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A nihilistic delirium to catharsis the fantasy for a better world: a historical and literary re-contextualization of the musical role of velvet underground


Mahesh Hapugoda

Sabaragamuwa University of Sri Lanka, LK
About Mahesh
Department of Languages, Faculty of Social Sciences and Languages
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Velvet Underground (referred as Velvets from here on in this essay) is one of the most authentic, influential but least talked rock bands in the history of rock music, whose contribution is greatly forgotten in presence of the high popularity of the commercial form of rock. Started in 1966, the Velvets successfully articulated the avant-garde movement in 1950s and the European eliticism to create an independent, nihilistic and subversive form of rock which was later known as punk. Their style was the most self-expressive and pessimistic rock structure to go in between the hippie psychedelia influenced by existentialism and German expressionism; the two most influential ideological reactions which dominated the intellectual and literary tradition for decades in the post-war Europe. Without identifying with both hegemonic strands, the Velvets pertinently invented their own independent way to express the most profound and authentic feelings of their generation. They were later celebrated for their intellectual and artistic use of rock with great amount of experiments along side avant-gardism. In their poignantly arranged, de-aesthetic songs, though inspired by the use of heroin, have shown an imagination for the need of a better world. This paper will research how their self-expressive, nihilistic and notorious dreams which actually meant to get rid of the era’s desperation can be literary re-articulated to vision a futuristic better world. Though this situation of nihilism and futuristic hope is paradoxical, it is the very dilemma of the era and of modernity. The visualization of Velvet’s fantasy is, if psychoanalytically contextualized, in the form of a nihilistic delirium made through drugs and, resulted as, in Freudian terms, a catharsis to release the masculine libido; the sexual energy in the Id and sometimes as thanatos; the death instinct: both the animal within us. Their death instinct is also illuminated by the fact that they denied the ‘pleasure principle’, or in other words, the entertainment aspect in rock music. In this case, they are studied here as the first rock band with taboo adult fantasies in their songs which were mainly not for kids. This discussion will also observe their deliberate and positive use of deviant social attitudes, sexual perversion, underground metropolistic and seductive urbanistic hyper –realism in their songs in fantasizing the future better world against the contemporary monotonous, de-humanized socio-political structures. Their attempt to go beyond the political reactionism of that era towards a political radicalism, which was not the usual case in the time, will be paid attention to, while discussing their style and lyrics. Velvets’ contribution to rock music will historically be restructured in the first part, and the content will be literarily evaluated through some of their renowned lyrics in the second part of this dialogue to prove the hypothesis.


Sabaragamuwa University Journal 2012; V. 11 No. 1 pp 33-73
How to Cite: Hapugoda, M., 2013. A nihilistic delirium to catharsis the fantasy for a better world: a historical and literary re-contextualization of the musical role of velvet underground. Sabaragamuwa University Journal, 11(1), pp.33–73. DOI:
Published on 29 Jul 2013.
Peer Reviewed


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