Iggy Pop’s Lust For Life Album

In 2002, one of the most important albums of the 1970s turned 25.  That would be Lust For Life, which many consider to be Iggy Pop’s best solo album.  (In my view, American Caesar is the best.)  That year, thinking I had an interesting idea to go on, I wrote a 25th anniversary retrospective about the album and when it was done, I submitted it to The New York Times Op-Ed page.  Yep, they rejected it.  It has never been seen before.
I originally heard Lust For Life on CD in 1996.  A downtown record shop used to put out a cool, little newsletter every month and inside, there would be a music-related crossword puzzle.   It was a contest, actually.  All you had to do was get every answer right, submit your entry and hope an employee of the store would draw your name from a box presumably filled with completed crosswords.  Amazingly, that happened to me.  On my very first try.  I got a call saying I won a 20-dollar gift certificate.  So, I went down there, collected my prize, hemmed and hawed about what CD to buy and I noticed Lust For Life.  Unlike 90% of the stuff in this place, it was unused.  So, I snapped it up for $16.99 plus tax.  Incredibly, they wouldn’t give me the 46 cents in change.  Instead, the cashier filled out a tiny card saying I had 46 cents in store credit which was completely ridiculous.  Just give me the change and be done with it.  (I hung on to that stupid card for years and ended up throwing it out, unused.)
Looking at the manuscript I’ve made some slight changes but essentially, it’s the same piece from 4 years ago.  Much like the 25th anniversary tribute to Apocalypse Now that I posted not too long ago, I decided not to make it timeless.  Also, it’s probably a lot shorter than it should be, (I could spend a lot more time documenting Iggy’s contributions to music.) but I really wanted the New York Times to publish it.
More Iggy Pop entries are on the way.
The 25th Anniversary that shouldn’t be overlooked
By Dennis Earl

The great Lester Bangs once wrote, “Iggy Pop is a damn fool.” It was a compliment to a performer who was more than willing to do outlandish things in order to draw attention to himself and his music.

One of Iggy’s finest recorded moments of foolishness was his 1977 album, Lust For Life. It’s hard to believe but the record is 25 years old now. And it has aged very well.

The album is best known for 2 singles that have only recently become rock staples because of their frequent appearances in movies and TV commercials: Lust For Life and The Passenger. The Passenger was inspired by a Jim Morrison poem about travelling the world by car. Iggy worshipped The Doors and came thisclose to becoming their new singer in the early 70s after Morrison’s demise. But his drug habits and general recklessness put a quick end to that dream.

The hyperkinetic tribal soundtrack of Lust For Life got its inspiration from, of all things, a TV news theme. When Iggy and his good friend, David Bowie, were living in Berlin, the only English-speaking TV channel they could watch was the American Forces Network. All the other channels were exclusively German. Bowie, who wrote the memorable music to Lust For Life, liked the theme to AFN’s evening newscast. It was the starting point for the creation of one of the greatest rock and roll songs ever.

Lust For Life was never a hit in North America when it first came out. It wasn’t until 1996, some 19 years later, when it was immortalized in the opening sequence of the movie Trainspotting, that the song found a mass audience. (11 years earlier, the song was heard in an inconsequential scene in the 1985 comedy, Desperately Seeking Susan.)

From that point on, Iggy licensed the song for TV commercials. A lot of commercials. The song’s been heard in ads for beer, cruise ships, cars, and many other products. And now, it’s a staple of rock radio, both classic and alternative.

The album itself is not as great as that one song but it is one of Iggy’s most consistently listenable albums. Quickly recorded during the course of a fortnight in September 1977, the 9-track record (issued on CD in 1990) is an entertaining, sing-along bundle of contradictions.

On the opening title track, Iggy declares, “I’m through with sleeping on the sidewalk/no more beating my brains/with liquor and drugs.” 2 songs later, on Some Weird Sin, he’s changed his tune. “Things get too straight, I can’t bare it/I feel stuck, stuck on a pin….the sight of it all makes me sad and ill/that’s when I want/some weird sin.”

He’s “been hurtin’ since” he “bought the gimmick of something called love” in the title track and yet, that never stops him from his serial lusting. “I go crazy for your leather boots,” he practically cries on Sixteen. “Come to my waiting arms,” he softly coos to another potential young lover on the marvellous closer, Fall In Love With Me.

When I first heard the album 5 years ago, I felt there were slightly more good songs than bad. Now, I feel differently. Songs like Success, a sarcastic goof on potential superstardom, and Neighbourhood Threat, a simultaneous rant against the snobby rich and guarded fascination with the terminally downtrodden, have grown on me. What I missed before were the clever arrangements, particularly on Neighbourhood Threat where the cluttered, hooky arrangement emphasizes the weirdness of the sad soul in the song. I like how the song makes me feel. And I can’t describe it.

I hope I’m not making the album sound like a downer because it really isn’t. In fact, despite its heavy subject matter it’s a lot more fun than you’d expect. It easily outshines most of the crap being released these days.

Iggy Pop is a true student of rock and roll. And while he clearly added his own weird sensibilities to the legacy of this music, it’s still rock and roll. And it’s solid stuff.

Lust For Life, 25 years after its release, deserves to be celebrated.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, March 9, 2006
7:18 p.m.

Published in: on March 9, 2006 at 7:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

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