"Springsteen's ex-rock critic manager Jon Landau is credited with educating him away from the escapist street-romance of his 1975 breakthrough Born to Run. It was Landau who handed him a Woody Guthrie biography, and guided him towards Robert Frank’s 1950s photos of lonely roadside Americans and John Ford's film The Grapes of Wrath.
The idea that Springsteen was manipulated into acting out his mentor's literary fantasies is tempting, but the initial results can't be faulted. Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978), The River (1980) and Nebraska (1982) are his work's core. The previously apolitical singer wrote Nebraska under Guthrie's influence, as a stark tour of the small-town America he grew up in, laid waste by Reaganomics. The River's title song remains his best. Its young married couple in a closing factory town have no future in a way more crushingly solid than punk's teenage mantra. "Is a dream a lie if it don't come true/Or is it something worse..." the man wonders, of an American Dream he has been forced awake from. It was a heartbreaking political song because it barely looked up from personal concerns; as good as Guthrie, but Springsteen's own."
Nick Hasted, The Independent.
The Guthrie and Grapes of Wrath influences I'm aware of, but Frank is news to me. Well maybe the cover of Nebraska and the video to Atlantic City were clues.