13 Wild Facts About Easy Rider

Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda in Easy Rider (1969)
Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda in Easy Rider (1969)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Easy Rider’s tagline of “A man went looking for America and couldn’t find it anywhere” transcended moviedom. Once called The Loners, Dennis Hopper co-wrote, directed, and starred in the Oscar-nominated biker flick about two men riding motorcycles from Los Angeles to New Orleans to Florida during the tumult of the Vietnam-era ’60s. Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson also starred, and Fonda co-wrote the script with Terry Southern and Hopper, and produced it.

Shot on a budget of well under $1 million, the 1969 guerilla film went on to gross more than $60 million worldwide; the Criterion Collection referred to the movie as “the definitive counterculture blockbuster.” After filming finished in 1968, it took Hopper one year to edit 80 hours of footage—which included scenes of real drug use and a jaw-dropping conclusion—into a 95-minute feature that premiered at Cannes on May 12, 1969. Despite a difficult shoot, it launched the prosperous New Hollywood period of moviemaking, and ignited a revolution in cinema that we haven’t recaptured since.

1. Easy Rider was made for the youth of the time.

Before Easy Rider, Hollywood was churning out happier films starring the effervescent Doris Day, but Dennis Hopper’s film changed that. “They were making films like Pillow Talk and The Glass Bottom Boat. Gidget? That’s not a kids’ film. Beach Blanket Bingo? C’mon,” Fonda told The Hollywood Reporter in 2015. “Those were not really films of the youth that I had grown into and up with, shutting away the establishment, going on their own. We made a movie for these people that didn’t have their own movie.”

Karen Black, who co-starred in the film, agreed with Fonda’s sentiment. “When you went to see a movie like Easy Rider and when you saw these guys really smoking grass by the fire, and really the camaraderie was warm, real, and rare, you went, ‘What the hell am I looking at? This has value! This has a completely different kind of value than Pillow Talk,” she said in the documentary Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. “This is something extraordinary. I want more of that. And then I think it went a bit far, because I kept seeing movie people vomit.”

2. The film's original ending involved Bill and Wyatt sailing into the sunset.

One of the most shocking things about Easy Rider is its ending, where both of the leads violently perish. “The initial idea had to do with a couple of young guys who are fed up with the system, want to make one big score, and split,” Terry Southern told Creative Screenwriting. “Use the money to buy a boat in Key West and sail into the sunset was the general notion, and that was slated to be the film’s final poetic sequence. It wasn’t until the end that it took on a genuinely artistic dimension—when it suddenly evolved into an indictment of the American redneck, and his hatred and intolerance for anything remotely different from himself—somewhat to the surprise of Den Hopper: ‘You mean kill ‘em both? Hey, man, are you outta your gourd?!?’ I think for a minute he was still hoping they would somehow beat the system and sail into the sunset with a lot of loot and freedom. But of course, he was hip enough to realize, a minute later, that their death was more or less mandatory.”

3. It was one of the first films to integrate found music.

Instead of hiring a musician to compose a score for the film, Hopper decided to use pre-recorded music from Bob Dylan, The Band, Steppenwolf, and Jimi Hendrix on the soundtrack. “No one had really used found music in a movie before, except to play on radios or when someone was singing in a scene,” Hopper told Interview Magazine. “But I wanted Easy Rider to be kind of a time capsule for that period, so while I was editing the film I would listen to the radio. That’s where I got ‘Born to Be Wild’ and ‘The Pusher’ and all those songs.”

The filmmakers had to show the movie to the different bands involved in order to get licensing approval, and each band received $1000. They showed it to Dylan, whose song “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” was in two scenes, but Dylan said they couldn’t use it. “He said, ‘Have [Roger] McGuinn do this first part, but you can’t do it after that,’” Fonda told Daily Camera. “I said, ‘But, Bob, any good fight’s a combination of punches.” McGuinn covered Dylan’s song, and Dylan and McGuinn wrote the closing credit song, “The Ballad of Easy Rider,” which was sung by McGuinn, and didn’t have Dylan’s name on it.

4. Dennis Hopper claimed Terry Southern's only contribution to the film was the title.

“Terry Southern never wrote one f***ing word of Easy Rider. Only the title Easy Rider came from him,” Hopper told The Guardian in 2001. “He broke his hip; he couldn’t write. I used his office and I dictated the whole f***ing thing in 10 days.”

But Southern saw it in another way. “Peter was to be the actor/producer, Dennis the actor/director, and a certain yours truly, the writer,” Southern told Creative Screenwriting. “After they had seen a couple of screenings of it on the coast, I got a call from Peter. He said that he and Dennis liked the film so much they wanted to be in on the screenplay credits. Well, one of them was the producer and other was the director so there was no way the Writers Guild was going to allow them to take a screenplay credit unless I insisted.” Not listening to the WGA, Southern allowed them to have their credits on the film, which was largely improvised.

However, Fonda had more positive things to say about Southern’s contributions: “He gave us dark humor and a literary panache that Dennis and I did not have,” Fonda told The A.V. Club. “Having him with us as a writer on the script put it above periscope depth. People would say, ‘Wow, Terry Southern co-wrote that. I wonder what that's about?’” All three of them received Oscar nominations for the film’s screenplay.

5. Rip Torn sued Hopper over the Jack Nicholson role.

As the story goes, in 1967, Rip Torn had dinner with Fonda and Hopper, who were considering casting him in the role of lawyer George Hanson. Hopper went on The Tonight Show in 1994 and recounted how Torn pulled a knife on Hopper during the dinner, thus losing the gig. But Torn said it was the other way around: Hopper pulled the knife on him. (It was supposedly a butter knife.) “Dennis jumped back and knocked Peter on the floor, and I said, ‘There goes the job,’” Torn told The New York Times. Fed up with Hopper ruining his career, Torn sued Hopper for defamation and won almost $1 million.

Bert Schneider, one of film’s executive producers and financiers, then suggested Hopper cast Jack Nicholson as Hanson—as long as he agreed to work for scale, which was $392 per week. “I’ll tell you one thing mister, it was the best $392 I ever spent,” Fonda said at the AFI Life Achievement Award: A Tribute To Jack Nicholson banquet.

6. Nicholson knew the movie would be a hit.

Jack Nicholson in Easy Rider (1969)
Jack Nicholson in Easy Rider (1969)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

In an interview with Film Comment, the interviewer asked Nicholson if he knew the film would be a hit, and he said yes. “Bob [Rafelson] and I were involved in writing Head when Dennis and Peter brought in a 12-page treatment,” Nicholson said. “I felt it would be a successful movie right then. Because of my background with Roger Corman, I knew that my last motorcycle movie had done $6 to $8 million from a budget of less than half-a-million. I thought the moment for the biker film had come, especially if the genre was moved one step away from exploitation toward some kind of literary quality.”

Before Easy Rider, Hopper had starred in a biker movie called The Glory Stompers, Fonda did the Corman movie The Wild Angels, and Nicholson acted in Hells Angels on Wheels.

7. Fonda tried to get Hopper fired before the movie was even written.

Schneider and Rafelson created The Monkees and used that money to fund the film. They gave Hopper $20,000 to do some preliminary shooting in New Orleans, and if they liked what they saw, they would give him more money to shoot the entire thing. Hopper filmed the NOLA scenes using Bolex 16mm cameras, which gave the movie a psychedelic sheen. “Peter and Bill Hayward are recording me,” Hopper told Interview Magazine. “Every time I turn around they’re filming me—and I’m not sure why—but I’m saying things like, ‘We’re going to win Cannes, man! We’re young! We’re going to take our energy and our strength and we’re going to take this thing all the way! Just trust me and do what I’m saying! Nobody shoot any film until I tell them to!’ I mean, we were all in open fights with one another at the time. I didn’t find this out until Bert called me into his office after the movie was released, but Peter and Bill apparently wanted to pay him back the money he’d given us for Easy Rider and fire me. This is Peter and my brother-in-law, okay? This is before we’ve written a screenplay.”

Schneider didn’t care about the footage and told the guys, “Well, Hopper sounds really excited. He says he’s going to win Cannes. That sounds like a hell of an idea.” And of course the movie ended up winning a Best First Work award at the 1969 Cannes Film Festival, where it was also nominated for the Palme d’Or.

8. Fonda and Hopper had a falling out over money.

Fonda and Hopper clashed over writing credits and how Southern’s money should be split between the men. When Southern left the project, Fonda gave a percentage of Southern’s money to the production company and Hopper’s brother-in-law, Bill Hayward, who was an associate producer on the film. This made Hopper feel like Fonda cheated him. “I just think that [Hopper] was so caught up in his own megalomania and his own bitterness that he couldn't see that I treated him quite fairly and that I respected his genius and his work,” Fonda told The Independent.

Unfortunately, Hopper held a grudge until the day he died, in 2010. “Well, I knew that Dennis was dying and I made many attempts to see Dennis as did Bert Schneider,” Fonda said. “But he refused to see us. The funeral service was in a chapel in Taos, New Mexico. I rented a private jet and flew in, but I was not allowed in the chapel. So as much as I wanted to pay my respects, to Dennis and his family, I was not allowed to be a part of it.”

9. The "We blew it" line was filmed after the movie wrapped.

Near the end of the film, Wyatt and Billy sit around a campfire, and Wyatt’s excited about how rich they are. Wyatt looks into the fire and utters, “You know Billy, we blew it,” which foreshadows the ending, though is also open to interpretation. “It was two weeks after we wrapped the movie, we realized we didn’t have the last campfire scene,” Fonda told Daily Camera. “So we assembled the crew and went into the Santa Monica Mountains—if you don’t light it, you can’t see the difference—and we said we’re in Florida.”

Hopper and Fonda argued about the dialogue. “He wanted me to say all this stuff about how we blew our inheritance, we messed up our heritage ... We were elevating the level of our conversation.” Fonda wanted to mumble his line in a Warren Beatty way, and Hopper was at first against the idea, but once they filmed the scene Hopper was amenable.

“Lots of people have asked me over the years, ‘What did you mean by ‘we blew it’?’” Fonda said. “And I say, ‘Look out the window. If you don’t think we’ve blown it, you’ve got to take a closer look.’”

10. Fonda's famous dad didn't understand the movie.

The esteemed Henry Fonda saw a screening of his son’s film. “I had him come down and look at an early cut,” the younger Fonda told Daily Camera. “We had to get Dennis out of the room to get it below four hours. My dad watched it and then I went over the next day to his house. He was very serious. He said, ‘Look son, I know you have all your eggs in this basket. And I’m worried about it because the film is inaccessible. We don’t see where you’re going and why? I just don’t think many people will get it.’ Even after [it was successful] he thought I was just a loose cannon, until he worked for me for one day.”

11. You can pay to take the Easy Rider motorcycle tour.

If you like riding motorcycles, have 15 days to spare, and about $4300 to $7700 burning a hole in your pocket, you can sign up for the 50th Anniversary Easy Rider Movie Tour. The 2589-mile path ventures to some of the movie’s real filming locations, from L.A. to Death Valley to Colorado to New Orleans. According to the tour’s website, they’ve worked with Sony Pictures in authenticating the locales.

12. An original Captain America motorcycle sold for $1.35 million.

There’s been much dispute over who designed and built the four Harley-Davidson motorcycles, a.k.a. choppers, used in the movie. Cliff Vaughs said he did it, but Peter Fonda said he designed the sketches and built them: “I built the motorcycles that I rode and Dennis rode. I bought four of them from Los Angeles Police Department.” Vaughs worked on the movie for about a month before being fired, therefore his name doesn’t appear in the credits. Three of the bikes were stolen, and the final one was destroyed in the film’s finale but was later restored. Fonda gave the bike to actor Dan Haggerty, who eventually sold it to a collector named Michael Eisenberg. In October 2014, Profiles in History auctioned off the bike; the bike sold to an anonymous winner for $1.35 million and became the most expensive motorcycle in the world.

13. In 2012, an Easy Rider sequel was made.

Phil Pitzer, an Ohio lawyer and producer, realized the sequel rights to Easy Rider were available, so in 2007 he sued Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider to prevent them from claiming they owned the rights. Pitzer won the case and moved forward with the sequel. The original title was Easy Rider: Scarlet Cross, but he changed the title to Easy Rider: The Ride Back. Unlike the first film, the sequel went straight to DVD and didn’t make a dent in American culture.

This story has been updated for 2019.

15 Clever Breaking Bad Easter Eggs Hiding in Better Call Saul

Patrick Fabian, Rhea Seehorn, Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, Michael Mando, Giancarlo Esposito, and Tony Dalton in Better Call Saul.
Patrick Fabian, Rhea Seehorn, Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, Michael Mando, Giancarlo Esposito, and Tony Dalton in Better Call Saul.
James Minchin/AMC

As evidenced by Breaking Bad, Vince Gilligan and his cohorts have an eye for detail that’s nearly unrivaled. If anything, Better Call Saul—which is originally set several years before the events of Breaking Bad—only proves the point. The series, which is about to kick off its fifth season, focuses on Jimmy McGill (soon to become Saul Goodman) and is full of references to its progenitor, some of which are pure fun, and some of which add a deeper meaning to what we already know. Here are 15 clever Breaking Bad Easter eggs hiding in Better Call Saul.

**Warning: Plenty of spoilers ahead for both series.**

1. Being Kevin Costner

In a throwaway moment in Breaking Bad, Saul mentions to Walt that he once convinced a woman he was Kevin Costner (“If you’re committed enough, you can make any story work”), and in the finale of the first season of Better Call Saul, we see the exact moment he was referring to. In case we thought that Saul was just making the story up for the sake of a pep talk, here’s the proof otherwise.

2. Neighborhood mainstay

If the diner where Jimmy first meets with the Kettlemans looked familiar to you, it’s for good reason. Loyola’s Diner featured in Breaking Bad as a mainstay of Mike’s—he met with Jesse there, as well as Lydia. It’s also, incidentally, a very real restaurant in Albuquerque. And while we’re on the subject of Mike and food, he’s been shown to be fond of pimento cheese sandwiches in both series.

3. Address unknown

David Costabile as Gale Boetticher in 'Breaking Bad'
Ursula Coyote, AMC

In Better Call Saul, it’s shown that Jimmy's office is at 160 Juan Tabo Boulevard (which is a real nail salon). Those of you with a head for directions might also recall that that’s the same street that the ill-fated chemist Gale Boetticher lives on, at 6353 Juan Tabo Boulevard. Breaking Bad fans were thrilled when the karaoke-loving chemist appeared in Season 4 of Better Call Saul (with hopefully more to come).

4. The Ignacio connection

Michael Mando as Nacho Varga in Better Call Saul
Michael Mando as Nacho Varga in Better Call Saul.
Michele K. Short/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

When he’s kidnapped by Walt and Jesse after refusing to help a busted Badger, Saul spits out a variety of nonsense in an attempt to stay alive. He also drops a name: Ignacio. So who is he talking about? As we learn in Better Call Saul, this refers to Nacho, who’s become one of the secondary leads on the show. “Nacho” is a nickname, short for Ignacio, which makes sense as a connection given how closely he’s been working with Jimmy/Saul.

5. Cheap tricks

Bob Odenkirk and Rhea Seehorn in 'Better Call Saul'
Michele K. Short, AMC/Sony Pictures

There’s another callback to the first time that Walt, Jesse, and Saul meet. Despite still having his hands tied behind his back, when Saul agrees to help Walt and Jesse, he tells them to each put a dollar in his pocket in order to secure attorney-client privilege. It seems that Saul got that idea from Kim, who, when she decides to help Jimmy after discovering he’s falsified evidence, tells him to give her a dollar for exactly the same reason.

6. Old afflictions

Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill and Mel Rodriguez as Marco Pasternak in 'Better Call Saul'
Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill and Mel Rodriguez as Marco Pasternak in Better Call Saul.
Michele K. Short/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

In yet another reference to that fateful first meeting, we learn that Saul isn’t bluffing when he tells Walt and Jesse that he has bad knees. He says the same thing when cops apprehend him in the first season of Better Call Saul. As to why he’s got bad knees to begin with, it all comes from his time as “Slippin’ Jimmy,” when he used to stage falls in order to earn a little bit of money.

7. Car talk

Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul in 'Breaking Bad'
Ursula Coyote, AMC

Saul Goodman drives a white 1997 Cadillac DeVille with the vanity plate “LWYRUP.” Jimmy McGill’s ride is much more modest: a yellow Suzuki Esteem with a red door. That said, in the pilot of Better Call Saul, we very briefly see a white Cadillac DeVille—Jimmy parks his car next to it, in a truly blink-and-you-miss-it allusion to what’s to come. (Gus, notably, is driving the same blue Volvo in both shows.)

8. Home sweet home

In Better Call Saul, one of the retirement homes that Jimmy visits in his quest to find new clients for his growing elder law business is Casa Tranquila. If it sounds familiar, that's because it's a key location in Breaking Bad as the home of Hector Salamanca, and the place where he kills his longtime nemesis Gus Fring. It’s a nice touch to revisit the location, especially given the fact that Better Call Saul gives us the story as to how Hector wound up in a wheelchair in the first place.

9. What's your poison?

There’s also a nice bit of brand continuity with the made-up tequila Zafiro Añejo. Gus poisons a bottle to get back at Don Eladio in Breaking Bad, and we see the same blue bottle pop up in Better Call Saul when Jimmy and Kim scam a cocky stock broker named Ken. Ken, for his part, seems to be reaping a constant stream of bad karma, as he’s also in Breaking Bad as a victim of Heisenberg’s wrath. He swipes Walt’s parking spot—and has his car set on fire for his trouble.

10. The little piggy

Though Mike is hard as nails, he’s got a soft spot the size of Texas for his granddaughter Kaylee. He gifts her a pink pig plush in Better Call Saul, which crops up again in Breaking Bad under slightly less cute circumstances. He uses the doll as a distraction when an assassination attempt is made on his life.

11. Word games

Giancarlo Esposito as Gus Fring in 'Breaking Bad'
Ursula Coyote, AMC

The first letters of the episode titles of the second season of Better Call Saul are an anagram for “FRING’S BACK.” It’s a granular sort of trick that the creators have pulled off before: four of the episodes of season two of Breaking Bad spell out “Seven Thirty-Seven Down Over ABQ.” In the season finale, a 737 plane does indeed go down over Albuquerque, or ABQ.

12. Sentimental value

Given that Saul’s Breaking Bad office has a lot of strange objects in it, it’d be easy to miss the octagonal desk. As it turns out, the offices of Saul Goodman aren’t the desk’s first home: it’s seen in the background of Kim’s office in Better Call Saul. It’s retroactive, sure, but it’s still nice to know that Saul has some mementos around.

13. Movie night

Bob Odenkirk and Rhea Seehorn in 'Better Call Saul'
Ursula Coyote, AMC/Sony Pictures Television

There’s also a little sentimental value in the name of Saul’s holding company, Ice Station Zebra Associates, which he uses to help Walt launder money in Breaking Bad. As we discover in Better Call Saul, Ice Station Zebra is Kim’s favorite movie, due to her father’s affection for it. Though Kim is physically absent from Breaking Bad, small details seem to tie back to her all the time.

14. Set dressing

Krazy-8, may he rest in peace, also shows up in Better Call Saul. The van that he drives has the logo for Tampico Furniture on it, and he’s wearing a uniform with the logo as well. Tampico is where Walt, as he recalls in Breaking Bad, bought Walter Jr.’s crib. Unfortunately, those fond memories aren’t quite enough to save Krazy-8’s skin.

15. Beware of bugs

Before Mike leaves Philly for Albuquerque, a bartender tells him to be mindful of tarantulas. The spider plays a key role in Breaking Bad later on, as a young boy’s pursuit of the bug puts him in Walt’s path—and Todd’s path, by proxy. Determined to make a good impression on Walt, and knowing that there can’t be any witnesses to what they’re doing, Todd shoots the boy in one of the most shocking and cold-blooded moments in the entire series.

An earlier version of this story ran in 2018.

This Land Is Your Land: The Story Behind America's Best-Known Protest Song

American singer Woody Guthrie, circa 1960.
American singer Woody Guthrie, circa 1960.
Woody Guthrie: Getty Images. Landscape: iStock/mammuth

Few songs are more ingrained in the American psyche than "This Land Is Your Land," the greatest and best-known work by folk icon Woody Guthrie. For decades, it's been a staple of kindergarten classrooms "from California to the New York island," as the lyrics go. It's the musical equivalent of apple pie, though the flavor varies wildly depending on who's doing the singing.

On its most basic level, "This Land Is Your Land" is a song about inclusion and equality—the American ideal broken down into simple, eloquent language and set to a melody you memorize on first listen. The underlying message, repeated throughout the song, makes the heart swell: "This land was made for you and me."

But there's more to "This Land Is Your Land" than many people realize—two verses more, in fact. Guthrie's original 1940 draft of the song contains six verses, two of which carry progressive political messages that add nuance to the song's overt patriotism. These controversial verses are generally omitted from children's songbooks and the like, but they speak volumes about Guthrie's mindset when he put pen to paper 80 years ago.

 

Guthrie wrote "This Land Is Your Land" in a divey hotel room in New York City. He'd just landed in Manhattan after years of rambling across the country and meeting impoverished people affected by the Dust Bowl and Great Depression. Throughout his travels in the late '30s, Guthrie was haunted by Kate Smith's hit recording of Irving Berlin's "God Bless America." Guthrie found Berlin's song to be jingoistic and out of touch with the reality facing many of his fellow citizens. So he set about writing a response.

Guthrie originally titled his rejoinder "God Blessed America"—emphasis on the past tense—but eventually changed his tone. Instead of doing a sarcastic parody, he wrote a song that pulls double-duty, celebrating America's natural splendor while criticizing the nation for falling short of its promise. In the "lost" fourth verse, Guthrie decries the notion of private property, suggesting America is being carved up by the wealthy:

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me.
The sign was painted, said: 'Private Property.'
But on the backside, it didn't say nothing.
This land was made for you and me.

The sixth and final verse in the original manuscript references the poor folks Guthrie saw living on government assistance during the Great Depression:

One bright sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple,
By the relief office I saw my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there wondering if
God blessed America for me?

When Guthrie first recorded the song in 1944, he included the verse about private property but left out the one about the relief office. That original recording was lost until the '90s, however, so for years, all anyone knew was the version Guthrie recorded for 1951's Songs to Grow On. Guthrie's rendition on that album features neither the "no trespassing" verse nor the one about the relief office, which he never actually recorded.

It's unclear why the 1944 recording with the "private property" verse was never released, or why Guthrie edited out the radical stuff for the 1951 version. (He also chopped out both controversial verses when he first published the lyrics in the 1945 pamphlet Ten of Woody Guthrie's Songs.) It may have had something to do with the mounting anti-communist furor that would lead to the Red Scare of the late '40s and early '50s. As a pro-union communist sympathizer, Guthrie and his fellow rabble-rousing folky buddy Pete Seeger had already faced industry blacklisting in the early '40s.

"We did one program on CBS Radio, and a newspaper reported out, said, 'Red minstrels try to get on the networks,'" Seeger told NPR. "And that was the last job we got."

Woody Guthrie, circa March 1943.
Woody Guthrie, circa March 1943.
Penn State, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Regardless of which verses are included, "This Land Is Your Land" is terrific for singing. That was by design. Guthrie likely stole the melody from the Carter Family's 1935 tune "Little Darling, Pal of Mine," which itself was patterned after an old gospel hymn titled "When the World's On Fire" (sometimes called "Oh, My Loving Brother"). "This Land" was a perfect fit for classrooms and campsites, where the song would take on new life.

 

In the early '50s, famed American folklorist Alan Lomax came up with a nifty plan for preserving the nation's musical heritage. He approached legendary music publisher Howie Richmond with the idea of including rural folk songs—the kind he'd been documenting for the Library of Congress—in school music textbooks. Richmond, who had become Guthrie's publisher in 1950, loved the idea, and to sweeten the deal for textbook publishers, he lowered his usual licensing rates and offered "This Land Is Your Land" for just $1.

That's how "This Land Is Your Land" went viral and became nearly as ubiquitous as the national anthem, even without the radio play and jukebox real estate of Smith's "God Bless America." While the versions distributed to America's impressionable youth lacked "no trespassing" and "relief office" verses, the song's original lyrics were never forgotten. Following Guthrie's death in 1967, artists like Seeger continued performing the "lost verses," lest people forget the anger that inspired the song.

But regardless of Guthrie's intentions, "This Land Is Your Land" has come to mean different things to different people. That's part of what makes it so timeless. When President Ronald Reagan used the song at his victory party in 1984, after it had been used by Walter Mondale's campaign, both sides were probably trying to evoke feel-good patriotism. The same goes for Reagan's advisors and allies who were invoking Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A." during rallies and in newspaper articles. Reagan himself name-checked Springsteen and his "message of hope" during a rally in Hammonton, New Jersey. The president either didn't know or didn't care that "Born in the U.S.A." was another song about loving your country but hating how poorly it treats some of its citizens.

Ironically, the Boss had begun performing "This Land Is Your Land" in the early '80s. On the version included on the Live 1975–85 box set, Springsteen gives his audience the backstory about Irving Berlin and refers to "This Land" as "just about one of the most beautiful songs ever written." And, when given the opportunity to perform the song with Pete Seeger at Barack Obama's pre-inauguration concert in 2009, he readily agreed to sing all the verses at Seeger's insistence.

Over the years, "This Land Is Your Land" has been covered by everyone from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to former Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, who performed the song in Zuccotti Park during an Occupy Wall Street protest in 2011. Lady Gaga sang a snippet to open her Super Bowl halftime show in 2017, causing fans and critics to speculate about whether she was making a political statement. She mashed it up with "God Bless America," so it's a safe bet she knew the history of the song.

 

There may be even more officially recorded versions in years to come. Much like what has been done with ubiquitous songs like "Happy Birthday" and "We Shall Overcome" (which Seeger toured with and taught across the country at rallies and protests throughout the '50s and '60s), there is a push to have "This Land Is Your Land" enter the public domain. The Brooklyn rock band Satorii filed a lawsuit in 2016 challenging the copyrights held by the Richmond Organization and its subsidiary, Ludlow Music, and maintain that since Guthrie only wrote the lyrics and not that pilfered melody, he shouldn't have been able to register the song in the first place, nor should Ludlow have been able to own the copyright. The suit is ongoing.

Whether it enters the public domain, as one imagines Guthrie would have wanted, or doesn't, "This Land Is Your Land" isn't going anywhere. The song has been adopted and modified by Native Americans, Swedish anti-Nazi troubadours, and people all over the globe who find truth and comfort in Guthrie's words, however they choose to interpret them.

"The whole idea of a land is your spot on Earth, you know," Woody's daughter Nora told NPR. "A spot where you can claim safety, sanity."

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