Few songs capture a feeling of disillusionment and unease quite like The Velvet Underground’s avant-garde classic “All Tomorrow’s Parties.” With its haunting piano line and lyrical references to depressing circuses and prisons, the track creates an air of melancholy and isolation even when describing future celebrations. Originally written by Lou Reed and John Cale and sung by Nico on the band’s 1967 debut, “All Tomorrow’s Parties” owes its iconic status as much to its mysterious title as its hypnotic sound. Just what does the phrase “all tomorrow’s parties” symbolize in the context of the song’s enigmatic lyrics?
On the surface it implies anticipation, but on a deeper level, it comments on the emptiness of hedonism, social divisions, and the ceaseless cycle of life. The song’s nebulous meaning has allowed for myriad interpretations since its release, but regardless of exact analysis, “All Tomorrow’s Parties” perfectly encapsulates a feeling of alienation and unease with the world. Its evocative title and lyrics ensure the track remains one of the most influential and compelling works of 1960s rock.
Background on the Song “All Tomorrow’s Parties”
The song “All Tomorrow’s Parties” originated as a track written and recorded by the highly influential avant-garde rock band The Velvet Underground in 1966. Though it did not achieve commercial success upon its initial release, it has since become one of the band’s most famous and iconic songs.
The Velvet Underground Original
Featured on their 1967 debut album The Velvet Underground & Nico, the original version of “All Tomorrow’s Parties” showcased the musical and lyrical style that The Velvet Underground pioneered: experimental instrumentation, poetic lyrics exploring dark themes, and edgy subject matter dealing with drug culture and sexuality.
The haunting track was sung by German chanteuse Nico in her cool, aloof style over a simple but hypnotic piano line. With its intimate feel and vague, mysterious lyrics open to interpretation, “All Tomorrow’s Parties” established The Velvet Underground as a hugely important group in the development of alternative and art rock.
History of the Song’s Creation
“All Tomorrow’s Parties” was written by Velvet Underground members Lou Reed and John Cale in 1966 while the band was doing a residency playing at Andy Warhol’s Factory. Warhol had recently become the group’s manager and included them as part of his Exploding Plastic Inevitable shows.
The song was supposedly written in response to Warhol’s wild parties at the Factory, giving Reed and Cale’s perspective on the debauched scene. However, the lyrics are poetic enough to have a broader meaning.
Literal Meaning of the Title
At face value, the phrase “all tomorrow’s parties” refers to social events happening in the future.
Referencing the Future
The title places emphasis on gatherings and fun that will occur at later dates, rather than in the present. It projects forward anticipation of parties on the horizon.
Sense of Anticipation
So from a literal standpoint, the title implies excitement and expectancy for pleasurable events in the days ahead. There is a build-up and suspense generated by not knowing the specifics.
Figurative and Symbolic Meaning
Beyond the surface, the title takes on more symbolic significance in the context of the lyrics. It has multiple meanings.
Commentary on Hedonism
On one hand, it comments on the decadent culture of extravagant partying and wild living associated with Warhol’s Factory scene. The title suggests how participants constantly look ahead to the next bacchanalian gathering.
Social Class Divisions
In a related sense, it references the shallow pleasures of the wealthy elite, portrayed in the lyrics as vain and vacuous. Their thrill comes from exclusion and status, with the lower classes constantly striving for admittance.
Cycle of Life
On a deeper level, “all tomorrow’s parties” expresses the ceaseless cycle of generations, with the young inheriting society from the old and then growing obsolete themselves. It takes a mournful view of aging.
Influence and Legacy
Thanks to its enigmatic title and lyrics, “All Tomorrow’s Parties” has had a huge cultural impact.
Later Covers and References
It has been covered by numerous acclaimed bands like Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Sonic Youth, and Miley Cyrus. The song also inspired the name of a famous British music festival started in 1999.
Impact on Other Musicians
Beyond covers, it opened the door for more poetic, ambiguous songwriting dealing with complex themes. Figures like David Bowie, Patti Smith, and Joy Division took cues from its style.
Deeper Analysis of Lyrics
Looking closer at the full lyrics reveals more about the song’s meaning. They portray feelings of disillusionment, isolation, and identity issues.
Loneliness and Disillusionment
Despite the talk of parties, the lyrics have an undercurrent of sadness and loneliness. The narrator is disconnected from the supposed excitement, viewing it all with weariness and cynicism.
Crisis of Identity
Furthermore, the narrator grapples with a sense of purposelessness, singing “I don’t think I can make it.” They feel lost and unsure of their identity or place in the frivolous world described.
In the end, “All Tomorrow’s Parties” uses its poetic title and lyrics to capture complex emotions about hedonism, social divisions, aging, and existential unease. While open to various interpretations, the song ultimately expresses the disillusionment of being caught between anticipation and reality. It reveals disenchantment with the “party” of life itself. The profound symbolism of this timeless track continues to inspire musicians and listeners. Its aura of mystery ensures “All Tomorrow’s Parties” remains a source of fascination.