Almost 50 years After the release of his band’s first album, we’re still getting to know Geddy Lee. For much of their career, Rush managed to be an arena-level band without ever selling out its three members as personalities – but as some fans learned for the first time through the great 2010 documentary Beyond the illuminated stage, Lee (the band’s lead singer, bassist, and somehow also keyboardist), guitarist Alex Lifeson, and the late drummer Neil Peart were actually fascinating human beings throughout. In his entertaining new autobiography, My damn lifeLee reveals more about his life in and out of Rush — and goes even further in his new interview with Rolling Stone Music Now. Here are some highlights; To listen to the full interview, go to here to the podcast provider of your choice, listen Apple Podcasts or Spotifyor just press play below.
As Lee recounts in his book, the three members of Rush were so high on hash oil when they recorded the 1975 album. Steel Caress that they experienced a fascinating psychoacoustic phenomenon, hearing a reverberation that didn’t actually exist. “We were really high making that record, I swear to God,” says Lee. “I think it was almost six months after we made that record. I heard this. And what I thought had a lot of reverb and echo was very dry! I was like, ‘What the hell?’ But it was an important lesson to learn, and I think some of those stupid drug experiments were preventive. They taught us that you can’t be a serious musician if you’re messing around on these drugs when it comes to work. Sometimes you don’t learn that until you make that mistake. Playing (a show) on acid when I was very young, after I got kicked out of Rush? I would never do this again under any circumstances. That was one of the worst experiences of my life.”
Lee’s brief cocaine period (around the late ’70s/early ’80s) was the only time substances entered Rush’s performances. “In the cocaine years, cocaine was everywhere,” says Lee. “Like, during the drum solo, you do a line. I didn’t really do cocaine before a show because I could feel it in my throat, and it was hard on my voice. Occasionally, maybe after soundcheck, you might take a hit and then go on with your day, but it was mostly at the end of the night when you felt like you had earned a reward. (laughter), then you would get high. But it’s an insidious drug and it really moves silently and quickly through an entire team, an entire organization. It was very dangerous and it took me a while to realize the trap I had fallen into. Fortunately, I was raised well by my mother. I realized, ‘I’m behaving like a lost dog here. I have to stop.’”
Lee enjoyed Rush’s great run of synth albums so much that he didn’t realize that, at the time of the release of 1987’s Hold your firethe band’s essential sound was in danger of being drowned out. “I didn’t realize how unpleasant I had become,” says Lee, who recently got Lifeson to tell him how difficult those years were for the guitarist. “When he told me this story, I was embarrassed and shocked. I never really considered myself a sonic dictator in that regard. But I had. I really liked the keyboard sounds and they dominated. It was a very exciting time in the keyboard world. All the most interesting music was keyboard driven in that period…. Every time a new keyboard came out, it was like a space race. Everyone was rushing to get that sound on their record before 40 records came out with the same song… I was incredibly stimulated by all of this and wanted to understand and understand. And then they told me that I was drowning out the band and that we had lost something of that essential trio that I always told the engineers should be heard. I used to say, ‘When we make a record, no matter how many things we have on it, you have to listen to the trio.’ And I had obscured that without realizing it by being so synth-centric.”
Years later, however, legendary hip-hop keyboardist/producer Mike Dean told Lee that he wouldn’t be in the music industry without Lee’s keyboard. “Mike saw me on a plane and just went crazy and came up to me and wrote me this note on those napkins you buy on the plane,” says Lee. “He said, ‘Man, I wouldn’t be in the music business if it wasn’t for that period and for all the keyboard work you did.’ And I walked away and said, ‘See, weren’t all rockers who hated the keyboard period! Some of our fans were to be born in that keyboard period!’”
As far as Lee is concerned, there’s only one secret to achieving the god-given talent that has made Rush musical heroes to so many fellow musicians. “If Rush stood for anything, it stood for evidence of what rehearsal can do for you,” says Lee. “Rehearsal is the key. If you learn your instrument and play it repeatedly, you can keep it. And a part of your brain knows how to do this. This frees up another part of your brain for singing. For most of my career, what I think about most while playing three instruments is singing, because it’s very difficult.”
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