|Day 71: Iggy Pop (Lust For Life)
July 6, 2020
Since I will admit that this series of 365 artists in 365 songs is basically a daily fanzine, I will also admit that the usual angle on a song is an association. Not surprisingly, the songs chosen are associated for me with some standards: parties, puberty and pain, just to name a few (and all within the last week).
Some songs have associations that go so well beyond just me that they are embedded in the general public's collective mind as cultural literacy. Usually the songs are incredibly well known and indubitably pigeonhole the song into a universal association: CCR's "Fortunate Son" (as I wrote on Day 34) as the protest song; Jimi Hendrix's "All Along The Watchtower" as the drug song; The Stones' "Gimme Shelter" as the turmoil song; and Steppenwolf's "Born To Be Wild" as the rebellion song.
Then, as the song not nearly as well known initially, there's the winding, weird path of Iggy Pop's "Lust For Life" into mass acceptance. Its cultural revival started with Trainspotting, bottomed out with Carnival Cruise Lines, and managed to hit Rugrats Run Wild and The Jim Rome radio show (as theme song) in between. How did a song about heroin usage become so coveted?
Trainspotting played a big part in that, providing the incidental music as Renton and his drug-addicted pack of losers race away from the police in the film adaptation of Irvine Welsh's novel. "Lust For Life," with its relentless drum beat, catchy bass line, and flickering guitar riff, provides the perfect backdrop as Renton, in voice-over, reminds us of all the good things in life we can choose: life, job, career, family, big television, washing machines, cars . . . , the list goes on. Then after the long intro, as Iggy starts singing, Renton collapses to the floor in a cheap flat, high on heroin, because, as the voice-over says, "who needs reasons when you've got heroin."
Lyrically, Pop's song is a series of weird, at best, and grotesque, at worst, images: "the flesh machine/he's going to do another striptease"; "hypnotizing chickens"; "I'm worth a million in prizes with my torture film"; "Drive a GTO/wear a uniform/all on government loan." "Lust For Life" seems to have only one purpose in life, as the soundtrack for addicts and losers (maybe the same, maybe not, I will be charitable).
So, who in his or her right mind saw "Lust For Life" as an appropriate song for Carnival Cruises? Granted, they dropped all of the lyrics after the opening "Here comes Johnny Yen again" and went straight for the chorus. All commercialization of rock songs basically do this, airbrush out the bad stuff. I suppose they figured most of their potential audience wouldn't know what the song originally meant. Parsed and parceled, the phrase "lust for life" must have resonated with people who want to spend 10 days on a boat out in the middle of the ocean, eating and drinking (and shuffleboarding) their lives away.
Clearly, the magnificent music was part of the sales job, and not just figuratively. The drums and the bass are provided by Hunt Sales and Tony Sales, respectively. They also just happen to be the son of Soupy Sales. Yes, for those of us old enough to remember, this Soupy Sales:
Soupy, a West Virginia boy, championed jazz music for a Detroit radio station in the 1950's, so it should be no surprise that he bore sons who would become musicians. Soupy, for most of us born at the border of boomer and Generation X, was a frequent contributor to t.v.'s "What's My Line?" Funny how his sons became the backbone for a song that was all about sniffing out a line.
And that's the beauty of association: Soupy Sales to Iggy Pop to the Rugrats, a journey sponsored by Carnival Cruise Lines.
"Lust For Life." Lust For Life. Iggy Pop. RCA. 1977. Link here.
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Day 72: Death Cab For Cutie "I Will Possess Your Heart." ->
See full unfinished list here.