By James Currie
(no professional photos allowed, included images are cell phone only for reference to story)
You most likely know Geddy Lee (born Gary Lee Weinrib) from the songs his progressive rock band RUSH created for almost 50 years. You might even know his comic skills from Bob & Doug McKenzie. Or maybe his on screen appearances from movies and TV. But do you really know Geddy Lee? Unless you’re in his close circle of family and friends, probably not, but that’s all just changed with the release of his latest book, “My Effin’ Life” from HarperCollins with the in person show produced in conjunction with LiveNation. The long awaited memoir of the Rock n Roll Hall of Famer, New York Times Best Seller and Co-Founder of one of the most influential rock bands of all time, RUSH.
Tonight, Chicago was the next to last final stop on his spoken word tour in light of his new scribe. The most intimate and personal autobiography he’s ever released. In it, we get everything from his families origin surviving the Nazi concentration camps, moving to Canada, growing up an awkward teen in a small town with music being his central focus throughout his life. Family first as we learn but everything else stemming from the sounds that surrounded him in his youth through his teens, formidable 20’s and beyond on up to loosing his brother from another Neil Peart and his mother recently.
For this setting we find Geddy and RUSH fans gathering in from far and wide on a late Sunday night in December to hear first hand what Lee has to say. All this, under the historic roof of the Auditorium Theatre in the heart of downtown Chicago.
What we find inside is a small stage setting of a couple chairs, some lamps and a backdrop of books on a table and large screen of projected images above. The lights dim and music picks up. The images on the screen spell out, “Welcome” “Would our mystery guest enter & sign in”. It then fades to white and the name, ‘Kim Thayil’ scribes in. The guitarist from Soundgarden himself walks on stage and greets the house as he is our cities Emcee for the night (a new unannounced emcee is selected for each date of the tour). For those who didn’t know, Thayil is a Chicago native and music aficionado with a long love of the band RUSH and has a similar background that pairs up well with Lee.
Thayil paces back and forth on stage giving us a quick rundown on what RUSH and Lee meant to him and his friends growing up in the midwest and how their sound shaped their youth and musical style with 2112 being a major influence to the soundtrack of their lives both musically and personally even including a story about a game they came up with as youths growing up in Chicago called, “Bongathon”. A game of who could last longest without passing out from the bong hits while listening to an entire album. After Thayil’s short but whity introduction, he welcomes the man of the hour out, Geddy Lee takes the stage, waves to the fans, gives Thayil a big hug and takes a seat for a long Ted Talk style evening.
They sit together and kick off the conversations. Thayil jumps right into discussions of being the son of an immigrant. Something he himself is. Lee tells the story of how is mother and father were concentration camp survivors of WWII. He goes into great detail on what they had to do to survive, what happened after the war, moving to Canada and starting a new life. At one point, choking up on the pain they went through and eventually his fathers passing in the 1960’s and his mother just recently of dementia. We soon learn this is not going to be just a story of being in a rock band and the crazy antics they went through, yes we get some of that, but it’s much more meaningful and personal stories.
The two continue on with more personal stories, jokes, tears, lifelong friendships with bandmates and forming RUSH from a high school gymnasium band, to the “Yes” sounds they wanted to mimic. Lee even talked sports with his love of hockey and baseball and even watching WGN. Lee’s also an avid collector of things like baseball cards, wine, books, watches and of course bass guitars the later of which he wrote a massive book about in 2018 titled, “Geddy Lee’s Big Beautiful Book of Bass.”
An of course the elephant in the room, how will the sounds of RUSH continue on? The room went wild as Geddy smiled and said, “That’s a good question. I was in this band for almost 45 years with this other person in the hot seat. I found it hard to fathom anyone else being back there.” But continued with, “I do believe there’s a future for writing music with Al again and if we (Alex) think it’s good, we’ll release it. I still like playing songs and I do believe theirs a future for it so… I’m hopeful.” And so are we Geddy, so are we.
Eventually they’d take the conversation from the chairs to the stools up front where the house submitted questions to Lee. From there, Lee and Thayil could field the questions and get the house lights up and on the person who asked them. The questions ranged from songwriting, touring, stories about meeting and becoming friends with the new guy – Neil, his secret to long relationships, loving Alex as his favorite goof, ending the band with R40 tour, growing up together and early influences on his music style. Others just wrote in thanks for an experience they had with RUSH or how the band made an impact on their own personal lives. Baseball seemed to be a reoccurring theme with references to who is a better player on certain teams and what would Geddy do if he could change anything in baseball.
At another point Lee approached the small pulpit where he read from his book, reading allowed excerpts from the pages he penned.
At the end, Lee thanks everyone for coming out. Saying he’s really surprises that anyone would come out to see him without a bass guitar around his neck. Then proceeds to get an audience selfie for all to share.
📸: Richard Sibbald
You could tell this was cathartic for Lee. This was something he had time to work on during the pandemic shutdown and limited travel as well as not touring in a band anymore. These were things he needed to get out and as this spoken word tour proved to be poignant to so many creating an even bigger circle of friends than he would ever had imagined. And adding, once he’s done with this tour, he just might get back to his day job creating music again.
What we learned from this seminar was that yes, Geddy Lee is a master of his craft. Any musician could tell you that. But we learned much more. That Lee is a sentimentalist, he admits to being a bit of a cry baby and even cried watching Bad News Bears on the way over. He has a deep passion for friendships gone and present. He’s a family man and that has grown even stronger in him since the pandemic. He’s a great collector of things ranging from instruments to books. But most notably we learned he is a great orator and humorist. Maybe their’s another career he could pursue other than a master musician. No, we still want him to rock. Fingers crossed he gets back to his day job and fills even more memories for himself and fans around the world.
For more on Geddy Lee and his latest book release, My Effin’ Life, click here
Feature story on the current state of RUSH, Lee and Lifeson,