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Geddy Lee: Entering Different Stages

Long Island Entertainment
October 1998

by John Blenn

He sits casually on one end of the couch, I on the other, like two guys getting ready to watch an NFL game. We've been here before, but Geddy Lee is different this time, more open, friendlier. Not that he's not been friendly in the past, it's just that he's been, well, I guess "cautious" would be the word. He's quick to smile, relaxed, a familiar friend this time around. Different Stages, a triple live CD, two of them recorded on the last tour, An Evening With Rush, and a third, Live From The Hammersmith Odeon, recorded in 1978, arrives the first week of November. It was due October 6, but it was pulled back to include two more tracks that were initially left off, "Analog Kid" and "Show Don't Tell." It's a good time for Lee to stop and reflect.

Rush's musical contributions through the years have spoken volumes, and in volume, but Lee, the voice and bassist for the group speaks gently in an interview situation. He is humble, appreciative of the hand life has dealt both he and his band. For the man with the soaring voice, there is a quiet, introspective side that really has no place on a stage, but his presence away from the limelight is one that makes you feel he's an old friend when you converse with him. We begin with the album's shifted release.

"What happened was, well, because I was doing it on my own (bandmates Neil Peart and Alex Lifeson were not in on the final production)," begins Lee, softly, "I had the luxury of changing my mind. There was three or four versions of each side, so when I realized how much time I had before the release date, I was constantly tweaking. It came to my attention late in the proceedings, I had seen a list of somebody's favorite songs and "Analog Kid" was on it. I remembered, 'Damn! I wanted to mix that song!' In the confusion of making the record, so many songs, I just forgot about it. Fortunately, everybody was still around, so I was able to go back in and do it. "Show Don't Tell" was already mixed, so I figured as long as we were changing it, we might as well add both."

A bulk of the recordings came from Chicago, the World Ampitheatre to be exact, because as Lee puts it, "the combinations of sonics and crowds" were just right. "It's a great Rush town," continues Lee, "it's one of our favorite towns in America. They're also long suffering fans, they've had a great history of bad sounding buildings. The old ampitheatre, The Aragon, The Stadium, all those buildings had great atmosphere but were bad sounding acoustics." Mentioning that the midwest was the first part of the country to get behind the band, I ask if there's a special affinity to that area. "I wouldn't say so," says Lee, "We've toured so much of America over the last 25 years that we don't really feel any preference. Over the last ten years, the fans have been pretty much the same wherever we go, so we like playing everywhere. That's true now, but when we started, it was easier to be successful in the midwest, the coasts, New York and Los Angeles, came along a little bit later for us, but, nonetheless, once it leveled out, everybody was equally appreciative wherever we went."

The 23 tracks on the three CD's, were culled from over 100 recorded shows, all logged and compiled through the aid of technology that allowed Rush to relax night in and night out and almost forget that they were recording. Lee, of course, plowed through the tapes with the help of recording engineer Robert Scoville, picking up the best performances. "Robert went through everything, eliminating the shows that either had technical glitches or performances that weren't up to scratch," says Lee, "so I wound up going through about a dozen shows to put the album together," It sounds amazing. "Thanks," says Lee, humbly, "but if you do that much recording, odds are that you'll have some things to work with."

As for the 1978 show's inclusion in the set, it turns out that that was anything but seriously planned. "There was no plan," continues Lee of the Hammersmith show, "we knew that we would record for a live album, but it turned out that I went home one night with a tape that I had forgotten about for...twenty years." He smiles. "When I discovered that, I didn't know what to do with them. I gave them a quick mix, just to hear what they'd sound like. We were so enamored of the period, and of the simplicity of our set-up at the time, we figured that somehow we use them. Needless to say, there were a lot of discussions as you could well imagine...dare we put a three record set out and how do we do it without it costing an arm and a leg? If fans have to pay $80 for it, then it's no fun for anybody. I was happy to pull it off at barely more than the cost of a single CD, so the Hammersmith is truly a free item. In a way, it is truly a thank you to the fans...I hope they like it, first of all. It's one thing to say thank you and have them say 'no thank you' back." A burst of laughter comes from Lee, a sincere touch that alerts you that a quarter century later, this band is still taking nothing for granted. "It takes you back, to a time when there was a different energy, a different level of sophistication, or lack of sophistication, but there was just something about it...it carried us back to another time and we're not a band that gives into nostalgia very often. We hope that's what it will do for the fans."

After years of success, I wonder if Lee and the band can feel "a hit" as they've wrapped up recording. Not on your life, it turns out. "You don't really know how people are going to perceive your work," Lee admits, "when you get done in the studio, you're fired up about everything you do. You're so obsessed with it, full of it, that you can't see the trees for the forest. In terms of trying to second guess on how someone on the outside is going to see it, I think it's almost impossible. When 2112 started to gather success, and it wasn't overnight, it was very gratifying because it was such an ambitious work. It was a make it or break it time in our career, after the lack of success of Caress Of Steel," says Lee of the turning point in their career, "we didn't know if we had record company support, fan support. We didn't know, we were very close to breaking up at that time. Our reaction to all the negative criticism of Caress Of Steel was to do 2112, which to us, is a very passionate reaffirmation of our need to be what we are, to not be influenced by outside things. It's ironic how that worked out because that really saved us. That album created us to a degree." Quite simply, history will show that Rush never looked back after that album.

The most recent studio album, Test For Echo, was another pivotal point in the band's history. Lee offers some interesting insights. "On Test For Echo," he says, "instead of trying to RE-INVENT ourselves, we tried to UN-INVENT ourselves. I think we were just happy to be making a record, we had all just been through a lot of things, so coming together after a year and a half was strange." Was there thought of breaking up? "I think it crossed everyone's minds. Getting together to write for it was very fresh and new, we put the formulas...well, we really don't write in formulas, but you get into habits, which is what defines your signature, but we put everything aside. We talked for the first week and a half before we even started writing. It was a very natural stripping down of what he had been doing for ten years. It was very different from Counterparts, which was a very delicate lyrical approach, but a very indelicate musical approach. It was a pretty slamming, but heavy and dark record. Just another weird record from us," he laughs, "you just never know what's going to come out."

So what next after the last album? "No plans," says Lee directly, "it's a time apart...no plans to record the next album right now, no plans to tour. It's a break from the regular machine of tour, album, tour, album. Maybe a home video...but there's no plans on that right now, either." Perhaps a solo album? It's something both Lifeson and Peart have done. "I don't know...I've been recording with friends, but I don't have any plans on that either. I think I'll probably get more into production with some new bands, some friends have given me tapes I like, but nothing's definite It's pretty gratifying to give pointers and see something blossom, so it intrigues me. I'd like to try soundtracks down the line, too. I like working by myself and I do have a home studio, so it's a lot of fun to indulge my muse."

For a guy that confesses the best part of the journey has been to "experiment and to grow from those experiments while not be afraid to fail," Geddy Lee and Rush have done well for themselves. The line in between the conversations might imply this is a farewell, past instances just like this have led to something wonderful once again coming from a band that never fails to dig deep and find something new to say Actually, it's merely a time to pause and reflect. You know, like you do when you're sitting on a couch watching a ballgame with an old friend.

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