Innerview - Geddy Lee

Innerview with Jim Ladd, February 1983, transcriber unknown, edited by pwrwindows

Jim Ladd: One of the main reasons for the success of Rush is their complete and unwavering commitment to their craft, a commitment not only to the quality of their music, but to Rush as a whole...

Geddy Lee: Well, call it what you want, it's true; we've always looked at it like, regardless of what aspect of decision making it is, even if it's concert tickets, promotion, publicity, album covers, programs, if it's the show, if something screws up or somebody gets ripped off, who would they blame? They'd blame us three guys. So it's our name that's on the line, so we have to get involved in every aspect of those kind of decisions and we have to care. I don't know if you want to call it conviction or integrity, but why don't we just call it "value for money"? People pay more money for something; they buy our records, and so we owe it to them to see that they get their money's worth on the records. By "money's worth" - we try to have as good as possible music as we can write, and the performance as good as we possibly can perform.

This commitment to their art and to Rush as a band marks them as three people who take their music seriously, but despite what their critics may say, they don't take themselves all that seriously...

We're far too busy - I know that for a fact, but we can't help it. It's one of the criticisms we always get; here's this pompous rock group with this hyperactive rhythm section, but so what? That's one area that we often get criticized for, as far as the bombastic structure of our music - but in the end result we're playing for ourselves; if people want to come along that's fine. It's not all that serious; we are having a good time doing it, and for all the pompous overtones, it is fun.
I was fortunate because I had this magnificent obsession, when I was young I got into music; it all of a sudden overwhelms your life, so all your dreams are directed in that area. You dream of being in a band first of all, you dream about the kind of songs you want to write, about touring, the whole lifestyle that comes along with being in a band and being a musician. Neil and I and Alex have often talked about this; how lucky we are because we got obsessed at a young age, and we didn't have a choice.

Did you guys grow up in an environment like the one described in 'Subdivisions'?

Oh yeah, that's the thing about the song, it's really an objective description, but it's also subjective at the same time. We grew up in the suburbs of Toronto; Neil grew up in the suburbs of St. Catherine's, virtually a similar kind of set up. It relates to just about any suburb in North America that we've seen, so we're talking from experience.

The little map on the back of the album, the blueprint, it could be any town?

Yeah, it could be, America in the last...I don't know how many years; I guess since the fifties really, has been slowly moving out of the cities into the suburbs. There's these massive areas outside of every major city - you meet people and some of them have lived outside of ten major cities in their life without ever living inside a city.

In this song you make the point very strongly about the pressures to conform; growing up in this area, and there's this great line: "Nowhere is the dreamer or misfit alone." Did you guys feel this pressure to conform and be the same?

Oh sure, it lives in the suburbs but I don't think it's strictly reserved to the suburbs. I think it happens in almost every shade of life, whether or not you're a downtown kid, I think it's part of adolescence. You've got a bunch of guys who get together, a group of kids in schools, you break off into little cliques of people who hang around, do this and that. Whether you want to do something, whether it's getting high or getting drunk or getting laid or whatever, you feel you want to be part of the scene, so you go along with it. Some kids know why they are doing it. It feels great, like I wanna be part of it, like I don't wanna be left alone, I don't wanna be left out.

The end of the song is very interesting to me, because it seems, in just the last two lines, to come full circle and, all that - and after some time he finds himself... There's the line about 'caught in ticking traps'...

Well there's sort of two storylines and two possibilities; two avenues of escape. There's the kid who spends his time dreaming of a better life and does something about it; leaves the suburb and goes on to whatever. Then there's the kid that's still dreaming and follows your basic suburban pattern and becomes an accountant or whatever, and goes to his basic 9 to 5 job and he's still thinking of something else. No matter where he's moved he's still really moving in a suburban mentality whether it's working downtown or not, and he's still thinking "there's got to be more".
The whole point of "Subdivisions" and really the duality of it is not so much an area of where people live, it's a mentality; a suburban mentality that we're talking about. It manifests itself in a suburb, and it's a great analogy to use, but it's really about the suburban mentality to reform; grow up, go to school, graduate, get a job and live a nice life. There's nothing wrong with that for people who are happy to do that, but it's the people that have never really gotten enough gumption together to break out of that, and they just quietly live and move along in that pattern and when they're 50 years old they wake up and think "Christ what can I do?"

The conversation now turns to the album that really brought Rush their long overdue recognition; the album 2112.

That's sort of become our anthem in a lot of ways, I guess because it was the first album we did that we could call our own. The first albums, we were really searching for something that was different, yet we could call our own, and it never seemed to come together. 2112 seemed to be the first time all those things were assimilated into a sound where you could say "Ok maybe this isn't anybody else". Obviously our influences were obvious in our first few years as a band, but I think with 2112 there was something of our own character being reflected in what we were putting together.
As a result it was sort of a word-of-mouth an album for us, it was a breakthrough record, it was the first album that people really got behind and saw a solid identity for Rush I guess. It was a pretty passionate record for us because when we made it we were at a real turning point. We were not becoming the big commercial success that everyone expected us to become. With our first record I guess the record company and so forth thought that immediately we'd become this sort of Bad Company type of group where we'd write some decent hit singles and have a little run at it, but we took a left turn I guess. Our next few albums were very experimental, and every couple of albums, for us seems to be another period of transition. Every once in a while we arrive at points; I think 2112 was a point, and I think Moving Pictures again was a point.
Our path was sort of set out; we had to do this and we had to follow it through. I often think about a lot of my friends and people I've known that never really got obsessed by any one thing, and spent a lot of their adolescence and even their 20's or whatever wondering still what they're going to do. They can do a lot of things; they're capable, intelligent people, but they never got grabbed by any one thing. So a lot of their time is spent dreaming of some place better or something that they can maybe do, and trying this and trying that...a lot of times, it's just, every couple of years they try something else and never settle on one thing.

'New, World Man' - this is the second song on the album in which the line was used "Constant change is here to stay".

Yeah, Neil seems to be pretty obsessed with that whole theory of change. It's not just on this album, but on previous albums change pops up. 'Tom Sawyer' for example, 'Circumstances' from Hemispheres (the more things change the more they stay the same). It's something that I think the band revolves around conceptually, because we're always trying to change. It's a real, what's the term they use? A real "bee in Neil's bonnet".

Some people say that constant change is good, other people fight against it; what is it for you?

Well, I'm a creature of habit, so I like my change in a controlled way. I like to change, but I like to keep some sort of solid base so that I know I'm not floating into outer space. I like my baseball and basic fundamental things. I like to keep healthy. I really need to have a solid personal sort of homebase to work out of. As far as everything else in my life, it's like wild, let's go. I'm into changing, I'm into doing this, I'm into trying a lot of things, so I think the fact that I know my own center of gravity is secure, that frees up my mind and willingness to experiment and change. I'm into it. I'm open for all kinds of change in my life. I think it's good because when all's said and done that's how you know what life is; by following through these little adventures and putting yourself into circumstances that if you hadn't changed you wouldn't have tripped upon.
So I'm into change. There are certain requirements I have. I try to keep them as basic and as simple as possible in my own life, and it's not dependent on material possessions. It's not dependent on anything, except for baseball perhaps. I've got a few fundamental things that I have to have met, and once I have those met I feel confident and I feel charged up and I'm ready to go and I'm ready to get involved in a lot of things. I find that gives me a real energetic outlook on life. I'm into trying something out, that's great, I'm into evolving as a person. I don't know where I'll end up. I want to end up somewhere worthwhile and even if I don't, at least I'll be able to reflect upon all these experiences I've had through this change, and become some sort of person; maybe I'll be some wise old guy someday. Who knows?

We're gonna hear now about one of the most basic and important aspects of their music; the actual creation of the songs themselves...

In the conceptual side of it, I get it out of my system in the real early stages of writing, because that's when the song is presented. Neil will have lyrics or whatever, and Alex and I will put the music together. We discuss the concept inside out, and then you sort of put it away. You know what it is, you're happy with it, and you go about the business of making the song. That's the part that's the most challenging and most exciting for myself, because I'm more musically orientated. But at the same time because I have to sing the lyrics; I have to believe in them. I have to feel them.

You know this is something...I had a guy tell me the other day (who is the lead singer for a real well known rock band), and he has a solo album out now and his lyrics are very personal, and he believes in them very much. But in the band he'll do music written by some of the other guys, but he has to sing it. And he told me that a lot of time he has absolutely no idea what the song is about or what he's singing and he has to sing it purely as a musical experience. That really seems odd to me.

That seems odd to me too. I can understand a bit what he's saying, but when you're in a band such as ours where the lyrics become so important and so much is made of the lyrics, sometimes they're a little heavy handed too. So if you're going to sit there and sing something that's a little heavy handed, you better know what it's about. And you better be able to feel for it or else it's a lie. For me, I couldn't do that. Fortunately the way Neil thinks about a lot of things and the way Alex and I think are very similar. It's not always the case, and that's why you sit down and discuss something before it's done and sometimes changes are made. In the end result, the lyrics I have in front of me when I'm in the studio I have to feel pretty sure that I believe in what they're saying, or it's somewhat of a farce.

Let's get back to believing in the lyrics. 'Freewill', is that still easy for you to believe the words you're singing?

Yeah, that's a real simple sentiment to me, and it's real easy for me to sing that song because that's to me where it's at. Freedom of choice, don't bug me about anything else, it's my life and I pick it. I choose what I do and what I believe in, period. That's a very small sentence song. There may be a lot wrong with the democratic system, and I'm not a politician and I'm not that politically minded, but it's still got that one thing that nobody else has got, and that's freedom of choice.

One of the few outside projects to date that Geddy was involved in was, of all things, a comedy record done by two of his high school classmates, Bob and Doug McKenzie. Did you like working with Bob and Doug?

Yeah, that was fun. That was good fun. I went to school with Rick Moranis for like, thousands of years. And he grew up to be a comedian and I grew up to be like this. It was funny when he called me because there was Ricky Moranis, I went to school with the guy, and he said (accent) "I'm making this record, eh, why don't you come down?" I thought it'd be great. I took my family down, we all went down to a recording studio. The whole session must have lasted about an hour (laughs), who knows, real quick and those guys were in character. It was good fun. They made up the lyrics as they were doing the thing. It was like (accent) "Well what do you think he should sing?", "Well I don't know, jeez, what do you think he should sing?" "Christ, er, why don't you sing like 'take off, er, to the great white north'". So this whole thing came about in about ten minutes.

You're kidding? They didn't have it planned or anything?

Well, they sort of knew what they wanted me to do, but it was all fun, all done with "Ok let's put this record together". I think they did the comedy parts over a period of three days, it was something real ridiculous. It took no time to do, they just went in and did it. They had like 14 cases of beer, and they just started talking.


First I'd like to welcome you back; thank you for doing this again, it's real kind of you with your schedule.

Oh, it's a pleasure.

We'll start this second meeting with the fact that I went and saw the concert last night, my first Rush concert (I know Rush fans are gonna hate it if I admit that). I was quite taken with the show, I really was.

Well thanks!

How did you feel about performing?

Well, last night was one of those nights where I was sort of adjusting to the hall for the first half of the show. It felt like everyone was playing pretty good, and I think it was one of the better nights we've had on the tour, actually. Sometimes it's hard for me to judge that even though I felt that everybody was playing pretty tight last night. Sometimes you can't gauge the energy you're putting out. I was a little preoccupied with getting comfortable for the first half of the show. But you can tell in the room when you're on. You can tell with the way people are reacting, and you can tell even with the people that have heard the show for five years in a row that are sitting at the side of the stage. And they seemed to be jumping around last night, so I think it was a pretty good night. I think it was a pretty special night last night.

You guys have a rear screen projection system on stage with you, a massive screen, and there are some very interesting visuals that you have worked out. What got me is, especially on "Subdivisions", while you were singing you were seeing that. I mean it was synched perfectly. How does that happen?

Well it just takes careful planning really. I mean hopefully as far as the rhythmic pacing of the band, hopefully we're playing the same tempo every night. It's something you strive for years to achieve! So our tempo doesn't really fluctuate very much. Neil is very aware, and probably one of the things that he concerns himself most about, as far as being a drummer, is his tempo. And so we try and keep a very consistent tempo from night to night. That obviously helps with synching up the film. When we do all the film footage, we time it out to a soundtrack of the band so that the music is in fact a soundtrack to the visuals, or vice versa. However you want to look at it. So when you do it live, as long as you're playing it in the same tempo, and the projectionist starts it at the right time, you're locked in.

Very good. Well, the only problem that I saw was when you had the space shuttle sequence over "Red Barchetta"; that was a little kind of a screw up. Just teasing!

I was gonna say "what?"!

You started off last night with "Spirit Of Radio". I want to discuss that song for a minute. For someone like myself who started in radio in free form, and it was getting the message to the people in those days and it was a real cause for me, it had nothing to do with being well known; it had to do with my part of the movement. You talk about that in this song.

Well the thing is there are similarities, because you're on one end of it obviously, trying to, as you say, get the message to the people. Or basically, as far as I'm concerned, the message was music. And here it is, and we have the station that we can listen to. So although you're on the one side of it playing the records and exposing music for people, I was the guy sitting on the other end of it tuning you in and going "Yeah, this is fantastic!" It was just the greatest thing that could happen. All of a sudden you'd have to scour the music papers to find out about new bands. You'd have to look hard for new records, interesting records that weren't your basic AM top 40 records. For all those people who weren't into that, there it was. It was like manna from heaven: you turn on the dial and it came through loud and clear. DJ's played what they felt like playing, and sometimes it was good, sometimes it wasn't so good. Sometimes they were in an up mood so you had an up show, sometimes it was a real, "OK guys, let's get outside", and you'd listen to like an hour and a half or two hours or even four hours of real outside music.
Everybody knows what it started with, how it caught on, and now it's a business like everything else, fair enough. But something's missing now from it, and it's a real sadness. That same sadness drove Neil to write that song lyrically, and I think the reason why we could get behind it. And the reason why so many people got behind it, inside the band or outside the band, regardless of whether people even thought about the band, there was something being said in that song that everyone could relate to that was from that period. It was like, "yeah, that's radio"

As our Innerview of Rush continues, we're going to hear what, or more precisely who, was the inspiration for the song "Digital Man".

Well the song sort of came out of a sort of a little bit of personal comedy. We had the title way before we had a concept. There was a guy who we hired, I think it was on Moving Pictures, to bring all this digital equipment so that we could master the album digitally, and he was a sort of a 'strange' example of modern man, without going into too much detail. We were sitting around talking, and Le Studio had gotten their own digital equipment, so there was really no need to hire our digital man this time. And we were trying to figure out beds, you know, bed assignments, how many guys in the crew we could take to the house near Le Studio, because the situation is you live right on the premises. So somebody came out with the phrase "Well I guess we won't need a bed for the digital man" and everybody went (snaps his fingers) "Fantastic!" So we wrote it down and Neil developed a whole concept about modern man and the sort of transience of modern man in the sort of society that we're living in. That sort of spurred the tune and the feel for the tune but it sort of represents technology getting to a certain point, the ease that one can float from one part of society to another, and one part of the world to another, the communications race and the whole situation.

I want to ask you about one other thing here, I think it's the chorus that says "He'd love to spend the night in Zion, He's been a long while in Babylon"...

Yeah, that's sort of again the dreamer sort of thing...

Where is Zion?

Well, Zion is two states of mind really, there's the Zion of the Rastafarians, which is really the one I guess that we're talking about; it's supposed to be the homeland and the ideal. The Rastafarians are always trying to get back to Zion; they try to mould their lifestyle where they originally feel they come from. In that particular chorus, I think it's sort of a perplexing situation with our digital man. Because here's a guy working with modern technology and being as modern as you can possibly be, and yet he's thinking about these simple sort of soulful type of places like Zion; "lovers wings to fly on", it's, don't carry me away too much on these computer bits, leave something for my soul. There's these digital men and women running around the world totally being trained and they're like, "Yeah, I am the digital guy, I'm hip to this thing and I know the whole rap and I have to inform everybody else."

I'm getting the idea that you're going "How are you today?" and he'd respond "Capacitor".

Not really, he wasn't that much of a wirehead, but that's why I didn't want to get too particular about him, he just spurred the title. He was a pretty strange character, but there's so much computer language now that's fitting into our lives and it's becoming English. We sort of started that a little bit with "Vital Signs", everybody's a random-sample-hold type of 16-bit information, you know? Language is now known as information, and even to engineers in studios they don't even talk in terms of music so much now going on tape, it's talk about this kind of information going on tape. Binary code is now being stored; music isn't even being stored on cassette anymore, on video cassette, or the kind of digital cassette you use, it's all binary code. So everything's getting so communicative and so computerized, it's got to start showing in the way people are thinking because there's so much thought going on about that.

Now you're about to hear a story that made me truly envious; it has to do with the song "Countdown", and the VIP vantage point that Geddy, Neil and Alex got of the launch of the space shuttle. First off, how in the hell did you guys arrange to get into the VIP section?

Hey, we got pull baby!

Well, I guess so, this must've been Rush tickets for life or something, I mean what happened?

Well it's weird how it started a few years ago...

First off let's set up what we're talking about; not the VIP section at some airport, but at Cape Kennedy, watching the shuttle...

Kennedy, in there, VIP, section one, right beside Jerry Brown.

Jerry was happening?

Yeah, Jerry was there sure, they were all there. A few years ago, as a matter of fact, Janet Rickman who is now on the west coast, was working out of Nashville and she made some contact with some people at NASA to arrange a tour, just a tour through the space center. We had a day off, so we went down. We didn't know what to expect and we sat down with Jerry Griffin, who at the time was the deputy director of the space center, and he explained a lot about the shuttle program to us and took us to the whole place, the VAB building, the launching pads and the whole thing, it was really a great tour. At the end of the day we sat down together and had a few drinks and talked, and we had a lot in common. They were fascinated by what we did, and we were of course fascinated by what they do. But they had never sat down with any rock 'n' roll band before, and listening to that from a technological point of view there were a lot of similarities. We would always call the shuttle their big gig; it was like their serious gig! They always said "well if you're around during space shuttle time, come down to the launch", and we said "you're on, we'll be there!" It was one of the greatest experiences of my life; I'll never forget it as long as I live.

It was that breathtaking.

Oh yeah, there is no describing it. You can't describe it to anyone because it's...we tried to with "Countdown", maybe we gave a little inkling of what it was, but, it was just one of the most amazing things to experience. VIP One is three miles away and the thing is huge, it's like the icon up there. And the thing blows and your pants are shaking, and you're three miles away! So to describe the force of the thing it's...aaagghh! There's no describing it, you're this close to covering your ears; the volume, the sheer size of the sound. You're just about to go like that and all the while you're thinking "How do those guys feel? They're sitting on this bomb!" And then just tearing off into the sky. It's just fascinating.

I think the next question here is Geddy, once they start selling commercial tickets are you gonna go?

I'd love to. Would you go?


There you go, of course!

In the song "The Weapon", the subject of fear and the attempts at legislating morality that can result from that fear is something that seems to be all around us.

I'll give you an example. In Ontario, where I live, there's still a censor board as far as movies go. Two examples: "The Tin Drum" didn't play there until some scenes were cut out of it; "Pretty Baby" has never played in Ontario. I don't know why, but it hasn't. It's fear that runs the censor board, and it spreads paranoia. All these mother's figure "Oh, well the censor board must be right because it's a horrible thing and look what might happen, we'll get like New York or we'll get like this place or that place?" So okay, the concern is real and the concern is genuine; I feel for that kind of concern because I live in the city and I have a child. I care about the things that he comes in contact with, but let's get realistic. This is the 1980's, people aren't idiots. Some people are idiots, but I'm not an idiot and I wanna see this movie! It insults me that that happens. So okay, that's a tangent. That's one example and I think if you look around you can find a lot of them.

Well the way that you paraphrase The Lords' Prayer in here is a great turn of phrase, I thought. I'm just wondering, it's just a guess, but are you guys by chance referring to nuclear war here when you say "in the glory game on the power train thy kingdoms will be done"?


I was correct then?

Pretty accurate. I think it relates to more than just nuclear situations. It's power struggle and the power gained by the people in control that decide to use this fear for their own benefit or against the good of the people. It is a game in a sense, and it's really getting to pure power. That's what we're talking about, and personal power, how fear fits into that manipulative game.

In the song called "Losing It", this is a very sensitive look at the loss of natural talent and inspiration to the great reaper time, which we were just talking about. Do you ever fear of your own creativity being dulled or even spent by age?

I don't know if it's necessarily by age, but of course I think anybody who considers themselves to be even a little bit creative has a fear that that'll all suddenly be gone one day. It's a real fear; I don't think about it too much. I hope I don't wake up one day and I'm like, a cookie, "I can't do anything but lie there"! I think it's a fear that exists; to some artists it's a devastating fear. After they finish a record it's like "Oh God, will I ever be able to do this again?" I used to feel like that, after I wrote a song that I thought was good I'd never think I could write a song that I thought was good again. But, after time you get more confidence in your ability and the longer, at least for me, that I'm in the business, I realize I'm getting a little loonier and I have a little sort of lunatic kind of confidence in myself. So I sort of figure "Okay, yeah, put me in any sort of situation and I'll do it", so it's not such a real fear for me anymore. I think a fear in that aspect with me is, I'm happy as long as I have something to do; as long as I have an album to work on or a song to write or a gig to do, that keeps me happy. So I guess there's a little bit of fear with me of growing old and not being able to do those things. So, yeah, I'd say it exists, I think it probably does in most musicians or in most people.

NEW SEGMENT, discussion opens with Geddy's commments regarding Neil:

Regardless of what aspect of the band it is, whether it's publicity or videos or whatever, in the end the band pays the piper. We're responsible. Whether it's touring schedule or if some kid didn't get to see the band this year in this town, ultimately it comes down to the band. The band is to blame; the band is the figurehead for us. So you have to take an interest in all aspects of what goes down, and make sure that regardless of what good people you have working for you, sometimes what you want gets watered down and doesn't come across in the same way that you wanted it to. So you have to take an interest and you have to be prepared to spend time, and time is the most valuable commodity there is. You have to put the time in to make sure that you're being represented properly. That's why Neil does these things, because he went through years of reading his bios that make you so mad you want to tear them up and throw them in the garbage. We don't want to be hyped, but at the same time Neil is getting experience as a writer. He loves doing those things and he's representing the band well in his bios, and putting some real thoughts and feelings about how we felt about making these records across to whoever wants to read the thing, rather than have sales figures and tour dates. So it's nice for us to focus on what we do and what is real about what we do.

It sure is, and I do like the things that he talks about, like the walk across the lake at midnight, things like that give you a real feel for where these people were when they recorded this record.

It's the atmosphere that's supposed to be interesting about an album. It's not so much how many records it sells, but how it was made and hopefully there's some insight into why it sounds the way it sounds. Every album to me is like a time capsule, and the circumstances surrounding an album somehow creep onto the vinyl. I don't know how, but it does. And the more you know about the environment the easier it is to see the whole picture of the record, especially if you care about what happened beyond the plastic.

Let's just mention a word here about Alex, since we haven't talked about him.

Alex, he's the blond guy, right?

The blond guy, right, and this is a real important musical question here.

What do you want to talk about, his hair cut?

[Laughing] Okay, since you brought it up, what do you think?

I don't know, I think he thinks he's David Bowie.


I better say something nice about him.

Yeah, tell us just anything nice about Alex, if you can come up with something this week.

Okay, something nice about Alex...something nice about Alex...gee, I used to know something nice about Alex...

Geddy is really racking his mind here to come up with this...

I can't recall...he's really a great cook! He really is, he's a fantastic cook. He's probably one of the best cooks there is. He makes great food and he makes fantastic lasagna. Not as good as his mother's, but still quite close.

Alright, thank you for coming again this second time, I appreciate it.

I enjoyed it; it's funny, I haven't done more than maybe three interviews on this whole tour, and you get out of shape like with anything, just talking about what you do. I really felt it the first twenty minutes we were talking; I felt very awkward, and as the interview got going I got more confident, because I started to remember that the best interview is just a conversation.