Thursday, 6 February 2014
Johnny Yen is the main character in Iggy Pop's Lust For Life- 'here comes Johnny Yen again, with the liquor and drugs and the flesh machine, he's gonna do another striptease' is the song's opening line, before beating our brains and Johnny's with a pulverising Motown drumbeat and David Bowie's beefed up ukulele riff. Iggy borrowed Johnny Yen from a William Burroughs novel- The Ticket That Exploded- where Johnny Yen is described as 'the boy-girl other half striptease God of sexual frustration'. He is also known for hypnotising chickens. Iggy's Johnny Yen is a self-destructive hedonist and therefore is partly/mainly Iggy himself.
Johnny Yen reappears in the James song of the same name, on Stutter in 1986. For Tim Booth Johnny Yen is a performer- 'Ladies and gentlemen here is my disease, give me a standing ovation and your sympathy', before going off and setting himself on fire again. Tim Booth further borrows from Iggy/Bowie by referencing the Jean Genie, and then goes onto suicide pacts, young men itching to burn and waiting for their own star turn. He then gets compared to Evel Knievel, hitting the seventeenth bus, before Tim urges someone to put Johnny Yen, the poor fool, out of his misery, to finish him off. I'm guessing that mid 80s vegan, yoga, indie-poet Tim Booth was despairing of the old rock 'n' roll cliches, with their leather trousered frontmen and drug habits, but by borrowing Johnny Yen he's lining himself up alongside Iggy Pop and William Burroughs to some extent. The James song was from when they looked like a really interesting group, spindly, spiky, uncompromising, almost folky, indie-rock. They went on to become a stadium band, which I don't hold against them by any means, but they sacrificed something when they expanded their line up and sound and began appealing to a wider audience.