Edinburgh, Trainspotting and “Lust for Life”

Last week, despite having just a few too many responsibilities at the moment (regular visitors will know what I mean), Mr WIAA and I managed to spend a few days in our capital city, Edinburgh. Now this is a city steeped in history and awash with culture, but having visited many times before, this time it was nice just to “be” there – Wandering round the Old Town, admiring the New Town (built between 1767 and 1850, so the old town as you can imagine is really old), visiting galleries and stopping for regular refreshments in the city’s many coffee shops and hostelries.

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But you can only do that for so long, so what does a middle-aged lady and her husband decide to do on day 2 of the trip? – Why recreate scenes from the film Trainspotting of course! Danny Boyle’s black comedy was released in 1996 and although set in a very different Edinburgh from the one visited by tourists, it made a massive impact, and on some lists is now ranked one of the 10 best British films ever made.

Based on the novel of the same name by Irvine Welsh, the film was about a group of heroin addicts living in an economically depressed area of the city, and their passage through life. It sounds bleak, which it most definitely was in places, but there were also moments of great humour, and of course for anyone who knows the film well, the soundtrack was a triumph and has gone on to become a pop culture phenomenon. It contained music from the ’70s by artists such as Lou Reed and Iggy Pop, musicians closely associated with drug use, but also music from the Britpop era and ’90s techno-dance music by bands such as Underworld.

Born Slippy .NUXX by Underworld:

The main character in the film, Renton, was played by Ewan McGregor and no-one who has seen it will forget that opening scene where he and his friends are being chased through the streets of central Edinburgh: “Choose life,” began his monologue. “Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a f**king big television. Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and electrical tin can openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol and dental insurance. Choose fixed-interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home ………… But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life. I chose somethin’ else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin?”.  All played out of course to the sound of Iggy Pop’s 1977 song, Lust for Life.

Lust for Life by Iggy Pop:

The little film above was made over the course of two days as we did a recce on day one just to find the locations. On day two we got the scenes we were looking for, but maybe not wise to have worn a pair of boots with heels – Oh well, next time I decide to recreate scenes from a movie about drug addicts, I will remember that.

Whilst on the trip, I got to thinking about some of the other great scenes from the film, and one that has stuck with me is when Renton meets “wise beyond her years” love-interest Diane for the first time. Turned out the “flatmates” he met the next morning were in fact her parents – One of the funniest moments in the entire film (but perhaps not quite as funny in the 21st century in light of recent news stories):

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Renton: Excuse me, excuse me. I don’t mean to harass you, but I was very impressed with the capable and stylish manner in which you dealt with that situation. And I was thinking to myself, now this girl’s special.
Diane: Thanks.
Renton: What’s your name?
Diane: Diane.
Renton: And where are you going, Diane?
Diane: I’m going home.
Renton: Well, where’s that?
Diane: It’s where I live.
Renton: Great.
Diane: What?
Renton: Well, I’ll come back with you if you like, but like, I’m not promising anything, you know.
Diane: Do you find that this approach usually works? Or let me guess, you’ve never tried it before. In fact, you don’t normally approach girls – am I right? The truth is that you’re a quiet sensitive type but if I’m prepared to take a chance, I might just get to know the inner you: witty, adventurous, passionate, loving, loyal. Taxi! A little bit crazy, a little bit bad. But hey – don’t us girls just love that?
Renton: Eh?
Diane: Well, what’s wrong boy – cat got your tongue?

And of course when Diane doesn’t get Iggy’s name quite right:

Diane: You’re not getting any younger Mark. The world’s changing. Music’s changing. Even drugs are changing. You can’t stay in here all day dreaming about heroin and Ziggy Pop.
Renton: It’s Iggy Pop.
Diane: Whatever. I mean, the guy’s dead anyway.
Renton: Iggy Pop’s not dead. He toured last year! Tommy went to see him.
Diane: The point is, you’ve got to find something new.

I think most of us who were fans of the first film will by now have seen the sequel, made just over 20 years later and called T2 Trainspotting. Back in 1996 “the prevailing anxieties were over the spiritual bankruptcy of western consumerist society”. In the sequel, Renton updates the iconic speech from the original film – The must-have consumer goods of 1996 have gone, replaced by an assault on the dismal features of millennial life, especially social media. “Choose Facebook,” says middle-aged Renton, “Twitter, Instagram and hope that someone, somewhere cares … Choose reality TV, slut shaming, revenge porn. Choose a zero-hours contract, a two-hour journey to work. And choose the same for your kids, only worse, and smother the pain with an unknown dose of an unknown drug made in somebody’s kitchen …”

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Back in 1996 I did choose life, and I don’t mean that I bought into acquiring the consumer goods listed in the monologue, but by giving up work to look after baby DD. Being married to someone in the Arts this was perhaps a rash plan, but it seemed to work out for us and made for a much less stressful life. We’ve never been big on “stuff”, always preferring “time”, but I realise this is not an option for everyone. 20 years on and being liked on social media seems to have replaced the need for consumer goods for millennials, but who can blame them. My generation bought up all the houses and have now bought up the starter flats on a buy-to-let basis, so life is tough for them. As for me, since taking up blogging I have all but abandoned social media but then again, what is blogging if not a different form of social media? We convince ourselves it is to hone our writing skills, but I can’t deny there is a great sense of pleasure when the feedback is favourable and I do love the discussion that can sometimes develop. Let’s see what this one brings.

As for the soundtrack album that went with the first film, I of course bought it back in 1996, ironically with a voucher received as a leaving gift from one the departments I had worked with before giving it all up…… and Choosing Life. Sadly the purchases I made with that voucher were all on cassette tape which was the worst medium for music consumption, but fortunately easy to replace nowadays, which I have now done.

But the last word should probably come from Renton. Trainspotting was a film about drug addicts, primarily watched by people like myself who weren’t drug addicts (don’t do it kids). The film did however make us understand it all a bit more: “People think it’s all about misery and desperation and death and all that shit which is not to be ignored, but what they forget is the pleasure of it. Otherwise we wouldn’t do it. After all, we’re not f**king stupid. At least, we’re not that f**king stupid.”

Until next time….

Lust for Life Lyrics
(Song by Iggy Pop/David Bowie)

Here comes Johnny Yen again
With the liquor and drugs
And a flesh machine
He’s gonna do another strip tease

Hey man, where’d you get that lotion?
I’ve been hurting since I bought the gimmick
About something called love
Yeah, something called love
Well, that’s like hypnotising chickens

Well, I’m just a modern guy
Of course, I’ve had it in the ear before
‘Cause of a lust for life
‘Cause of a lust for life

I’m worth a million in prizes
With my torture film
Drive a G.T.O.
Wear a uniform
All on government loan

I’m worth a million in prizes
Yeah, I’m through with sleeping on the sidewalk
No more beating my brains
No more beating my brains
With the liquor and drugs
With the liquor and drugs

Well, I’m just a modern guy
Of course, I’ve had it in my ear before
‘Cause, of a lust for life (lust for life)
‘Cause of a lust for life (lust for life, oooo)
I’ve got a lust for life (oooh)
Got a lust for life (oooh)
Oh, a lust for life (oooh)
Oh, a lust for life (oooh)
A lust for life (oooh)
I got a lust for life (oooh)
Got a lust for life

Well, I’m just a modern guy
Of course, I’ve had it in my ear before
‘Cause I’ve a lust for life
‘Cause I’ve a lust for life.

Well, here comes Johnny Yen again
With the liquor and drugs
And a flesh machine
I know he’s gonna do another strip tease

Hey man, where’d ya get that lotion?
Your skin starts itching once you buy the gimmick
About something called love
Oh Love, love, love
Well, that’s like hypnotising chickens.

Well, I’m just a modern guy
Of course, I’ve had it in the ear before
And I’ve a lust for life (lust for life)
‘Cause I’ve a lust for life (lust for life)
Got a lust for life
Yeah, a lust for life
I got a lust for life
Oh, a lust for life
Got a lust for life
Yeah a lust for life
I got a lust for life

Ewan McGregor, Elton John and “Your Song”

Before I got side-tracked by other things, like writing my landmark 100th post (still basking in the afterglow of having reached that momentous number), I had revisited the Randy Crawford song One Day I’ll Fly Away which is featured in this year’s John Lewis Christmas ad. It led me to share the version performed by Nicole Kidman in Baz Luhrmann’s lavish movie Moulin Rouge!. Her male co-star and love interest in that movie was Ewan McGregor, my favourite Scottish actor, in fact no, my favourite actor full stop. I am currently eagerly awaiting the sequel to the 1996 film Trainspotting which is due to come out early next year where he very memorably played the character Renton, a young man caught up in a world of addiction and squalor in, ironically, “culturally rich” Edinburgh – Harrowing scenes but also scenes of great humour and on some lists, it is ranked Best Scottish Film of all time.

His role in Moulin Rouge! could not have been more different as in this one he plays a writer/poet who has come to live amongst the Bohemians of Montmartre during the period of La Belle Époque. It is not long before he falls in love with Satine, the star courtesan of the Moulin Rouge nightclub played by Nicole Kidman and for me, the whole film was an absolute spectacle, with fantastic music throughout.

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Ewan and Nicole sing their Love Medley

I hadn’t realised until going to see that film in 2001 that both Nicole and Ewan were such great singers, but they were, and one of their very memorable duets, Elephant Love Medley, was compiled from 13 different Love Songs – If you are around my age, you will recognise all of them. They came just too thick and fast when I watched this song being performed first time around but once home, and with the newly purchased CD in the player (it was 15 years ago now), it was easier to identify and remember all of them. Here is the clip followed by the list, in the correct running order, of all 13 songs from which snippets were plucked. Very aptly for this year, I think my favourite segment is when they sang a few lines from the David Bowie song Heroes.

Elephant Love Medley by Ewan MacGregor and Nicole Kidman:

Medley compiled from:
Love Is Like Oxygen – Sweet
Love is a Many-Splendored Thing – The Four Aces
Up Where We Belong – Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes
All You Need Is Love – The Beatles
Lover’s Game – Chris Isaak
I Was Made For Lovin’ You – Kiss
One More Night – Phil Collins
Pride (In The Name Of Love) – U2
Don’t Leave Me This Way – Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes
Silly Love Songs – Paul McCartney and Wings
(Repeated) Up Where We Belong – Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes
Heroes – David Bowie
I Will Always Love You – Dolly Parton
Your Song – Elton John

The final song used for the medley was Your Song by Elton John. It was originally released back in 1970 and although I knew it well, I had been too young back then to really appreciate those great lyrics by Elton’s long-time collaborator, Bernie Taupin. By the time I was a teenager in 1973, Elton John was one of the biggest singer/composer/musicians on the planet, his albums “Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player” and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” receiving massive critical acclaim. But, at that time my focus was very much on my oh so good-looking teen idols, the Donnys and the Davids. Elton by this time had embraced the full glam-rock persona with ever more outrageous outfits, glasses and footwear, but not someone I saw as a potential teen idol.

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One of Elton’s outrageous outfits!

This is a roundabout way of saying that it was not until going to see Moulin Rouge! in 2001 that I truly appreciated the sentiment of Your Song, and actually dug out a really old cassette tape from the loft that, amongst others, contained my new favourite song. Again maybe it’s the old romantic in me, but what a wonderful thing I thought, to have a song written specially for you which includes the line: How wonderful life is, while you’re in the world”. Unlike Pattie Boyd, who seems to have had oh so many songs written about how wonderful it was to have her in the world, I am pretty sure no-one has ever written a song for me. At best there may have been a limerick or rhyme (of the non-smutty nature) in a Valentine card at some point, but still perhaps time if Mr WIAA decides to take up the art of song-writing in later life. The really ironic thing is that hubby’s real-life profession is actually mentioned in the song, but in a bit of a derogatory fashion. Yes it is a great source of mirth in our house that one of the lines from Your Song goes as follows: “If I were a sculptor (bit of aside laughter at the ridiculousness of the suggestion), but then again, no”. It turns out that Bernie Taupin decided that it would be preferable being “a man who makes potions in a travelling show” than to be a sculptor although I beg to differ!

Your Song by Elton John:

So, “What’s It All About?” – It’s good in later life to revisit songs you may not have truly appreciated first time around because you were just far too busy swooning over your latest teen idol, who happened to have great hair, teeth, waistcoats and headwear. (That would be Donny Osmond in his trademark purple cap then!) I sadly did not appreciate Your Song first time around so was glad to rediscover it properly after watching Baz Luhrmann’s lavish film. Yet again, the subject matter for both the above songs is that old chestnut love but as I have mentioned here before (just a few times), that is indeed what it’s all about. We seem to be living in a bit of a troubled world at the moment but I will remain positive and hope that love will win out in the end.

Until next time here is the Moulin Rouge! version of the song, Baz Luhrmann style. Both have their merits but it’s the simple pared down version by Elton for me now – Unlike Pattie Boyd I may never have any songs written for me, or about me, but in the meantime a nice piece of sculptural jewellery will do nicely. The man who makes potions in a travelling show is not the one for me!

Your Song Lyrics
(Song by Elton John/Bernie Taupin)

It’s a little bit funny this feeling inside
I’m not one of those who can easily hide
I don’t have much money but boy if I did
I’d buy a big house where we both could live

If I was a sculptor, but then again, no
Or a man who makes potions in a traveling show
I know it’s not much but it’s the best I can do
My gift is my song and this one’s for you

And you can tell everybody this is your song
It may be quite simple but now that it’s done
I hope you don’t mind
I hope you don’t mind that I put down in words
How wonderful life is while you’re in the world

I sat on the roof and kicked off the moss
Well a few of the verses well they’ve got me quite cross
But the sun’s been quite kind while I wrote this song
It’s for people like you that keep it turned on

So excuse me forgetting but these things I do
You see I’ve forgotten if they’re green or they’re blue
Anyway the thing is what I really mean
Yours are the sweetest eyes I’ve ever seen

And you can tell everybody this is your song
It may be quite simple but now that it’s done
I hope you don’t mind
I hope you don’t mind that I put down in words
How wonderful life is while you’re in the world