Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Like many baby boomers – at least the older ones like me – whenever I hear the words “easy rider” I can only think of one thing. And to all you smarty-pants types out there, no I’m not talking about those recumbent exercise bicycles that they have in all the senior centers. Not yet anyway. No, I think of that 1969 psychedelic road movie staring Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, and Jack Nicholson in his breakout role. I think of Easy Rider.

Despite the fact that at this very moment I’m looking out my window at gi-normus plowed-up piles of lake effect snow, the roads are clear, and when the March sun shines, the motorcyclists come out and roar about. Nothing says spring more than robins piping and hogs revving. So I decided to celebrate with a post about Easy Rider, and that’s when I made an astounding discovery. The term “easy rider” neither started, nor ended, with the famous hippie era movie! It most often has (no big surprise) a sexual connotation, but seems to be applicable to women and men. Check it out.

Some of the earliest known origins of the term comes from late 19th and early 20th Century, particularly in African-American blues culture. Over time, it referred to

  • A woman who was sexually experienced and, ahem, good at said activity. Well, I guess that makes sense. But it also can refer to…
  • A man, which might make even more sense, if you follow me. And that’s all I’m going to say on that particular subject.
  • Other trains of thought suggest that “easy rider” dates to the time of the Great Depression, when hobos road the rails. Arguments for that interpretation say that the term “easy rider” was pretty much interchangeable with “C.C. Rider” and its variation, “See See Rider.” Some say it’s comes form the ubiquitous Colorado Central line (with two big capital Cs stenciled on the boxcars).
  • Some say it meant any slow moving train.
  • Still others will swear on a stack of Bibles that C.C. refers to the old time itinerant Circuit Court judges.
  • In WWII, the term was adapted for use by G.I.s who hired local young women as housekeepers-with-benefits, and thus had a pretty “easy ride” (clean living quarters, regular sex).
  • Here come the 60s and free love. Same general application of the term, although how that applies to the film Easy Rider isn’t that clear to me. Dennis Hopper, who directed Easy Rider, said the term applied to pimps. But Captain America and Billy weren’t pimps. They got their grubstake from a big cocaine deal (cameo by Phil Spector!) What can I say, folks, I just reports ‘em like I find ‘em.
  • Easy rider can also be Cockney rhyming slang for a pint of cider. And Bob’s your Uncle!
  • “Easy rider” can be found is several Led Zeppelin songs – “Out on the Tiles” is supposed to be one, I checked it out at a few lyrics sites, but I’m not totally convinced.
  • Jimi Hendrix paid his respects to the tradition with a number called “Ezy Rider.”
  • Back in the late 50s a group, Terry Gilkyson and the Easy Riders, had a big Island-flavored hit with “Marianne” (remember “all day all night Marianne, down by the seaside siftin’ sand”?)
  • Terry Gilkyson’s daughter, Eliza, is a singer/songwriter and has written a song to her father, called (you got it) “Easy Rider.”
  • Easy Rider is the name of a transportation smartcard in England.
  • Easy Riders is a Norwegian band, and their self-titled first album in 2004.

I’m sure the list will continue to grow as time marches on; it’s a pretty sure thing that Easy Rider is a permanent part of our global culture.

My fave from the Easy Rider soundtrack -

Marianne -


Quiet Paths said...

Once again a gem of a post. I just had NO idea two simple words were so intertwined into our (and others') societies.

Deborah Godin said...

Thanks! It never fails to amaze me how much is there behind the songs.