-boys to boot. "He's with me every day," wrote Clarence Clemons of his good friend Danny Federici's passing in the memoir Big Man: Real Life and Tall Tales, "and he'll continue to be with me till the day I'm with him." Clarence also acknowledged Danny in the memoir as "my teacher and my friend. You always did things first. 'Chevy coma soma doma.'" (If you know, you know.)

When I started my search for something special to remember our beloved Phantom on what would have been his 74th birthday, I came across the rarely seen photo above early on and knew right away that it would fit the bill perfectly. I like to think of these two smiling and laughing together like this right now, maybe sharing some inside joke in some other plane of existence, just before they jump back onstage for their next gig with that "hell of a band" described in The Righteous Brothers' classic "Rock and Roll Heaven."

I also was fortunate enough to stumble recently upon a powerful, moving track featuring Danny, one that somehow I'd never heard before. In 1996, Danny appeared as a special guest performer on Video Dreams, a solo album released by Mark Lindsay of Paul Revere and the Raiders fame. Danny played on two of the album's eleven tracks.

He played accordion on "Rouge on Blue" and Hammond organ on the album's closing track, a cover of Scott Kempner's anti-war song "Soldiers' Home." Kempner, a co-founder, songwriter, and key member of not one but two great rockin' bands - The Dictators and The Del-Lords - died last month, and Lindsay closed an episode of his American Revolution show on SiriusXM's Underground Garage channel with his version of "Soldiers' Home" in tribute to Kempner.

Danny's accordion work on "Rouge on Blue" is beautiful, of course, but man... that organ-playing on "Soldiers' Home..." It helps greatly that Scott Kempner wrote such a good, melodic rocker. Originally written and recorded for The Del-Lords' 1986 album Johnny Comes Marching Home, it's presumably set in one of the few remaining campuses of The Armed Forces Retirement Home For Soldiers. Although the song is almost forty years old now, and Lindsay's recording of it is almost thirty, the scene and the sentiments related by "Soldiers' Home" remain all too relevant to our current circumstances, unfortunately. Snow is lightly falling outside and a Christmas tree is standing in the soldiers' home's parlor, so maybe it's Christmastime, but it's just as plausible that it's a bit later in January, like it is right now, and somebody either hasn't gotten around to taking down the decorations just yet or has chosen deliberately to leave them up a little longer. In any case, we find ourselves standing amidst a group of veteran warriors "...old boys from The Big One, and the younger ones from 'Nam, all happy to be brothers-in-peace, no longer brothers-in-arms." They begin singing together around that tree, over and over...

"Dear Lord above, for what it's worth,

We at the old soldiers' home

pray for peace on Earth.

No more war, never no more.

Bring 'em all home..."

When you hear Danny's Hammond organ kick in to join all of that singing, once again The Phantom sneaks up from nowhere and begins tearing your heart apart. Then he gets it to beat again with renewed purpose and power... just like he always did (and still does) on Springsteen records like "Racing in the Street," "Fade Away," and "You're Missing."

Happy Birthday and rest in peace, Danny. Thanks again for all of the music and inspiration; here's to our eventually forging some sorely needed peace right here on Earth, too.


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