RUSH's GEDDY LEE Says NEIL PEART 'Didn't Want Anyone To Know' About His Illness: 'He Wanted To Keep It In The House'
April 18, 2022
Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson of RUSH recently sat down for an interview in Toronto for "House Of Strombo", a free-form radio talk program hosted by Canadian television and radio personality George Stroumboulopoulos. In this exclusive conversation, Lee and Lifeson talked about the 40th anniversary of their eighth studio album "Moving Pictures", the loss of RUSH drummer Neil Peart, grieving in public, their new perspective on time, the music industry today, being booed off stage, getting high before rehearsals, Taylor Hawkins and more.
Reflecting on how he processed the fact that he would never play with RUSH again after the completion of the "R40" tour, which commemorated the 40th anniversary of Peart joining the band, Geddy said (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): "I'd say Al and I have different ways of dealing with that. Al threw himself into little projects and bigger projects and he kept working throughout the whole thing, and that was a real tonic for him. And I can relate to that, 'cause when we went through our first set of tragedies with Neil, back when he lost his wife and daughter, I did that — I threw myself into my solo album, and it saved me in many ways; it fed me, let's put it like that. And so for myself, I turned to writing and I turned to book writing, and that was a way for me to — not compete with that moment and those feelings, but a way to take stock and recharge my batteries in a different way. So we handled it quite differently. But at the end of the day, it was a difficult thing to put aside. I mean, I don't think there are many bands that had a 45-year career that were as close as we were."
Alex added: "I know right after the tour, both Ged and I felt like we still had a lot of gas in the tank. The show looked great; we were playing really, really well. If we could just squeeze out another 150 shows."
Geddy continued: "Let's be honest: it was frustrating to end when we ended. I was frustrated, because I worked so hard on that tour in terms of design and putting it all together and the whole concept of going backwards, a chronology that exposes itself or exploits itself while going back in time. And so I was really proud of it. I wanted to take it to Europe to play for the European fans, I wanted to take it to South America, and that wasn't gonna happen. So it was truncated in my view, in my mind, and I had to swallow that because I had to think of my friend's needs and what he wanted. But it was frustrating. So we walked away from that, and we went to do our other things — I went traveling, Alex was golfing — and then Neil got sick. And so what do you do with all those feelings? You just throw them away, because they don't mean anything anymore."
Asked if he initially thought after the last show of the "R40" tour that there was a chance that RUSH would play again, Geddy said: "Yeah, I thought maybe [Neil will] have three months at home and get sick of that and wanna come back on the road and play with the boys. You never know. Of course, I had a feeling that wouldn't be the case, and I think Al did as well, but you never know. Regardless, we just went on with our lives, and then he got sick and everything changed."
Lee also talked about having to grieve in a public context after Peart died in January 2020 following a three-year battle with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. He was 67 years old.
"That's why [Neil] didn't want anyone to know [about his illness]," Geddy said. "He just didn't. He wanted to keep it in the house. And we did. And that was hard. I can't tell you it was easy, 'cause it was not easy. And it was ongoing. His diagnosis was… He was given 18 months at the most, and it went on three and a half years. And so that was a constant flow of us going to see him, giving him support. What his family had to live through was really difficult. So it was a lot of back-and-forth. And when you're in that state, it's very hard to function normally, because you can't talk to anybody about it, 'cause no one's supposed to know. And so people hear rumblings and they bring things up to you, and you deflect it. And so that feels, on one hand, it feels dishonest, but on the other hand you're being loyal to your friend. So fuck the dishonesty part. That wins. I would say that was the most difficult time for us to move forward, during that whole thing, because we were in this bubble of grief sort of walking towards an inevitable and terrible conclusion."
Lifeson previously reflected on RUSH's final tour, which concluded on August 1, 2015 at the Forum in Los Angeles, during a June 2021 appearance on SiriuxXM's "Trunk Nation With Eddie Trunk". Peart indicated at the time that he wanted to retire while he was still able to play well, along with a desire to spend more time at home with his young daughter.
"We were in our early 60s when that tour ended," Alex said. "After the number of dates that we did do, which was about half of what we would normally do, we were all starting to feel the fatigue, as you normally would. And had it been a normal tour, we have gone out for probably another month and then taken a month off, or maybe a couple of months off, and then picked it up for another three or four months.
"I think personally, and I think the same for Ged, we were really excited about the show, the presentation of the show, the whole concept of going back through our history," he continued. "I thought we were all playing really, really well, and I probably could have continued to do another 30 shows, and I think Geddy felt the same way. But it was becoming really difficult for Neil to play at that level, and unless he could play a hundred percent at that level, he really didn't wanna do any more shows, and he didn't wanna be that person that should have taken it. And it was hard for him — a three-hour show playing the way he played. It's a miracle that he was even able to play. And he had some issues through that tour — he had an infection on his feet and he could barely walk, never mind playing the bass drum the way he did. And he never complained or anything like that. So, it was time. And in retrospect, it couldn't have been better, because we were playing great, and we finished on such a high note. The fans were so happy — I mean, with the performance. All things were right. That was the great way to ensure our legacy and be remembered for those guys, for being that band that played that way. I honestly would hate to be working now, for example, and not being able to play a song because my fingers are just killing me and not playing as well and making all these mistakes. I made enough mistakes — way too many. So, all in all, it really turned out to be the opportune time for us to end a long career. Not a lot of bands lasted 40 years of that regular touring and many, many, many albums and all of that stuff."
RUSH waited three days to announce Peart's passing, setting off shockwaves and an outpouring of grief from fans and musicians all over the world.
Peart joined RUSH in 1974. He was considered one of the best rock drummers of all time, alongside John Bonham of LED ZEPPELIN; Keith Moon of THE WHO; and Ginger Baker of CREAM. Peart was also RUSH's primary lyricist, drawing inspiration from everything from sci-fi to Ayn Rand.
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