It's funny really how someones death can evoke emotions that you don't expect.
I never met Danny Federici. Never came close to him, never sat on the same plane or passed him in an airport. But the guy was a part of my life for that last 30 or so years in a strange way. It isn't like I bought Springsteen albums or broke the piggy bank to buy a ticket from a scalper so I could hear Danny's organ work or see him dazzle on the accordion. But without him, something would have been horribly wrong with the E-Street band. In a hockey analogy, he was more like the Zamboni than he was a player. Not that he didn't play...and do it well. But his being there lent an environment to the overall sound that was unmistakable and if it wasn't there the entire band would have suffered.
Name me ten great rock and roll organ solos. Heck name me five. I'll spot you that drug fueled mess on "Light my Fire". That's famous only because it was The Doors and it was probably the first of it's kind. But I detest the Doors so no points for that one. Okay Steppenwolf has one on "Born to be Wild" anyone else??? Anyone? Hungry Hearts was probably the first organ solo in a good 6 0r 7 years, (there's on on a Boston tune but I forget the name) and if I'm not mistaken it's the last on of note. Danny's work on Hungry Heart was remarkable. And to think Bruce had it in mind to give that song to The Ramones. Dan's lingering, ghostly fade out playing on "Racing in The Streets" literally made that song for me. The lyrics are spent and the drum keeps on ticking like a clock and Phantom Dan's rolling, sad sounding organ carries on ad infinitum. Maybe those two never do stop racing.
He added fun to the songs as well. Ramrod wouldn't sound complete without his bouncing, roller rink soundtrack bopping along in the background. And his signature sound on "Glory Days" jumped right off the vinyl and into my feet. Yep...the guy was the Zamboni. He ran through his job in modest humility and made everything around him seem better.
Now...name me one other rock accordion player, that actually had a serious contribution. (thus eliminating "weird Al".) I don't know what was more genius, Bruce incorporating an accordion into rock music or Dan playing the accordion like it was a rock instrument. Let's call it a tie.
For me this hits like losing a family member. I have been a die hard Springsteen junkie for 33 years now. And while I have lately grown weary of his political nonsense, and frustrated with his constant insistence on tinkering with the recipe, I will always be loyal. His recent raving about supporting Obama aside...c'mon Bruce...He shares the same vision of America as you? Really? If America was what Obama said it was, (a) nobody would have enough money to BUY your albums, thereby reducing you to still jumping onstage at The Stone Pony with Southside Johnny, (b) we'd all be forced to feel really bad for poor Clarence who is obviously outnumbered by all those racist honkies in your band (c) He is a Harvard Law Grad and lives in a mcMansion on Lakeshore drive...you have a private jet and welshed on a deal to by your daughter an $850,000 horse...how about you write a song about MY America for a change.
But this is about Danny and so I'll drop the spleen vent.
The E-Streeters are like an extension of family for me. I knew who "Little Steven" was long before he wore that hairpiece and pouted into the camera as Tony Soprano's consiglierie. I knew who Maureen Van Zandt was long before she was Gab Dante. I've driven past Garry Tallents house here in Nashville. My Uncle Jacks' best friend's sister was "Sister Joan" who once stuffed Bruce Springsteen in the garbage can in the third grade. I have history with these people.
I will miss Phantom Dan more than I realize right now. And sadly, it marks the passing of time for me as well. The first of my beloved E Street band have passed. Time waits for no man. Not even legendary accordion players from Flemington N.J. who quietly lend stability and solidity to the greatest Rock show on Earth.
I remember hearing the news on my car radio that Stevie Ray Vaughan had died. I pulled over and wept. I loved that guy. He grabbed me with his playing and with the honesty of his struggles.
Today I was watching the various fan tributes and the official video on Bruces' site where Danny plays "Sandy" for the last time. I wept too but it was different. Watching these guys playing with Danny for what they obviously knew was the final time. Seeing the emotion that a stoic Bruce tried to hide, no doubt to encourage his friend. Hearing the crowd yelling "Dan-ny" and seeing Federici at once moved by it and embracing it and yet seemingly not wanting to let it get the best of him and thereby maybe admit the end was near. It was all so sad and so permanent.
Rest in Peace Phantom Dan. You are missed and you are loved.