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Just Like Hypnotizing Chickens

Hypnosis Chicken Those of us who go back a ways with Iggy Pop know that he certainly has more than a little “Lust for Life” — even at age 60. He was full of lust when I saw him eat dog food on stage almost 30 years ago.

I’d never imagined that the cruise line travel industry would one day be channeling subliminal messages from William S. Burroughs through The Iguana, carefully masked as a ploy to sell us on the joy of ocean cruises. But for the past couple years, a certain vacation cruise line has been running a snippet of Pop’s “Lust for Life” with a strange edit that aims to soften the song into some kind of hip “let’s party on a ship” message.

You may recall that that the line from “Lust for Life” used in the commercial, “Here comes Johnny Yen again…,” continues on to tell us that Johnny has liquor and drugs, and that he’s a sex machine. Those parts were snipped to the editing room floor by the commercial’s editors. What’s worse, the same sound barbers chopped out all of the fun bits about hypnotizing chickens.

Years ago, cruise ads ran with images of grandparents playing shuffleboard. Are the cruise lines of today hoping that aging punks will fill in the gaps, subliminally associating sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll with the superficial bliss of an ocean cruise?

David Bowie’s “Heroes” was once used in a series of Microsoft commercials, strategically fading out the line “We could be heroes…” just before the qualifier: “…just for one day.” I believe Steve Miller Band’s “Fly Like an Eagle” suffered a similar circumcised lyrical fate when used in an ad campaign. This sort of strategic edit is nothing new.

If you don’t already know who Johnny Yen is, and what he’s carrying, then it’s a bit oddly out of context to cite Yen as your icon for life lived lustily. It could almost be interpreted as some kind of warning that the boats are populated by Japanese tourists. It’s a weird line to use in a commercial.

Today I stumbled across an Iggy Pop interview in which he reveals the inspiration behind Johnny Yen, and the suggestion that love is like hypnotizing chickens. Big stuff – kind of like getting Don McLean to talk about the meaning of the lyrics to American Pie. While I admire McLean’s idea that “… songwriters should make their statements and move on, maintaining a dignified silence,” I must admit that I’ve always wanted to know more about how love could be “like hypnotizing chickens,” and just who Johnny Yen was.

Iggy spiels that “Lust for Life” is a nod to William S. Burroughs, whose esteemed character Dr. Benway was the source of the chicken analogy, and that Johnny Yen was Burroughs’ “Venusian green boy,” who used the love con as a charade. Finally, he explains that Bowie nicked the main riff for the song from an Armed Forced TV commercial.

So it turns out Johnny Yen’s anthem to lust was hashed out with Bowie on ukulele while watching Armed Forces TV, and that the song merges what was probably a military Morse code signal with Iggy’s observations on love as borrowed from William S. Burroughs.

It all makes perfect sense now. You can add “Lust for Life” to the list of Burroughs references in rock, alongside the Mugwumps and Steely Dan. I’m sure old Uncle Bill is smiling from beyond the grave every time he hears Johnny Yen’s name used to hawk ocean cruises.

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  1. “Are the cruise lines of today hoping that aging punks will fill in the gaps, subliminally associating sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll with the superficial bliss of an ocean cruise?”

    Actually, I have several 20-something friends who think going on a cruise is a great vacation…. Some of my coworkers go on a cruise or two a year, so perhaps their marketing is working.. ;)

  2. shacker permalink

    I have to confess, I introduced the words “superficial bliss” in the edit, so those are my words not Mal’s. But I think I was capturing something similar to what Mal had originally written.

    I’ve never been on a cruise, and I would probably go if given a chance, just for the experience, but I would be predisposed to find it gross based on what I’ve heard about them: Every pleasure pre-packaged, being waited on hand-and-foot, an overabundance of food everywhere you look, and the ports-of-call treated like incidental shopping drops rather than actual cultural experiences. In other words, about as far as you can get from punk rock.

    Read an amazing essay about the cruise ship experience once by David Foster Wallace called A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again – hilarious and highly recommended. It’s probable that if I had never read that piece I’d naively think an ocean cruise would be a thrill. But it poisoned my opinion for life.

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