The Guardian site has come through with a lengthy piece, and video, marking the thirtieth anniversary of Born in the USA, written by a Springsteen biographer, on how Bruce “became political” at that time, partly thanks to Ronald Reagan (and George Will?).
As an editor and writer, for Crawdaddy, about the up-and-coming Bruce (circa 1972), I can vouch for his “lack of politics” back then, and for years after (we were good friends), and yet it did start to develop a few years before release of the 1984 smash album. Steve Van Zandt certainly played a role. But Bruce did play the anti-nukes MUSE concert in 1979, and his Nebraska album, while not “political,” certainly took a stand on the woes of the downtrodden.
But as for activism, after Reagan falsely embraced him, Springsteen’s big thing on his massive tour in 1984–85 was meeting with vets, going to their offices and hospitals and holding fundraising concerts for them, and for labor unions (or outright just giving them money), and for food banks and other community help groups.
Later he got involved in other causes, recorded the Tom Joad album, and eventually took part in first political campaigns, for Obama. Oh, he also wrote the preface to my book on Iraq, Bush and the media, So Wrong for So Long. He’s even survived the fandom of David Brooks and Chris Christie.