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Sunday Morning by the Velvet Underground: Warhol, a Wannabe Social Media Star?

Paranoia wrapped in a chirpy, optimistic tune.

Andy Warhol was beset by his riddling sense of ingenuity and fame. Boldened in the programs for his 1968 exhibition at Stockholm’s Moderna Museet was a quote: “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” These words birthed the concept of “15-minutes of fame” — a short-lived sense of celebrity. Warhol manipulated and plagiarised to extend his time underneath a global spotlight. Yayoi Kusama’s 1964 solo exhibition “Aggregation: One Thousand Boats Show” at Gertrude Stein Gallery displayed a wallpaper fashioned by the Japanese contemporary artist, who plastered it to the walls and floor. Warhol’s own Cow Wallpaper, shown at the Leo Castelli Gallery in April of 1966, bared an uncanny resemblance that led Kusama to cover the windows in her studio to prevent others from “stealing” her ideas.

But it was the paranoia of Valerie Solanas, the feminist scribbler of the SCUM Manifesto — Society of Cutting Up Men — and a wallflower at Warhol’s boisterous UFO Factory, that caused her to fire two bullets through both of his lungs, spleen, stomach, liver, and esophagus. Solanas’s untreated schizophrenia, discovered after several rounds of court-order physiological evaluation, convinced her Warhol purloined the manuscript of her womanist production “Up Your Ass” for his own artistic use. The year was 1968, just 12 months after the Velvet Underground, managed by Warhol, released their debut album, The Velvet Underground & Nico, which included “Sunday Morning” as the first track.

Lou Reed, the band’s main songwriter, conceived the song in the early hours of a Sunday for gothic rock singer Nico, otherwise known as Christa Päffgen — most famous for her 1967 hit “These Days.” It was Warhol that suggested the lyrics capture the sensation of paranoia, according to Reed. It’s just a restless feeling by my side… It’s just the wasted years so close behind/ Watch out, the world’s behind you / There’s always someone around you who will call / It’s nothing at all.” Set against the wind-chime like sounds of a celesta, soft bass strums and delicate percussion jangles, “Sunday Morning” is a chilling juxtaposition where calamitous self-deception masquerades as quasi-euphoria. It registers as a psychedelic lullaby to the ear. But its lyrics are better suited for an anthem made for sending someone flying off the rails of life and down a downward spiral — a capability Warhol possessed. Unknowingly or not is up for debate.

When first shared with Nico, she believed the title of the song was “Sunday Mourning,” a reflection that spoke volumes about the Velvet Underground’s affixation with not only death, but duplicity. On the surface, “Sunday Morning” is chirpy, optimistic — an intentional decision made by Warhol and the band, as they wanted to make the track radio-friendly and release it as a single in 1966. At the core of the song is a prisoner confined by a troubling fame of thought: paranoia that drives uncontrollable thought and action. In its entirety, the message it delivers continues to resonate with listeners today. As a society consumed with social media, we’re conditioned to portray and package our lives as perfect, covetable. Our daily actions are fodder for the content we create, and therefore, the audience we amass. We work tirelessly to become celebrities, hurting others in the process, regardless of whether or not our lives are worth broadcasting.

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