Little over a month before his tragic death on October 27th 2013, the late great Lou Reed sat down to give an interview for the final time. Unsurprisingly, the former Velvet Underground man was on candid form and the conversation acts as a heartbreaking reminder of his undoubted brilliance.
Reed had been suffering from hepatitis and diabetes for a number of years and his health was slowly declining over the final moments of his life. The iconic artist then sadly went on to develop liver cancer and, on May 2013, Reed underwent a liver transplant at the Cleveland Clinic. The transplant appeared as though it was a success and, on his website, he wrote of feeling “bigger and stronger” than ever. Tragically, however, on October 27th, 2013, he passed away from liver disease at his home in East Hampton, New York, at the age of 71.
His final interview was a conversation shared with director Farida Khelfa, a time when the two of them were on the set of a photoshoot for the Parrot Zik headphones. Reed was involved in the process of working on the headphones to help the product become more suited to rock music by adjusting the balance of the Parrot Zik’s to make them the perfect way to listen to Transformer.
The rock music icon is extremely open in the interview, one which is delivered by Khelfa in a relaxed manner and, although he does appear somewhat frail, nobody would have guessed that this was a man who has mere weeks to live. Khelfa starts the interview by asking Reed why he wanted to become a musician and the former Velvet Underground leader gave a trademark answer, saying: “You do what you love or you get arrested.” She then queried as to whether it was his father who bought him his first guitar, Reed vehemently retorted, “My father didn’t give me shit.”
As the context to the conversation was all about the manipulation of sound, when the subject turned Reed was in his complete element. “I know the way I like things to sound,” he explained. “I wouldn’t want to hear Beethoven without beautiful bass, the cellos, the tuba. It’s very important. Hip-hop has thunderous bass. And so does Beethoven. If you don’t have the bass, it’s like being amputated. It’s like you have no legs.
“CDs sounded so bad, it was just horrifying,” Reed lamented. “I just remastered every album I have to take advantage of the new technology and it was so beautiful, it made me cry. I’m very emotionally affected by sound. Sound for me is like a dress for you.”
He was then asked about what sound is to him and his answer was truly poetic, “Sounds are inexplicable, sound is like light but what is light? Yet we have these astonishing ears and we know when something is coming close to us without seeing it. Sound is more than just noise and ordered sound is music.”
The legendary singer discussed his first memory of sound, stating: “The first memory of sound would have to be your mother’s heartbeat, for all of us,” he explained. “You grow up, from when you’re a peanut, listening to rhythm. But then there are nature sounds…the sound of the wind. The sound of love.”
Despite having only a matter of weeks to live, Reed was on stellar form, and perhaps being forced to deal with his own imminent mortality left him with no choice but to reflect on his life. Seeing him in such an open manner is both heartbreaking and eye-opening in equal measure. His love of music was unrivalled and this alone made his heart tick from the moment he first was introduced to sound in the womb, right up until the end.