In his 2006 autobiography Let Me Finish, storied baseball writer Roger Angell wrote, “Life is tough and brimming with loss, and the most we can do about it is to glimpse ourselves clear now and then, and find out what we feel about familiar scenes and recurring faces this time around.” So it goes with Geddy Lee, whose newly released memoir, My Effin’ Life, is just hitting book shelves. Best known as the Grammy-nominated, bass-playing founding member of power trio Rush, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer is admittedly someone far more comfortable looking forward rather than gazing into the past. But it was out of loss that prompted the native Canadian to reconsider this position.
“First of all, I had just lost my dear friend and bandmate of many, many years—Neil Peart,” he explained. “So that put me in a sad and reflective mood. I was also just locked down in our first pandemic lockdown in Toronto and was kind of alone with my thoughts and doing my own grief work. At the same time, I had noticed that my mother was slipping farther and farther into dementia and it was very clear to me that she was losing her memory. Those two things combined got me thinking about how tenuous the grip we have on our gray cells is and maybe it’s an idea for me to start putting them down on paper. So to make a rather long story short, the solitude of the pandemic lockdown gave me the opportunity to go down that road.”
Having already published the 2018 coffee table book, Geddy Lee’s Big Beautiful Book of Bass, Lee was already familiar with and fond of the writing process (“it was a nice change of pace from my day job of wrestling with notes”), Lee spent two years hammering out what was initially a 1,200-page manuscript.
“I started writing in bits because it all started out as a challenge from Daniel Richler, who had co-written my first book,” Lee recalled. “He lives in London, so we were trying to keep ourselves from getting bored by talking on the phone quite often or doing Zoom calls. He sent me some very short stories he had written about some memories he had of his dad. His father was the great Canadian author Mordechai Richler, so he had a rich wealth of memories he was putting down on paper. He’d send me a story and then he’d challenge me to write him back a short story about a memory I had about my dad. I did that and over that first lockdown summer, he started noticing that my responses were getting longer than his and he said, ‘I think you’re writing a book.’ I told him I’d write this book, but he had to help me and of course, he was happy to do so.”
The result is a touching and often humorous narrative that traced the life of the man born Gary Lee Weinrib whose life journey began in suburban Ontario as the son of Holocaust survivors. A fateful meeting with future bandmate Alex Lifeson in junior high school when both were 13 evolved into a 50-year-ride that saw the duo joined by drummer Neil Peart in 1974. It became a journey full of global success, oodles of gold and platinum records and a canon that stoked the passion of a devoted fanbase. Lee’s story also includes plenty of fond memories of making that climb up the ladder of success with his bandmates.
“The easiest and most fun I had was writing about my early years with my bandmates of course,” Lee said. “Talking about the early bar days and high school days playing in Rush in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. And of course, when Neil joined the band in ’74, I have a whole bunch of stories from the road. That was really fun to remember, because of course you’re talking about maybe an eight-hour drive where you’re sleeping on baggage in the back of a station wagon and you don’t remember how uncomfortable it was, but you do remember all the stupid things you did to keep yourself from getting bored. I found that part of my memory game, for lack of better description—that part of it was really kind of a joy.”
There was also plenty of painful memories to sift through including having a front-row seat to sorrow, particularly when it came to witnessing the tragedies Peart went through via the tragic August 1997 car accident that took the life of daughter Selena followed by then-wife Jacqueline succumbing to cancer in June 1998. It was memories like these that gave Lee pause during the creation of My Effin’ Life.
“There were some tough moments and they were very demanding to share with people because I had to be delicate when talking about someone else’s misfortune and the affect it had on us as friends,” Lee quietly said. “And of course, I’m talking about the many tragedies that befell our bandmate Neil Peart. Those were difficult and delicate things to write about and I had to be faithful to the truth, but at the same time, faithful to his memory. And not to expose something that I felt he wouldn’t be happy seeing in print. So that was a tough job.”
Among the memories Lee shared was when American singer-songwriter Aimee Mann entered the power trio’s orbit, a fascinating collision of worlds that usually never gets talked about in either fan base’s camp.
“We were doing a record with Peter Collins as a producer [Ed. Note: 1987’s Hold Your Fire] and we had written a song called ‘Time Stands Still,’” Lee recalled “We had this vocal part that just felt to us should be an angelic voice. And even though I have a high voice, it didn’t seem satisfying. We wanted to find a female singer to sing that part. We listened to a bunch of singers and Peter suggested Aimee and I thought her voice was just beautiful. So we contacted her and she was incredibly gracious. She flew up to Toronto for the recording session. She of course enchanted all of us and we were major league crushing on her the whole time. And she did such a beautiful job and was so down-to-Earth. A couple of months later when the record was done and we were doing a video with this new video director who was all the rage—she came to New York to meet up with us and allowed us to have her do the video with us. It was a very difficult shoot because we were literally shooting for almost 24 hours straight. But she was a trouper and I have very fond memories of her involvement with us.”
With the public ready to devour his memoir, Lee is embarking on a 13-city book tour that will feature the 70-year-old multi-instrumentalist reading passages from the book, sharing stories, getting joined on stage by different guest interviewers and taking questions from the audience. Having done a version of this during the Book of Bass promotional cycle, Lee wanted more of the same with a twist.
“We did a few a few book events around my first book, and they were really fun,” he said. “The shape I’d like to see the show is that I’d like to have a different host in each town, to give each night a different dynamic. And then I’d like to do some reading and then take questions from our fans because I’m not doing an in-person signing kind of tour, I wanted to have some back-and-forth with fans, so I’m going to ask fans to submit questions before the gig and we’ll sift through them and pull as many of them as we can out. Then I’ll stand up there and ask them to stand up, talk to them and answer their questions. I hope the whole thing will be fun for them, fun for me and we’ll learn a little bit about each other.”
Back in 2017 when Lee appeared on The Big Interview with Dan Rather, Rush was still together and the bassist mentioned wanting to scratch the itch of making music given the fact that the band’s last foray into the studio was 2012’s Clockwork Angels. At the time, Lee had no idea it would be the group’s last album. When asked about making more music, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer said it was a definite possibility, certainly after getting a respite from this recent flurry of activity.
“I recently discovered a couple of songs that had been left off my solo album (Ed. Note: 2000’s My Favourite Headache),” he said. “Listening to them was really quite fun and I decided that I wanted to see about fixing those up and just breathing some fresh air into them. And that experience reminded me of how much fun I have in the studio. So of course, my lifelong buddy and bandmate Alex and I would like to get back into the studio together and see what might happen. I have ideas that I’d like to flesh out on my own too. Once I finish all this crazy crap that I agreed to do—the book tour and the TV show and find some space for myself—I’d certainly like to start playing something. But I can’t tell you right now because I’m just book touring it until I drop. And then I’ll see where I land after I have a nice holiday with my wife and we’ll go from there. I don’t like to plan too far ahead anymore. I was scheduled up the wazoo with my partners in Rush for over 45 years. Now, I have to prioritize other things.”
Geddy Lee will be appearing on November 13 at the Beacon Theatre, 74th Street & Broadway, NYC. For more information, visit www.beacontheatre.com or call 866-858-0008.