RUSH's GEDDY LEE: 'The Toughest Conversation We Ever Had Was When NEIL PEART Had Made A Decision To Retire'
December 7, 2023
At the December 3 stop of his "My Effin' Life In Conversation" tour at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago, Illinois, RUSH bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee spoke about his deep friendship with his bandmates Neil Peart and Alex Lifeson. He said (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): "Neil found his own sense of relationship with me and with Alex, and it was incredibly gratifying. I can count on one hand the number of serious disagreements we ever had.
"I think the toughest conversation we ever had was when [Neil] had made, in his mind, a decision to retire. Because Alex had just had a very serious surgery. Through the last couple of tours, Alex was suffering in ways that he didn't talk about publicly, of course, but he had a number of intestinal issues and his arthritis was very bad. It was really affecting his hands and his ability to play. So he was seeking treatment and he just had a very serious operation. This was in 2014. And Neil suddenly, out of the blue, said, 'We have to have a meeting.' And we said, 'Okay. When?' He said, 'Well, next week. I'm coming through town.' And we said, 'Well, yeah, but Lerxst [Alex's nickname] just had surgery.' And he was insistent that it be then. And so, that was out of character for him. So I knew something was on his mind. And so we met at the restaurant we always used to dine at, and our manager was with us. And he came in, and he basically said that he doesn't really want to tour anymore. And he said, 'I know you guys are planning a tour, but I think I need to take care of my new family at home.' Because he had been through hell in 1997 when he lost his daughter. Of course, 10 months later he lost his wife. And then he wandered, as you all know, if you read his 'Ghost Rider' book. And he went through hell. No one should ever have to go through that. But he rediscovered his love of playing, and he came back to us in 2002. And he was a fantastic partner through those years and playing just greatly. He reinvented his whole drum style. So much drive had been welcomed back into his life. But here he was now saying, 'I think I'm reaching the end.' And that was a hard conversation. And he looked at Alex, and he said, 'Alex, what do you think?' And Al was sitting there, having just had surgery the week before, and he's not very comfortable. He's sitting upright, and he said, 'Well, look, Neil, I don't know how many tours I have left in me because of my issues. But I really would like to do one more.' And Neil looked at me and went, 'Fuck.' He had no answer for that. He said, 'One thing I said to myself before this meeting was if Alex wanted to do this tour badly enough' that he would say yes. And he did. And he wasn't happy. But he went back to his hotel and he told me in an e-mail that he had sent me a little while later, he wrote this e-mail, he said, 'I think I must have said 'fuck' six hundred times that day in my room.' But he said, 'Now I have a different outlook. Rather than retirement,' he said, 'I'm resigned. I'm resigned to doing a tour, and I'm resigned to making it the best tour we could possibly make.' And that was it. That's the last we had to discuss of it."
Reflecting on RUSH's final tour, which concluded in August 2015 at the Forum in Los Angeles, Geddy said: "By the time that tour got towards the end, our relationship was strained. Because with every successive gig, he was closer to the end, [Neil] was getting happier, and Alex and I were getting, uh, less happy. And so the last gig was odd. We played our guts out, we played our hearts out in L.A. at that show. I asked him, I said, 'Well, would you come out and take a bow? Maybe it'll be our last gig.' He said, 'No, I don't do that. No, I don't cross that invisible line.' We said, 'Okay.' But, he did anyway, because he couldn't resist it. He snuck out. He gave us a hug, and we took a bow together. But after that show, it was really weird, because we didn't talk about it. He went to sort of his dressing room, which was ebullient and celebratory, and we went to see all our chums, and we pretended we were ebullient and celebratory. But we went home in a very sad frame of mind, and I had resentment, I'll be honest. I was resentful because I loved that tour and I wanted to bring it around the world, and he only had agreed to so many gigs and he wouldn't bend. And then it was, I think, about three months later that we started talking again by e-mail because we had to finish this live album we were doing, the 'R40' tour video. And I remember writing and saying, 'Man, I just listened to your drum solo. It was so fucking awesome. Which night did you choose for it?' And then the floodgates opened up, and we just started talking. He said, 'Wow, I can't believe you're saying that. I wondered through the whole tour if anybody was digging my drum solo.' I mean, really? I watched the drum solo every fricking night. How could he even imagine that I wasn't in awe of him every fricking night? But he just started pouring his heart out, saying, 'I'm so happy right now. I have a new life.' And I thought to myself, what kind of a friend am I that would begrudge him this after all he'd been through? And so it was healing to have that conversation. And I moved forward, and I was sort of accepting now. And I understood him better. And then, of course, fate played a horrible trick on him and then I got an e-mail from him that September that he sent to me and Alex and [our manager] that he had a brain tumor, and that was, 'Wow. What now?' And it didn't matter — nothing mattered anymore. And we went to him to try to be of some service to him. And he was strong as a bull, so he was given 18 months and he lasted three and a half years."
Geddy kicked off his "My Effin' Life In Conversation" tour on November 13 at The Beacon Theatre in New York. The trek sees the RUSH singer/bassist bring to life his "My Effin' Life" memoir, which came out on November 14 via HarperCollins. Produced by Live Nation, the 14-city tour made additional stops across North America before wrapping up in Toronto at Massey Hall on December 7.
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.
Last year, Geddy revealed that Neil wanted to keep his cancer diagnosis a secret prior to his death.
"[Peart] didn't want anyone to know [about his illness]," Lee said on Canadian talk show "House Of Strombo". "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."
Lee went on to say that he and Lifeson had to be "dishonest" to fans in order to protect Peart's privacy.
"What his family had to live through was really difficult, so it was a lot of back-and-forth," he said. "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."
He continued: "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."
As one of the most successful Canadian music group in history, RUSH has performed before millions of fans around the world. Ranked by Rolling Stone in the top ten bassists of all time, Lee has long been acclaimed for his wizard-like musical talent and mesmerizing performances.
Photo credit: Andrew MacNaughtan (2011 press photo courtesy of Atlantic Records)
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