My Rush history and a review of My Effin’ Life

It’s a concert I’ll never forget. I was fifteen years old. It was the summer of 1974 at the old Forum in Hamilton before it was torn down. The promoters billed it as “Canada’s Heaviest Rock Show”. The headliners were the then better-known Mahogany Rush. The opening act was a band called Bull Rush. Sandwiched in between, the band we were there to see, Rush.

I can’t lay claim I was the one amongst my friends who discovered them. No, that was my best friend, at the time, Bob Tate. I don’t recall how he came across them, but I do remember we immediately liked them when he played their album for us just a few short weeks before the concert.

When we left the concert that historic night, we didn’t talk about the other two acts. All we talked about was the power trio. Rush immediately became our favourite band. We traveled to London, Ontario later that summer to see them again, and then to Toronto in the early fall. Over the next six or seven years I saw them at least twenty times. I didn’t keep track.

Then I didn’t see them for a few years until I saw them in 1986, my last Rush concert.

I liked each of their early albums until they started introducing a lot of synthesizers and moving away from their power rock music, especially with their 1982 album Signals. Their last album I bought was Grace Under Pressure in 1984. Their new music didn’t appeal to me. I lost interest in the band, though I continued to listen to their older albums periodically over the decades. Every once in a while, I’d take the time to listen to my two favourite Rush songs, Working Man and Tom Sawyer. Though I didn’t listen to them often or appreciate their new music, they’re etched in the soundtrack of my life.

I mention the above history to provide a perspective of what Rush means to me and some insight into my expectations of Geddy Lee’s new memoir, My Effin’ Life. For those who aren’t Rush fans or have much knowledge of them, Geddy Lee is the bass player and lead singer for Rush.

My hope was to gain a deeper understanding of Rush’s beginnings and their challenges to establish themselves as one of the top concert draws in the world. It’s rare to find a list of the top Canadian bands of all time that does not have Rush rated number one. Yes, ahead of The Tragically Hip, Arkells, The Guess Who, and any other band you might consider. It’s quite the accomplishment given their success came without the radio airplay of songs that lend themselves to be top 40 hits. They did it with rigorous touring, a strong presence on FM radio Rock stations, and a faithful following of fans.

Though I’ve been a Rush fan for years I cannot say I knew a lot about their personal lives or their journey. I have dozens of books about The Beatles and Bruce Springsteen, but this is the first book I have about Rush, though I did borrow and read Neil Peart’s Ghost Rider. It’s a great book, but not about Rush. It’s about Neil’s grief and recovery from the tragic deaths of his daughter and then his wife (for non Rush fans, Neil Peart is their drummer and main lyricist).

My Effin’ Life surprised me. It provided the history of the band’s journey, as I hoped for, but it did much more. It provided an in-depth perspective of Geddy Lee’s life I wasn’t aware of. There’s a chapter where Lee opens up about his parents’ experience of being Holocaust survivors, including being incarcerated inside the infamous gates of Auschwitz. It’s a tough read. He even suggests some might want to skip the chapter. I didn’t. I read it and it helped me better understand the impact of his family’s history on his. It’s a recurring theme throughout the book.

His memoir is much more than just a retelling of facts. Sure, there’s lots of those, and lots of typical stories about these three rockers. It’s a story about survival and remaining committed to your dreams. Sometimes the pursuit of those dreams comes at a cost, a cost that isn’t always accounted for during the pursuit, but ends up being paid either way. Lee shares about the cost he paid, the cost to his marriage and to his family. Miraculously his marriage survived the decades of constant touring year in and year out.

I found the choice of one’s career over family disturbing. Lee doesn’t shy away from revealing he made the choice of music over family. Time and again he writes about how he left his family for the road without truly considering not leaving. After the release of their album Signals in 1982, he writes about his departure for the road,

“There was Nancy out in Keswick, baking the bread, lifting a mountain of household chores, raising Jules on her own, unable to persuade friends to drive out to the country, shunting her creative ambitions to the back seat while I, as usual, was off on tour. I felt a twinge of guilt every time I left her behind, but I was entering a period of obsession with my work, blind to how difficult things actually were for my better half.”

When I read that I paused. I reflected on what it must have been like for Nancy and Jules. From previous comments he made in his book, we know this would go on for years before things change. I shuttered to think of the missed opportunities to be an active part of their everyday lives. I cherish the mundane moments of daily life with my family. He missed it. You cannot get this time back. I asked myself if he thinks it was worth it.

I have to give Geddy Lee credit. He points out many of the seemingly darker sides of who he is throughout his life. As a reader, one can appreciate the honesty (Rush fans will appreciate my comment about this question of his honesty). He has a self-awareness that is refreshing. He wrestles with many of his character traits and their impact on his relationships, with his family, and also with his two bandmates. As a trio they knew each other for close to fifty years, Geddy and Alex since early high school.

If you’re looking for a story about a rock band’s climb to the top and how they progressed through it, you’ll find that in this book. But, if you’re also looking for one person’s journey and everything he wrestles with on that journey, you’ll appreciate the memoir at deeper level.

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