Track of the Day: 'Born Slippy .NUXX' by Underworld

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Reader Owen has an exceptional pick for our ongoing series on the best songs in cinema:

Danny Boyle selected some great tracks for Trainspotting. You mentioned Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” playing when Renton shoots up and survives an overdose. Yet Boyle makes an arguably better pairing when he plays Underworld’s “Born Slippy .NUXX” in the final scene, both for how the song draws you into the scene and how the lyrics reflect the protagonist’s story:

Begbie sleeps, passed out from drinking the night before, hugging the bag containing the profits from a heroin deal. Renton wakes early with “Born Slippy” playing quietly at first.  He walks over to the bed, and as he begins to gently move Begbie’s arms off the bag, the drumbeat kicks in. It quickens and syncs with your heartbeat as you watch, building the suspense, as the song and the beat grow louder. Will Begbie wake? Will Spud raise the alarm? Will Renton rip off his friends and escape with the cash?

The song continues as he walks out of the hotel with the money into the open fresh air.  Darkness pervades most of the movie, but now we are in the light.  Renton speaks his soliloquy promising to grow up and clean up. He promises to achieve a bright, boring, middle-class life. Yet the lyrics do not match Renton’s uplifting statements.  

Karl Hyde, who wrote the song, told The Guardian he was recreating how “a drunk sees the world in fragments” and described it as a cry for help when he “was still deep into alcoholism.” Although written about alcohol, the manic lyrics stand in for heroin abuse in Trainspotting. And the song’s refrain of “boy” echoes Renton’s nickname “Rent Boy,” making it sound as if the song is speaking to Renton about his struggles with heroin. It leaves you wondering whether Renton will make a clean break or whether the addiction, like the lyrics, will continue to follow him.

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