Geddy Up For Top Honor

By Paul Cantin, Ottawa Sun, February 25, 1997

Nobody gets into rock 'n' roll to get the Order Of Canada, but now that the honor is about to be bestowed upon Rush, Geddy Lee is happy to accept.

"I think it is really cool. I'm really honored to be given a medal by my country," says bassist-singer Lee, who will join drummer Neil Peart and guitarist Alex Lifeson tomorrow at Rideau Hall, honored alongside actor Al Waxman, comedian Frank Shuster and a host of unsung Canadians in receiving our highest civilian award.

"I've never had a medal, and I'm sure it will look nice at the breakfast table every morning," says Lee, father of a 16-year-old boy and a two-year-old girl. "It will be a great source of getting more respect out of my children.

"Sir Geddy would be good," he adds with a laugh.

Considering their many achievements, it's a surprise that it has taken so long for the trio to get recognized.

"Oddly enough, throughout the world, we are kind of considered slightly more underground," says Lee.

"But in our own home country, we are treated more as a mainstream, established group. As a result, we do get taken for granted from time to time. But it comes with the territory. I can't say I harbor any weird feelings."

The temptation of warmer weather and lower taxes could have lured them elsewhere, but the decision to stay in Toronto was a deliberate one.

"There is a nice sense of giving a damn about certain social programs that don't exist in other countries. Although our present government in Ontario is trying hard to cut them all out, I think there is an outcry and people are concerned about the kind of community they have here," he says.

"Although I am not a socialist, I do favor supporting certain programs that benefit our society. Things like childcare and so forth. How do you help people help themselves? That's an attitude that does exist in this country and I'm proud of that."

Rush maintains a devoted following but continues to attract new, young fans, and enjoys a healthy respect in underground rock circles. Pavement even name-checks Lee on their new record (he hasn't heard it), but Lee says respect comes from not dwelling on the past.

"All these bands coming back with great revival tours, I don't want to go through that. I want to make new music and experiment within... a little niche for ourselves."

Despite their focus on the future, the band is preparing to reissue its early albums with upgraded sound and restored artwork. There's also what Lee calls a "plethora" of live material awaiting release and discussions about a follow-up to their recent Test For Echo LP. But for now, Rush is focused on its ongoing tour, which should touch down in Canada by summer. He won't comment on rumors the group could open the Canadian leg in Ottawa on Canada Day and he pours cold water on bothersome suggestions about the band's future, including whispers that Peart has been suffering health problems.

"There have been times where there was the feeling of giving it a rest. But considering the length of time we have been together, they have been remarkably few," he says.

But back to titles. Lee jokingly wonders if, in 20 years, Rush could be promoted within the Order Of Canada, from "officer" to the loftier title of "companion."

"I think Prime Minister of the Order of Canada would be nice."

Or just Prime Minister Geddy?

"I don't think I'd get enough votes from all the special interest groups."