Jim Bianco’s life changed thanks to The Walking Dead. A struggling singer-songwriter who flipped houses for a living, Bianco gained fame when his song, “Easy Street”—recorded with the Collapsible Hearts Club—was licensed the show four years after it was written and dumped on the internet. It came with a bit of a caveat, though: “Easy Street” was used not as an emotional episode-closer or a bit of interstitial music, but rather as an instrument of torture. In season 7's “The Cell,” Norman Reedus’ Daryl Dixon is, along with the viewers, forced to endure the chipper tune’s bug-eyed medley of horns, banjo, and optimism over and over. And over. And over.
The song gained a certain amount of infamy. Austin Amelio, who plays Dwight, said on The Talking Dead that fans have “trolled” him with it. On the same episode, rapper Lil Jon—a TWD fan, apparently!—said he hates it. Reedus himself spoke about it following the episode’s airing: “You know, I didn’t hear that song until the episode came out. We didn’t hear that song while we were filming. We were just imagining a song. Then in the script, it was like a kids song, and that’s what I expected it to be and then that ‘Easy Street’ came on and I was like, ‘God this song sucks.’”
Bianco didn’t mind, though. Not everyone felt tortured by the track, what with it climbing both the iTunes and Spotify viral charts. Covers came pouring in, the song finding new life on piano, electric guitar, and even as an 8-bit ditty. “Easy Street”’s success even brought Bianco to L.A., where he now works composing music for TV and film.
In 2018, though, the song twinkled back into the cultural consciousness, this time for less amusing reasons. As is outlined in a new episode of WNYC Studio’s Snap Judgment podcast, “Easy Street” was adopted by federal agents to torture those camped outside the Portland headquarters of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in protest of family separations at the U.S.-Mexico border. It played on a loop for more than 10 hours and, despite its maddening qualities seemingly being a thing of fiction, protestors recount the song driving people to panic attacks and states of mush-minded mania.
That’s a tough pill for Bianco to swallow. “My song was used in a malicious way to hurt people,” he recalls, detailing how he sent a cease and desist letter to the Department Of Homeland Security, who acknowledged their use of it and promised not to use it again. How nice of them!
The podcast, though, has something of a happy ending. The protestors took the song back in the aftermath of it all—they even recorded their own version of it with rewritten lyrics.
Listen to the full episode here or stream it below.