The Music of Trainspotting

Author: JB Mellin

WARNING: In this article I’ll be discussing not only music from the movie, but also the scenes themselves. If you haven’t seen Trainspotting, give yourself a little present and watch it. Additionally, some of the clips featured in this article portray (fake) heroin abuse. 

As I’ve been home in Chicago for nearly a week now with little to nothing to do, I’ve been trying to combat the boredom by binge-watching movies that I love. After rewatching a few Harry Potter movies and even David Lynch’s Eraserhead for some reason, I stumbled across Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting on Netflix. 

Besides the stellar acting, incredible sets and winding, tragic plot, Trainspotting is best depicted through its sensational soundtrack. Including the likes of Iggy Pop, Blur (Damon Albarn), New Order, and Lou Reed, the soundtrack does an incredible job of capturing the youthful, quirky essence of the characters. I can’t go through every scene in the movie with iconic music as this article would be far too long, but I’ll touch on a few of my favorites. 


One of the most iconic scenes from Trainspotting is the first in the movie, where we see the (kind of) protagonist Mark Renton running down the street with his friend Spud after stealing a few DVDs from a big tech store, being chased by security guards. This is where Renton (portrayed by Ewan McGregor) delivers his famous “Choose Life” monologue to us. 

At the head of this scene is Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life”, the title track of his 1977 album Lust for Life. The song itself captures the enthusiastic degeneracy in Trainspotting almost perfectly with its’ heavy, strongly drummed beat and lyrics: “Here comes Johnny Yen again, with the liquor and the drugs…,”. Besides setting a precedent for the rest of the movie, Iggy Pop is actually brought up multiple times by multiple characters, thought of as a kind of legend amongst Renton’s small group of friends.


A personal favorite scene for me is Renton’s overdose scene. After narrowly avoiding jail for theft (the DVDs) by committing to a heroin rehabilitation program, Renton is at a pub with his family and friends. However, he can’t stand them and soon decides to visit his friend Swanny, a heroin addict/dealer who supplies the drugs to both him and all of his friends. After arriving at his run-down, dirty apartment complex, Renton injects a massive needle directly into this arm and begins to overdose. He sinks into the carpet, and Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” from his 1972 album Transformer begins to play. 


The music creates an incredible juxtaposition: on screen we have Swanney scrambling to drag the unconscious Renton out of his place, calling for a cab and holding his head in his hands. Meanwhile, Lou Reed’s beautiful, somewhat cheery instrumentation and lyrics depict a scene that exists almost as an opposite to what the audience is seeing. When Renton arrives at the hospital, the song’s lyrics shift into “You’re going to reap just what you sow,” over and over again as Renton is brought back to consciousness through adrenaline and loud nurses.

But the scene that best captures the movie (and novel) is after Renton, Spud, and their friend Sick Boy have been off heroin for a while, but after a series of setbacks, they all decide to revert back to their cheating, stealing and drug abusing lifestyle. Overshadowing the full scene is Iggy Pop’s “Nightclubbing” from his album The Idiot. The scene details the aforementioned characters stealing TVs from old-age homes, breaking into cars, robbing doctors of their prescription pads, and also shows Renton stealing money from under his parents’ bed. Defined by screaming, deranged horns, chanting vocals and distorted guitars, “Nightclubbing” creates a dark, dirty atmosphere that matches up almost perfectly to the actions of the characters on-screen. 



Watching Trainspotting is what got me into Iggy Pop, as well as Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground. Funnily enough, in the original novel by Irvine Welsh, Renton is a bit of a music nerd who loves bands like Gang of Four, Wire, Simple Minds (pre- Don’t You Forget About Me), and Magazine. 

For me, just the soundtrack alone has reserved Trainspotting a place in my top 5 favorite movies of all time. If you like early punk music and want an entertaining story of degeneracy and heroin abuse, consider giving it a watch. 

I’ll see you all in the New Year.

JB Mellin | “It’s me, or Iggy Pop.” | KXSU Music Reporter

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