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Rush's Alex Lifeson joins Geddy Lee at Toronto book tour stop to share memories

TORONTO — Geddy Lee surprised a venue of Rush fans on Thursday by marching out old friend and longtime band mate Alex Lifeson to help him traverse decades of shared memories.
Geddy Lee (right) holds a discussion with fellow Rush band member Alex Lifeson, as he promotes his book "My Effin' Life" in Toronto, on Thursday, December 7, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

TORONTO — Geddy Lee surprised a venue of Rush fans on Thursday by marching out old friend and longtime band mate Alex Lifeson to help him traverse decades of shared memories.

It was a rare opportunity to see the progressive rock legends in a semi-casual setting, sans guitars but armed with many punchlines, as the bassist closed out the North American leg of his "My Effin' Life" book tour at Massey Hall in Toronto.

"Don't make me cry before I get started," he pleaded with Lifeson shortly after the Rush guitarist was revealed as the other half of the two-hour fireside chat.

Turns out, the evening was mostly absent of tears but loaded with laughs and the occasional light jabs at one of his closest pals.

All of it was catered to the thousands of Rush diehards in attendance, many of whom carried the copies of Lee's memoir that came with their ticket. Some didn't waste a moment before unleashing their adoration for their heroes.

"I love you guys, man!" shouted one from the balcony at the offset, provoking others to echo the sentiment in a rising chorus of rowdy compliments.

"Excuse me, I'm talking," Lee responded in good humour as the room started to get too unruly.

But the Rush fans couldn't be silenced.

Cheers and heckles continued throughout the show — albeit at more appropriate times. That allowed Lee and Lifeson enough silence to showcase what it might be like to hang out with them at home, a tradition they've kept alive over the years.

The pair joked it was rare to be in shared company without a bottle of wine in reach. The "Fly By Night" musicians had recently returned from their first-ever holiday together, Lee said, without disclosing the destination.

Their loosely structured chat began with stories about the foundation of their nearly lifelong friendship, which predates the band.

Lee and Lifeson were 13-year-old schoolmates when they met, they said. Now both 70, they acknowledged how quickly old age has crept up on them.

"And yet, you still seem so well-preserved," Lee joked to Lifeson.

Those friendly prods characterized much of the conversation, with Lee pitching anecdotes and Lifeson often knocking them out of the park with a quick-witted punchline.

They told stories about the formation of Rush and the first time they met drummer Neil Peart, who died of brain cancer in 2020. He was a late addition to the band after their original drummer left.

When Peart showed up with his drum kit in garbage bags at the audition, they were confused. Once his musical skills were on display, they said there was little question he would be part of the band.

Other memories touched on Rush's "Fun Craft," the nickname for the Dodge van that carried them across North America in the early days, and Lifeson's hobby of making tiny marijuana airplanes out of rolling papers.

They recalled their unfavourable experience opening for Aerosmith in the 1970s. Steven Tyler's band refused to let them perform a sound check before their shows, much to their dismay, they said.

Sadder tales mentioned in the "My Effin' Life" memoir were mostly off the table. While Lee brought up Peart's private battle with cancer after Rush's final tour, they didn't linger on the topic.

Mortality was ever-present, though, but the tone was always a light and fun celebration.

In a tour program handed out to guests at the door, a handwritten note from Lee thanked his fans for participating in "the latest chapter of my effin life," noting that "the beauty of fate is not knowing what's around the corner."

The duo spent more time discussing the complicated emotions of Rush's last shows in 2015, a decision spurred on by Peart who wanted to focus on his family life. Lee and Lifeson admitted they weren't quite as eager to hang up their instruments.

"Towards the end, it became sadder it was coming to a close," Lifeson admitted.

The surviving Rush musicians flirted with the inevitable question that always pops up: Will they record together again? As is often their answer, they implied a collaboration may happen, but stopped short of committing, saying that it might jinx the prospects.

One passage Lee read from his memoir detailed Lifeson's drunken rampage through a hotel, dressed only in a window curtain draped across him like a toga.

Lifeson sat in the shadows as his friend recounted the details, shaking his head at whatever he might remember of the unhinged moment.

George Stroumboulopoulos, media personality and music authority, joined the conversation to lead an audience question-and-answer period later in the evening. It was the only time Lee choked up, recalling the creation of Rush's final album "Clockwork Angels," which he says marked a high point for the band.

"I'm proud of that record for a lot of reasons," he added.

Lee's "My Effin Life" book tour began last month in New York and wound through other big cities with a surprise guest each night.

Friends and admirers, including actors Paul Rudd and Jack Black, Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith, Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic and Calgary singer Jann Arden, were among those who joined Lee on stage in specific cities.

Lifeson's appearance in Rush's Toronto hometown was special, Lee noted, because it took him back to his younger years.

"We were sitting in the dressing room remembering all of these crazy things," he said.

"I'm so happy we have this shared volume of memories."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 8, 2023.

David Friend, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version included a typo in a quote from Geddy Lee's book tour program. The correct quote is: "the latest chapter of my effin life."