There are few moments of Lou Reed’s career that are hard to watch. Perhaps as a side effect from the time he spent with Andy Warhol during Velvet Underground’s heady inception, Reed has always been wholly watchable, above all else. But seeing the singer’s final performance is always likely to be a difficult one to bear.
Reed spent the last few years of his life struggling to battle liver cancer but it didn’t stop him performing. Below, we are digging into the Far Out vault to look back at Reed’s final moments on stage, sharing a cover of Velvet Underground’s ‘Candy Says’ alongside Antony & The Johnsons.
The enigmatic singer and songwriter lived a more than storied life. In fact, the trials and tribulations he went through and out people through could fill a library. That said, his final chapter is one that was kept largely off the books. The singer wasn’t particularly inclined to share his health status with his the public and even his closest friends.
As Reed whittled down his days finessing his undying love for tai chi, devoting himself to the sanctity of music and art. Of course the more time he could spend with Laurie Anderson the better, so for the most part, things didn’t really change too much for Reed. “Even his very closest friends didn’t actually know he was dying,” Tony Visconti told Rolling Stone. “But he knew.”
Reed would sadly pass away on 27th October 2013, his final performance arriving just seven months beforehand. Reed was in Paris, one of his favoured cities to haunt, and was joining Antony Hegarty, a longtime friend of Reed’s and the creative force behind Antony and the Johnsons. Hegarty invited Reed on stage for a spellbinding performance of ‘Candy Says’.
The Velvet Underground track is a touching and simple refrain that is given a hefty dose of extra gravitas thanks to the foreshadowing it now provides. “I’m going to watch the bluebirds fly,” Reed sings wistfully. “Over my shoulder/I’m going to watch them pass me by/Maybe when I’m older/What do you think I’d see/If I could walk away from me.”
It’s a poignant moment made all the more special by the fact it was shared between friends. Hegarty and Reed grew especially close in the final years of his life and the Antony was particularly crushed to learn of his passing. He said at the time, “Lou was like a father to me. I have never felt so perceived and loved for who I actually am by a man than by Lou Reed.
“He fought tirelessly for me to have a place in the daylight culture. My career would never have taken off without Lou’s tremendous influence. He faced death with dignity and courage, and even then remained a teacher and mentor to me. I miss him with all my heart. It is hard for me to reconcile that such a giant could really be gone.”
While Reed may have sadly left us behind, his final performance is a testament to two things we have always known and cherished about Lou Reed. Firstly, his songwriting and performing know no bounds. Secondly, that he was an artist until the very end.