The sound of Geddy Lee screeching like a banshee as he sings the arcane lyrics to a song like, “The Temple of Syrinx” is an understandable turn-off for most. But only the Beatles and the Rolling Stones have sold more consecutive gold albums than the trio so the boys from Willowdale, Ontario must be doing something right.
Comprised of bassist, keyboardist, and singer Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson, and lyricist and drummer Neal Peart the band is known for its complex progressive rock music that combines intelligent and unusual lyrics ranging from science fiction to social issues. They are not known for having a large female fan base. Bromance director John Hamburg who recently used a couple of classic Rush songs in his film I love you man states it well, “Women at Rush concerts are mythical and seldom seen.”
Since 1974 the band has made nineteen studio albums with a new one in the works. They have twenty-four gold records and three that are triple platinum with an estimated sale of over forty million units. After four decades they are still touring and going strong. They have become one of rock music’s most influential bands. How many Canadian musicians have received the Order of Canada? Only Rush. Their strong work ethic and the mastery of their respective instruments alone make them great Canadians. Drummer Neil Peart is often cited as the best rock drummer of his generation. But there is more to their success.
Their initial success was moderate and they began moving away from simpler blues inspired songs to more atmospheric story telling. The record company hated this and pressured them to do something more commercial. Instead they made twenty-minute songs with epic stories and earned their first platinum album with 2112. Ever since this success they have done what they pleased to the delight of millions of worldwide fans with their sound and music often taking different directions.
Lee’s stage name Geddy was inspired by his Mother’s thick Polish accent. One of his friends made fun of him and started calling him that. Eventually his mother did too. He is an avid collector of wines and baseball memorabilia. His humble attitude is often inspirational. “I guess, we were people who just dedicated to trying to get better.”
Alex puts it this way. “A lot of bands would site Rush as an influence. I don’t think it was so much our music, but more the way we really stuck to our guns. If there was any one achievement, it would be that we’ve done it on our own terms.” Alex and Geddy grew up as childhood friends and have maintained their close bond. “And on top of that, when we work together we have a wonderful working relationship, we push each other, we challenge each other, we laugh eighty percent of the time that we are together. We’re very fortunate.”
Most Rush fans are aware of Neil’s tragic loss of both his daughter and common law wife in the late 1990’s. His departure from the band led to a long sabbatical where he drove his motorcycle almost 100,000 km and wrote a book about his healing and eventually chose to return to the band. “But when Neil called” says Alex, “I have to say that my heart soared. And the reason was, because it said so much about his recovery … that he was coming back to the world of the living.”
What makes the members of Rush great and successful Canadians is not their record sales, it is their character.
As Neil states, “You can surrender without a prayer, but never really pray without surrender. You can fight without ever winning, but never ever win without a fight.”