This song is about Iggy Pop's lifestyle as a hard-living heroin addict. The title is taken from the 1956 film of the same name, which itself is an adaptation of Irving Stone's 1934 biographical novel about the Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh.
The song makes several references to Johnny Yen, a character in American writer William S. Burroughs' 1962 novel The Ticket That Exploded
. References to the novel also account for the lyrical preoccupation with stripteases, drugs, and hypnotizing chickens.
David Bowie co-wrote this song with Iggy Pop, with Bowie composing the music on a ukulele. It was inspired by the opening to the American Forces Network News, which the pair listened to in Berlin. Iggy recalled to Q magazine April 2013: "Once a week the Armed Forces Network would play Starsky & Hutch and that was our little ritual. AFN would broadcast an ID when they came on the air, a representation of a radio tower, and it made a signal sound, 'beep-beep-beep, beep-beep-ba-beep.' And we went, 'Aha we'll take that!'. David grabbed his ukulele, worked out the chords, and away we went."
Belying the drug references in this song, Iggy Pop was trying to get clean around this time, as was David Bowie - for both it was a relatively sober time in their lives. Pop still played up the image of a combustible addict, not only in his lyrics, but in his stage antics (although he cut his hair short around this time because that's what he thought "straight people" did). Being (somewhat) clean gave him the freedom to act out as if he wasn't, which he did on "Lust For Life."
The song was re-released as a single in 1996, featuring on the soundtrack for the British film Trainspotting
(where drug abuse was a central theme). While the song didn't chart when it was first released, this reissue reached #26 in the UK. This success might explain the subsequent release in 1998 of "The Passenger
," another song from the same album, which made #22 UK.
A remix of the song by The Prodigy led off the soundtrack for the movie's sequel, T2 Trainspotting
, which was released 20 years later.
Because of its chorus that can be interpreted as a message to live life to its fullest, this song is often used in commercials, including one for Royal Caribbean Cruises where the advertisement jumps from the opening line "Here comes Johnny Yen again" straight to the chorus "Lust for life," conveniently omitting all the interim references to liquor, drugs, "flesh machines," and stripteases. The campaign began in 2001 and ran for nearly a decade, befuddling fans who marveled at the incongruity, but effectively marketing the product, as Royal Caribbean was reaching out to a younger demographic and positioning their cruises as more of an adventure and less about the shuffleboard and buffets.
Most viewers didn't make the heroin association, but that's true of the song in general, as the rousing chorus is what cuts through. And while some of Pop's fans were outraged, he loved it. Pop controlled the rights to his performance of the song, which is what Royal Caribbean used, but couldn't stop companies from using re-recorded versions which often appeared without his approval. With this campaign, he got paid, and not eager to bite the hand, said, "I actually enjoyed Royal Caribbean's usage. And to me, it's just great that it's out there in any form for someone to hear."
This is one of Iggy Pop's most popular songs; the vocal doesn't come in until 1:12, but the catchy chorus and driving beat give it plenty of pop appeal.
This is the opening theme to the syndicated sports talk program The Jim Rome Show
, which has been on the air since 1996.
Glenn - Bandera, TX
The line "I've had it in the ear before" is an expression meaning you've been screwed over.
Bertrand - Paris, France
The recognizable drum and guitar riffs are notably replicated in the Australian garage rock band Jet's 2003 single "Are You Gonna Be My Girl
." The similarities were subject to media scrutiny, though both bands have admitted that the primary inspiration for their tracks were Motown hits, such as The Supremes' "You Can't Hurry Love
" and Martha & the Vandellas' "I'm Ready for Love."
In addition to Trainspotting, this song was used in the following movies:
Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)
A Guy Thing (2003)
Rugrats Go Wild (2003)
Just Like Heaven (2005)
It also appeared in the 2003 episode of The Simpsons "The Regina Monologues," and the 2007 episode of Chuck, "Chuck Versus the Helicopter."
The Welsh singer Tom Jones
covered the song for his 1999 covers album Reload