Lust for Life: The Stories of the Great Song, Book, and Film

The phrase lust for life gives me goosebumps when I first reading it. The phrase which contains three words made my heart pounds as I began to think of its meaning. The first word, lust, has a mean of a strong desire for something to be completed soon. It also works for both concrete and abstract objects, i.e. wanderlust could be interpreted as someone who has a strong desire to wander. Hence, I came to a conclusion that lust for life could be meant as a strong desire to get what life could offer, to fully experience what life is and to get its very meaning.

I first ran across the phrase lust for life some years ago while I was reading a manga called BECK by Harold Sakuishi. It was a manga about a junior high sophomore called Tanaka Yukio (Koyuki) who did not experience much of his life while he was longing to write an autobiography someday later in his life. His life changed when he met a guy called Minami Ryusuke who is fond of music and later introduced him to musical world and even formed a band called BECK with him (The series title originally derived from the name of the band that they formed). This series eventually became the second bible of my life, since the story told the details of Koyuki’s struggle to the path of success.

The cover of the 1st volume of BECK tankoubon manga.

The story centered around Koyuki and his relations with the band members. Although it is basically a manga about a band, Sakuishi-sensei has inserted some comedies and romances. Including the relationship between Koyuki and Minami Maho, Ryusuke’s half-sister. The main conflict started when BECK made an enemy of Ran, the major Japanese music producer in the story, who played a major role in the everlasting struggles that BECK has to face. It was also the reason why they had to sign a contract with infamous Lust for Life indie label for their first and second single to be produced.

There are various musical influences on BECK name for characters and places. Such as Morrison Hotel, the hotel where Jim Walsh was staying in Tokyo, originally derived from the name of the 5th studio album of the late the Doors. Another example is the name of the indie label Lust for Life which originally came from the song with the same title by Iggy Pop which was released in 1977. The song performed by Iggy Pop and co-written by the late David Bowie. The song itself was a big hit at the time and even ranked 149th on the list of Rolling Stone magazine “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”.

There is a background story to this song, which Pop told in the Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Story behind the Song :

I was living in Berlin in the ’70s. David Bowie came over to see me and stayed. The wall was still up; Berlin was an occupied zone. Every Thursday night, the Armed Forces played Starsky and Hutch and we could pick it up on rabbit ears. Armed Forces TV had an audio signal like the Morse Code.

David picked up his son’s ukelele one day and knocked out the chord progression for this song and suggested the title. Lust For Life was my mom’s favorite book. It is a biographical novel about Vincent Van Gogh, written by Irving Stone, that was turned into a movie. It was a metaphor for my career at that point. I wasn’t enjoying success yet, much like Van Gogh who never saw any of the money or fame that his work did after he died.

Certain lyrics in the song, like “Johnny Yen” and “hypnotizing chickens,” refer to Williams S. Burroughs’ novel The Ticket That Exploded.

What the song talks about is how indispensible it is to be alive and excited but, ironically, our joys also make us vulnerable. Perhaps the people who aren’t too excited about things do better.

The funny thing was that the music was very bouncy and up. The band’s track had a great feel. We recorded it in a studio over there and we all hit it out of the park in one night. It was released in Holland in 1977 and became a #1 single. Then it sat on the shelf for awhile. It bubbled under the radar for about 20 years until the youth movie Trainspotting played the song loud in its entirety to open the movie. I was back in America then. The record became a multi-platinum soundtrack and it was a hit video here for me. It changed my life. “Lust For Life” was in other films as well, including Desperately Seeking Susan, but they weren’t as good for the song.

The most interesting thing about it is that as time goes on, the public will make of something what they want to. It’s a happy song. People don’t care about the irony in the verses. Whole families come up and thank me.

[Taken from ]

From that story, I found out that the song has a reference to the book and film of Lust for Life. The book is written by Irving Stone, first published in 1934, while the movie adaptation released in 1956. The movie, as well as the book, became an initial success at the time.

The story of Lust for Life centered about the life of infamous yet famous Dutch-painter Vincent Van Gogh. Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) never experienced success even once during his 37-years life. He has shifted from various career such as painting dealer, Evangelic pastor before settled down as a painter. As a painter, he even faced various problems and rejections from his neighborhood, acquaintances, other painters and even his families.

The one who never stops supported Vincent was his younger brother, Theo Van Gogh, who was a paintings dealer living in Paris. He gave Vincent 100 franc per month at first and raised it when his salary raised to support his brother who had not sold his paintings yet. Theo even backed up and gave Vincent good advice when all other Van Gogh family members were thinking that Vincent is a disgrace to the Van Gogh name.

Vincent Van Gogh self-portrait (1889)

Lust for life, as Iggy Pop described in the above-mentioned passage, has become a metaphor of a strong will which Vincent Van Gogh bore. It described well of a person who worked hard yet never ever encountered success in his life. It is important to note that success is just a bonus which you will get through your hard work. What is really important is not about enjoying your success, but it is to share your passion, something that you valued highly, to the outside world. That was what Van Gogh did, by sharing his feelings through his works. Even though he never experiences the fame and money his works have brought. So do not forget to live your life to the fullest.


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