I HATED BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN until I learned how to drive—it just seemed like the "punk" thing to do. I was skeptical of the way he glorified "hard America," and couldn't understand why anyone took him more seriously than, say, John Mellencamp. I thought it was ridiculous and slightly hypocritical that someone who lived on a 378-acre horse farm and had millions of dollars wrote songs like "Working on a Dream."
But when you're wrong, you're wrong, and I'm wrong a lot—I fell in love with Bruce Springsteen during a late-night drive from Seattle to Portland listening to Hammersmith Odeon, London '75. It's one of the best live records ever released, due in large part to context: After two modestly successful LPs, the Boss blew his financial and emotional load on the epic Born to Run, his final attempt at connecting with the mainstream. Hammersmith Odeon was recorded a couple of months after that album's release, and unlike most live albums from the mid-'70s, which highlight an artist at the peak of their popularity, it documents the European debut of a young, vindictive, and frighteningly vital Springsteen and E Street Band.
Opener "Thunder Road," which masquerades as a swanky, uptempo heartland rock anthem on Born to Run, is performed here with just piano and vocals—a haunting and stark arrangement that perfectly mirrors its themes of dimming innocence. "Born to Run," which sounds comparatively anemic and fussy on record, is fast and loose here, proving what has become an eye-rollingly cliché dad-rock aphorism: Bruce Springsteen kicks twice as much ass live. In the accompanying concert footage, the manic and varicose Springsteen loses his voice after, like, the fourth song—he's singing as if his life depended on it, and I guess it sort of did.
Saudade is a Portuguese word that has no direct English translation, but vaguely describes a homesickness of the soul. It's the first word that comes to mind whenever I think about Bruce Springsteen now. Songs like "Thunder Road" and "Racing in the Street" make me nostalgic for experiences I've never had. Don't be superficial, like I was for the first 21 years of my life: Beneath the blue-collar luster and arcane East Coast mythologizing, Springsteen lends a voice to the losers of the world and writes some of the best and most poignant songs about the human condition. And that's something we're all pretty familiar with.