Behind the Inspirational Story and Meaning of “Lust for Life” by Iggy Pop


Like Iggy Pop’s famous song “The Passenger”, his hit “Lust for Life” (1977) was co-written by David Bowie. The track, which was originally written on ukulele, helped define pop as an all-time rock figure and the song has even enjoyed a resurgence more recently.

Let’s dive into both the history and the meaning of the track. From the uplifting mood and maxim behind its timeless appeal.

Meaning of life”

The song offers a feeling. It is vibrant, lush and golden. It’s the sound of, well, enjoying a lust for life. Or the thirst for the excesses of life. A verve to go out there in the wide world and fulfill your dreams (as they are). Indeed, the song is the soundtrack to that emotion, brought to the world by the sometimes depraved genius of Iggy Pop and David Bowie, who also plays piano on the track.

[RELATED: Iggy Pop Announces New Album, ‘Every Loser,’ Arriving Next Year]

The song became known for its frenzied opening beat, performed by percussionist Hunt Sales. The song’s beat was rooted in the call sign for Armed Forces Network, which Pop and Bowie overheard while waiting to watch an episode of Starsky and Hutch. The drumbeat went on to be emulated by songs like Jet’s “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” and others.

Sales, however, were inspired by the rhythm of songs such as “You Can’t Hurry Love” by The Supremes and “I’m Ready for Love” by Martha and the Vandellas.


The song’s lyrics include several references to William S. Burroughs’ Wild Romance, The banknote that explodedincluding nods to “Johnny Yen”, who is described by the author as “The boy-girl other half striptease god of sexual frustration” and “mesmerizing chickens”.

Burroughs, of course, has had a big impact on rock music over the past few decades. His book, naked lunchis the source of the band name Steely Dan.

In a 1995 interview, The Doors’ keyboardist Ray Manzarek with manager Danny Sugerman said the opening lyrics to “Lust for Life” were about their deceased heroin dealer, known as “Gypsy Johnny”. He arrived at Wonderland Avenue, which refers to Laurel Canyon, a site of much music and drug use in California, with its heroin and “motorized dildos”.

Looking at the lyrics, one can easily see that the song is about adoration for the parties of life, from drugs to sometimes depraved experiences to sex and more. Here are the first three stanzas, which show exactly that:

Here comes Johnny Yen again
With alcohol and drugs
And a flesh machine
He’s going to do another striptease

Hey man, where did you get that lotion?
I’ve been in pain since I bought the gimmick
About something called love
Yeah, something called love
Well it’s like hypnotizing chickens

Well I’m just a modern guy
Of course, I already had it in my ear
Been on a thirst for life
Because of a thirst for life

Reception, yesterday and today

After its release in 1977, the song did well in Holland and Yugoslavia, reaching number three on the Top 40 in both countries. Its success has often been attributed to a shirtless performance by Pop on the Dutch TV show, TopPop, during which the artist ransacked part of the stage. Complaints were made by viewers of the show, but the show’s producers knew about the planned wreckage in advance and, they said, the damage was minimal.

More recently, the song was popular again in the 1990s after being featured in the 1996 British film. Trainspotting. It reached number 26 in the UK charts after being re-released as a single. Later, a remix of The Prodigy was included in Trainspotting’sequel to 2017, T2 Trainspotting.

Pop spoke of the song’s resurgence in popularity in a 1999 interview, saying, “When I did thirst for life, I really thought America was gonna shake that motherfucker. And it took 20 fucking years, which is a long time to wait. I guess what happened was there was this system that wasn’t going to give me a break, and I survived the system. Movies and advertisers overthrew radio’s hold in America, and now there are other ways for people to listen to music. All of a sudden, a few years ago, when Trainspotting came out – I was walking down the street and I had heard Gross power comes out of the bars.

Photo by Linda D. Robbins/Getty Images

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