I have never done a drug in my life. I’ve never touched weed, despite being born on 4/20. But the Easy Rider soundtrack makes me feel high. It makes me wish I was a perpetually stoned dirty hippy. Steppenwolf’s “The Pusher” could not be a better way to start the joint rolling. It’s so slow and mellow with that gee-tar strumming, you can just smell the grass.
Not that it’s a glamorization of drugs or drug dealers, because it really does talk some shit about all that.
You know the dealer, the dealer is a man
With the love grass in his hand
Oh but the pusher is a monster
Good God, he’s not a natural man
The dealer for a nickel
Lord, will sell you lots of sweet dreams
Ah, but the pusher ruin your body
Lord, he’ll leave your, he’ll leave your mind to scream.
God damn, the pusher
God damn, I say the pusher
I said God damn, God damn the pusher man.
Well, now if I were president of this land
You know, I’d declare total war on the pusher man
I’d cut if he stands,
And I’d shoot him if he’d run
Yes, I’d kill him with my Bible
And my razor and my gun.
By the end of the 1960s drugs were seen by The Establishment as a major problem, and hippies were blamed for a lot of it. Haight-Ashbury was hippydom’s Mecca, but drug busts there were more and more frequent, and anyone with long hair who was busted for drugs was considered part of the counterculture. Peaceful, pot-loving flower children were giving way to another kind of outcast, and Easy Rider did not shy away from showing the bad parts of youth culture and their drugs.
Easy Rider has been one of my favorite movies since I was a teenager. I always fancied myself a nouveau-hippy, especially in junior high school, albeit a drug-free one. I believed in peace and love and music, which to me was always more important that tuning in, turning on, and dropping out—rather, my version of Timothy Leary’s philosophy was about tuning in to what was really happening in the world (which at that time was Reagan era bullshit like Iran-contra and ignoring the AIDS crisis), turning on to what people can do to bring awareness to important issues, and dropping out of giving a shit about what other people think and doing what I know is right.
Everyone knows “Born to be Wild.” It’s really a simple song with kick-ass instrumentation, and everyone wants to be that badass who just gets out there and does whatever the fuck they want.
Like a true nature child
We were born, born to be wild
We can climb so high
I never wanna die
Hell. Yes. Riding out on the open road, hopefully without the truck filled with rednecks looking to blow your head off. Not giving a fuck. Having fun. Seeing the country. It’s not so much about partying, which I think some people take from it. “Looking for adventure/In whatever comes our way,” that’s really the message here. Living life to its fullest, taking everything as a valuable experience. That’s really what we are meant to do here. If you’ve seen the movie you know that’s what it’s about. Sure, Dennis Hopper’s character is a stoner, but in a way he represents an innocent, even though he does some hard core shit. Peter Fonda’s character, Captain America, is leading them on this adventure, and wherever it takes them, they will live it up.
And who doesn’t love “The Weight”? It’s Biblical in its storytelling, and not just because of the references it makes.
I pulled into Nazareth, I was feelin’ about half past dead
Just need to find a place where I can lay my head
“Hey, mister, can you tell me where a man might find a bed?”
He just grinned and shook my hand and, “No”, was all he said…
Go down, Miss Moses, there ain’t nothin’ that you can say
‘Cause just ol’ Luke and Luke’s waitin’ on the Judgment Day
“Well, now Luke, my friend, what about young Anna Lee?”
He said, “Do me a favor, son, won’t you stay an’ keep Anna Lee company?”
This is one of the few songs that can be brilliant when sung by pretty much anyone. Of course, The Band’s version is the best, but I can think of a bunch of other performers who could do it justice as well.
One of my favorite songs on this soundtrack is The Byrds’ “I Wasn’t Born to Follow.” I love their performance, but I also love the message of the song because I absolutely relate to it. It’s why I have never done well working in a corporate environment. It’s why people think I’m a bitch or anti-social or whatever the fuck they think. I don’t follow anyone. I was not raised to be a follower.
You may lead me to the chasm
Where the rivers of our vision
Flow into one another
I will watch her dive beneath
The white cascading waters
She may beg she may plead
She may argue with her logic
And then mention all the things I’ll lose
That really have no value
In the end she will surely know
I wasn’t born to follow
Carol King and Gerry Goffin wrote this song, and it’s pure fucking poetry. And it is perfectly reflective of the era. People were tired of the conformity that reached its peak in the McCarthy 1950s. Follow us or we’ll call you a commie! Rock and roll, which some actually believed was a Soviet plot to destroy America through its teenagers, was changing the way the Baby Booomers thought about themselves and the world around them. Maybe they didn’t want to go into the same business as their father. Maybe they didn’t want to stay home and have babies. Maybe they wanted to have sex and not be ashamed. “She may argue with her logic/And then mention all the things I’ll lose/That really have no value,” those are about the older generation telling their kids that they’ll be damned if they go off and think for themselves. What every older generation forgets, however, is their own youthful rebellion.
“If You Want to Be a Bird” is just a fucking funny song. It’s ridiculous, and I love it.
And here’s another song that makes non-smokers wish they had a joint to share. “Don’t Bogart Me” is another fun, mellow tune about the pleasures of weed and a plea for your friends to puff, puff, and pass that shit.
Don’t bogart that joint, my friend
Pass it over to me
Roll another one
Just like the other one
You’ve been hanging onto it
And I sure would like a hit
That’s the whole song. Smoke your grass, and don’t forget to pass.
Jimi Hendrix is the shizz-nit. That’s not exactly a revelation. “If Six Was Nine” is trippy as fuck. And it’s another brilliant way to tell the world that you aren’t going to fit into their idea of who you should be. Goddamn, this is good shit! I need to share all the lyrics with you.
If the sun refused to shine I don’t mind, I don’t mind
If the mountains ah, fell in the sea
Let it be, it ain’t me.
Got my own world to live through and uh, ha !
And I ain’t gonna copy you.
Now if uh, six uh, huh, turned out to be nine
Oh I don’t mind, I don’t mind uh
If all the hippies cut off all their hair
Oh I don’t care, oh I don’t care. Dig.
‘Cause I’ve got my own world to live through and uh, huh
And I ain’t gonna copy you.
White collar conservative flashin’ down the street
Pointin’ their plastic finger at me, ha !
They’re hopin’ soon my kind will drop and die but uh
I’m gonna wave my freak flag high, high ! Oww !
Wave on, wave on…
Ah, ha, ha Fall mountains, just don’t fall on me
Go ahead on mister business man, you can’t dress like me
Don’t nobody know what I’m talkin’ about
I’ve got my own life to live I’m the one that’s gonna die when it’s time for me to die
So let me live my life the way I want to
Yeah, sing on brother, play on drummer.
Jimi’s telling everyone, even the hippies, that he isn’t going to follow them. He wants to do his own thang, wave his freak flag high, and be happy. Do it, baby!
I just love the name The Electric Prunes. You just know those dudes were stoned when they came up with that shit. But when they perform “Kyrie Eleison/Mardi Gras (When the Saints)” so beautifully you forget about all that and just enjoy. Aaaaaahhh.
There are some artists who can do proper justice to Bob Dylan songs, and Roger McGuinn is one of them. His version of “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” is abbreviated from Dylan’s original 1965 recording (read the entire lyrics here), but it is no less significant or in-your-face.
Although the masters make the rules
For the wise men and the fools
I got nothing, Ma, to live up to
For them that must obey authority
That they do not respect in any degree
Who despise their jobs, their destinies
Speak jealously of them that are free
Cultivate their flowers to be
Nothing more than something they invest in
No matter what the economy is like there are always going to be people who hate their jobs and/or their lives and don’t see a way out. Nobody wants to put up with shit from an authority figure, especially at a job they hate. Some people are able to numb themselves while they are at work so all the bullshit just washes away once they punch that time card at the end of their shift. But some of us cannot do that. I have tried to go into work and just ignore all the stuff that annoys me because I know that, in the end, nothing I say or do there will make any difference. But that is precisely what bothers me: I want to make a difference, and spending so much of my time doing something that is pointless in an environment where I am discouraged and, often, disciplined for thinking for myself is intolerable. I don’t understand people who can tune all that out. The narrator of this song is telling his mother that he can see how phony and hypocritical everything is, but that he will be alright. What makes everything alright in these situations is sometimes as simple as getting out of them. But the world is filled with bullshit, so leaving one bad scene usually leads to another. But what we need to do is change our perspective, and take the appropriate action. This is where the Buddhist idea of detachment becomes useful, and where the Gandhi idea of “Be the change you wish to see in the world” becomes necessary. That may seem contrary, but you have to detach yourself enough to be able to think clearly about things before you can make anything better.
Dylan also wrote the lyrics for “The Ballad of Easy Rider,” though McGuinn, who only wrote the music, has been given full credit for it. Not that it really matters, because it’s wonderful. Another piece of poetry.
All he wanted
Was to be free
And that’s the way
It turned out to be
Flow river flow
Let your waters wash down
Take me from this road
To some other town
And that’s all anyone really wants: Freedom. Yes, that’s it. Call it retirement, call it winning the lottery, call it whatever you like. We all want to be free, because that’s what we are meant to be.