Geddy Lee on his time in Rush and revisiting old memories
BY Christopher Lord
17th Nov 2023 Music
5 min read
Rush bass player Geddy Lee reflects on his friendship the late Neil Peart, going through family losses and writing his memoir
It’s almost incomprehensible hearing Geddy Lee speak about his disillusionment with music. Think "Batman opting for a tie-dye glow up" or "Winnie-the-Pooh developing a distaste for honey" levels of incomprehensible. But after all he’s gone through in recent years, it makes sense that Lee had to find his way back. He says that writing his memoir was like a form of therapy.
" Lee delves deep into himself, examining his history both personal and professional in remarkable detail"
Across five decades, the Canadian cemented his status as one of the most revered bass players of all time with prog-rock icons Rush. The band came to an end in 2015 when drummer Neil Peart retired from music. Peart then passed away with brain cancer in 2020. Eightoon months later, Lee’s mother also passed. In his new memoir, My Effin’ Life, Lee delves deep into himself, examining his history both personal and professional in remarkable detail.
Lee spoke to Reader’s Digest ahead of his memoir’s release.
Reader's Digest: Was writing this book a cathartic experience?
Geddy Lee: It was. I was fortunate enough to find and become incredibly close with two fellow travellers who had the same musical ambitions. I existed in that world for over 45 years, and when Neil retired in 2015 that was one shock to my system. And then his illness and passing left me with a lot of grief work to do. It kind of robbed me of my musical aspirations. When I combine that with watching my mother slowly decline with dementia, I was in an incredibly reflective state of mind.
As part of finding my way out of that, this project suddenly seemed to make sense. And examining other losses I’d had in my life, such as the ones my family endured during the war, and the loss of my father at 12 years old, which I didn’t fully deal with at the time. All these investigations helped me comb through things about myself or my life that perhaps I’d compartmentalised. When I was finished, I felt prepared to go back out into the world and embrace the blessings and opportunities in front of me. I’m in a much better frame of mind to do anything now.
You turned 70 earlier this year, but it sounds like you learned a lot about yourself in a short space of time.
I think I had to because I wasn’t happy, and I don’t want to live the rest of my life unhappy. If you’re not feeling the way you think you should feel, or the way you’re used to feeling, then you have to do something about it. I sought therapy, which was very helpful, but this was an important part of that.
Did you uncover anything surprising about yourself? Maybe misconceptions that you reframed?
Well, I’ve gone through my life with this impression of myself as being a quiet child. This nerdy, wallflower-type kid who grew his hair long and hid behind his locks. Didn’t say much at parties. But as I looked back and re-examined my childhood, I was not that. Writing a memoir is an investigation of memory, and I realised that our memories are coloured by emotions, so they’re not to be considered purely objective.
In the book’s epigraph, you printed some of Neil’s lyrics from the song "Dreamline": "We’re only immortal for a limited time". What do those words mean to you?
I hadn’t given any thought to an epigraph, but when it was suggested to me, suddenly I had too many! I kept thinking of all these things I wanted to say about myself, which was ridiculous because I had a whole book to say those things.
" That line from that song always hit me hard"
But that line from that song always hit me hard. It was very relatable to me because I grew up around loss. It made me someone who wanted to grab life with both hands. That lyric meant so much to me as a musician but also it spoke to the way I looked at life.
The friendship shared by the three of you in Rush was a famously positive one. When it was clear that the band was over, did that dynamic change?
In the immediate aftermath of Neil’s retirement, there was tension, due to the resentment that I was feeling. At the very last gig, we didn’t really talk about it or say goodbye to each other. And the next day on the plane home it was just depressing as hell. But it was completely the opposite for Neil, he’d finished his career in one piece and had a new job to take care of his daughter.
"Everything started to improve, and our friendship was healed. Of course, the terrible irony of it all is that then he got sick"
When we began to communicate with each other after a couple of months, I realised how selfish I was being. Here’s a guy who’d lost one family and now had a chance at a second family—he wasn’t going to fuck that up. Who was I to question that? I had to get my shit together because it was my problem, not Neil’s. Then everything started to improve, and our friendship was healed. Of course, the terrible irony of it all is that then he got sick. Life is unpredictable.
But after everything, it’s your marriage of almost 50 years that has endured the most.
My relationship with Nancy was difficult during my touring years. There were times when we were incredibly happy, but also times when I was completely absent, and she was developing her own life. We grew apart, almost like strangers to each other.
Our journey together has been full of twists, and we came dangerously close to it all falling apart, but there was a desire to not let that happen. I think we were smart enough to recognise that we still had enough in common and similar goals, but there’s no question that she sacrificed so much more than I did. I’m trying now to make her the priority that she always should have been.
Do you still have clear goals or things you want to achieve with music?
For the longest time I didn’t, and that’s what kept me out of the writing room. I felt disconnected from my instrument and musical statement, but I think it’s coming back. Whether it’s with Alex [Lifeson] or on my own, both things are very possible.
Your upcoming book tour will put you back in front of live audiences. Are you looking forward to that?
In the book I quote a friend who said, "Make new mistakes", and I think they’re words to live by. It means if you don’t go, you won’t know. I did the same thing with the same guys for 40 years, so it’s time to try something different.
Don’t be afraid to embarrass yourself in public! I’m looking forward to the experience, being in the same room with fans and talking to them, answering questions and having a conversation about life and all the things that come with living in a rock band.
Geddy Lee’s memoir My Effin’ Life is out now on HarperCollins. His UK speaking tour begins in Wolverhampton on Sunday 10 December.
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