You’d think someone would recognize Bruce Springsteen if he walked into the Pozo Saloon.
And if not Springsteen, then surely fellow E Street Band member Clarence Clemons, the larger-than-life sax player known as “Big Man.”
“He’d be a memorable person,” said Rhonda Beanway, the saloon’s owner for 26 years. “But the saloon’s gotten more eclectic lately.”
While no one seems to remember ever seeing the two rockers in the funky saloon, Clemons devotes an entire chapter to it in his new book, “Big Man: Real Life & Tall Tales.”Of course, it’s the “Tall Tales” part of that title that calls everything into question.
While much of the book, co-written with friend Don Reo, reflects real vignettes from the Big Man’s life, some chapters, the authors acknowledge, employ artistic license. (Take, for example, the chapter where Clemons surfs huge waves thanks to the help of big-wave studs Laird Hamilton and Dave Kalama.)
But even the fictionalized chapters, beginning with “The Legend Of,” usually have at least a grain of truth. (Clemons did play pool with Fidel Castro, but the parts about the bet and Hunter S. Thompson are probably not true.)
In the book’s final chapter, titled “The Legend of Pozo, 2009,” Clemons offers an ambivalent intro: “And so here we are again. Bruce and I together somewhere just being who we are. These stories have been set in odd locations or in cars or saloons, because those are the places where we’ve spent our lives.”
Then the chapter begins: “Bruce Springsteen walked into the Pozo Saloon, took his sunglasses off, waited for his eyes to adjust, and decided it was good. He was in the right place. It wasn’t an easy find. It was miles past Santa Margarita and not on any tourist map.”
According to the book, The Boss — whose hits include anthems “Born to Run” and “Thunder Road” — had previously been at the Wild Horse Cafe in King City. Later, he stopped in Templeton for a diet soda “from a small deli located in a frontier style strip mall.” While walking back to his car, he saw actor Josh Brolin, who — apparently not recognizing Springsteen — lowered his head and walked right past him.
At the saloon, Clemons later met up with Springsteen, Clemons having suggested the landmark as a place where they wouldn’t be bothered.
“Both of them had the same reaction to these places, these seams in the world where they could actually behave like everyone else,” Clemons wrote in third person.
While there, the book relates, Springsteen apologized about a past argument. Then a woman, recognizing Clemons but not Springsteen, asked for a photo with the Big Man. The two old friends listened to the juke box and shared a chicken fried steak before heading their separate ways.
It’s a fun story. But it begs the question: How much — if any — is true?
Unfortunately, it will be left to speculation. The Tribune’s request to interview Clemons was turned down. (The band is currently touring.) And his publicist, Beau Benton, would not return messages asking about the Pozo chapter.
Clearly, there are some factual errors. The saloon rarely serves chicken fried steak — though the Wild Horse Cafe in King City does. And it doesn’t have a juke box.
“It seems more a composite of a few places rolled into the Pozo Saloon,” said Beanway, who has read the chapter about Pozo.
Still, she added, Clemons seemed to capture the essence of the place.
“He’s created sort of a cool ambience,” she said, noting that it is a quiet place for celebs to escape to. “I really do feel there’s a hunger for them to get to that place where nobody recognizes them.”
While the saloon is off the beaten path, big names like Willie Nelson, the Black Crowes and Ice Cube have performed there. And celebrities do occasionally drop by. Brolin, a former Templeton resident, has come in several times, as have actress Minnie Driver and musicians Billy Idol and Hoyt Axton.
“I have a whole list of people that have just wandered into the saloon,” Beanway said.
Beanway has tried to contact Clemons about the chapter, but she’s heard nothing yet. And if she never learns the truth, that’s all right, too, she said. After all, it is a great tale, tall or not.
“That’s the music business,” she said. “I like that. There’s always a little folklore going around.”