Geddy Lee, from his North York roots to Rush rock legend

Toronto music legend Geddy Lee of the seminal prog rock band Rush has released a new autobiography, My Effin’ Life. The book debuted at #3 on the New York Times Bestseller List upon arrival. Here’s our interview:

What’s your best memory from time on the road?

Well, I’m afraid that there are way too many memories to list in this space … that’s another reason I wrote an effin’ book! 

What inspired you to write a memoir?

A few twists of fate led me to changing my mind [about writing a memoir]. One was the solitude of the pandemic lockdown, another was the grief work I was already engaged in doing after the loss of my friend and bandmate Neil Peart, and the third was watching my mother begin to lose her memory while suffering the ravages of dementia. All those things made me feel it was time to write down my memories while I still can. 

What was key to Rush’s longevity and unity, especially compared to what happens with many bands?

Well, we shared a common vision of the kind of music we wanted to make and a common value system, but most conveniently, we also shared the same stupid sense of humour that really helped get us through some difficult moments in our lives and career. 

Writing about your past, ­what have you learned about yourself?

I have learned many things about myself. One of which is that I always thought of myself as a shy, nerdy, wallflower type of kid, but looking back at my behaviour in my early and middle teens, it turns out that I had more chutzpah and nerve than I ever gave myself credit for. 

Your book reflects on being a young teenager navigating Toronto’s music scene. Do you think that’s gotten any easier for aspiring musicians?

It’s always hard to become really good at something, and that will never change. But certainly the music industry has changed dramatically and it’s become much harder to eke out a living than ever before. The internet and music streaming has changed that world forever both good and bad. Music has been devalued yet more easily accessible.

You write about dropping out of high school to pursue music. Any regrets?

Nope. I don’t regret leaving school at all, but I was extremely fortunate to have eventually found success. Had I failed, perhaps I would have had more serious regrets about that, but likely I would have still tried to make a living in the visual arts.

You mention being a big collector. What have you collected that you’re most proud of?

I am a collector of many things, wine, baseball ephemera, vintage watches and vintage bass guitars, but the latter is the only one that really makes sense considering the career I’ve had. 

You and Alex Lifeson played together last year. What was that like? 

Both Taylor Hawkins Tribute shows were indeed career highlights and a reaffirmation of why Alex and I picked up guitars all those years ago. It’s always possible that we could play together again.

You mention a band tradition of eating at Fran’s. What was your fave?

Ha, my favourite? You mean what I could afford. As a 16-year-old I always ordered the open faced roast beef sandwich.

Who is your favourite musician right now? 

Bill Evans — jazz pianist. 

Rush got its start in Toronto. Was there a favourite venue back then?

I always loved playing at the Abbey Road Pub on Queen Street (long gone now). It’s really where Rush first began to make a name for itself. 

Who were your early music inspirations?

It was my early musical heroes that made me want to do what they did. Bands like the Yardbirds, Cream and Led Zeppelin. 

Article exclusive to STREETS OF TORONTO