Rush Thanks Fans For Poll Win

By Paul Cantin, Jam! Showbiz, January 18, 2000

Canadian rock legends Rush easily walked to victory in JAM!'s online poll as Canada's most important musicians of all-time, but singer and bassist Geddy Lee is typically bashful about the honour.

"Gee, that's what happens when you've got a lot of cousins," the singer joked in an exclusive interview with JAM! Music.

Rush finished atop JAM!'s poll, which asked readers during the final month of 1999 to select the most important Canadian musicians ever. Rush led the voting early, at one point holding a two-to-one margin over their nearest competition. Second place went to The Band, while The Tragically Hip came in third.

"Those things are never really dismissed, but they are not something you can think about too much. It's hard even to grasp it," Lee said.

"I would say this kind of recognition, especially when it comes along during a period of inactivity from a band point of view, that you get a real charge out of something like that. It makes you feel really good, because it makes you realize something you've done with your life has had some effect.

"I just like to thank our fans for being as amazing as they have been all these years ... I count my blessings. It has been a wonderful experience to work with Alex and Neil for all these many years. Great writing partners and good friends. I'm a lucky guy, what can I tell you?"

After close to 30 years together, perhaps the best measure of Rush's influence is the number of young, contemporary bands who speak of the group in hallowed terms. Most recently, members of Stone Temple Pilots rhapsodized at length during their Toronto promo stop about how influential the trio had been on their development as musicians.

"That happens a lot," Lee acknowledged.

"I would say the most complimentary thing that happens to us is when those bands mention us and they talk about us in those kinds of tones, that we've influenced them. That is really incredible for a musician, to know something you have done has affected another musician to that degree. Without question, that is the most gratifying thing that has happened to us over the years."

Unlike many of the best-known Canadian artists Rush bested in the online voting, Rush has maintained Canada as their home base, despite the lure of warmer weather and a more favourable tax system south of the border.

"It takes a special kind of masochist to stay within the Canadian tax system," he said with a laugh.

"We didn't really consider leaving. We were on the road 11 months a year at one point. It's hard to criticize where you live when you live in your suitcase. We did know that when we came home for fleeting moments, it always felt great to be here. It always felt like a great place to come back to," he said.

"As we had children and so on, watching kids, you start to appreciate growing up in this country. So those are the reasons we stayed. We could have been smarter financially by moving, but I don't think culturally it would have effected us in any great, positive way. I don't really have any regrets not leaving this country."

The poll results had Lee in a reflective mood, recalling the early 1970s, when both Rush and the Canadian music business were still in their infancy and the list of Canadian acts with any kind of international reputation was very short.

"We had a lot of local heroes in those days. I would say in the five to 10 years previous to us becoming a writing and touring entity, the Canadian bands we mostly admired were Toronto units. It wasn't so much about their success, but they were in our view, highly creative units that could have been successful anywhere.

"Kensington Market, when we were in our teens, was a local Toronto group that was really a great band. Any time they would play in the vicinity, we would be amazed by them, as amazed as we would by seeing Yes or Zeppelin," he said.

"It was always fighting the good fight, liking bands like that. They didn't achieve worldwide success, and we felt they should have. Mendelson Mainline -- Joe Mendelson is a Toronto musician I have admired a lot and still stayed in touch with all these years. Those are the kinds of Canadians that left their mark on us."

And what contemporary music does he find inspiring now? He calls Radiohead "a brilliant band" and says he used to go see The Tragically Hip in concert, but hasn't for several years.

"I just love (The Hip's) music. I did (go see them) years ago. I have a hard time getting out to see any arena shows now. It is hard for me to go to an arena without feeling like I am at work. I would certainly go see them again if the circumstances were right," he said.

Lee said he hears albums he likes, but regrets that fewer groups are able to sustain careers in the current economic climate in the music business.

"You've got bands like Metallica that carry on the tradition of being around a long time. The bands that don't reach that level of success don't have much hope of sticking it out, partly due to the (fact that the) touring world has changed a lot and less people are buying records generally.

"It forces record companies to be tougher. They show less patience with younger bands, because of the fact that it seems to be a more brutal world, economically. The stakes are much higher. As one record exec explained to me recently: 'Gee, when we signed bands 15 years ago, it cost $50,000 to make an album. Now when you make an album for $200,000 and do a couple of videos, your investment is a million bucks.' I hadn't really thought about that, but it is true from their point of view. It has had an effect on the development of young bands."

When Rush started out, it took several years for them to make a name and sell records in significant quantities. If Rush was just starting out today, would they have had a tough time making a go of it?

"It would be just as tough for us to get signed today as it was back then," he laughed.

"I think it would be very tough for us to get signed. We had a sound that wasn't amenable to radio at the time. It's ironic to watch how things have changed for us. We went from being a band that couldn't get on the radio to a band that dominated the radio, not pop radio, but what we call rock radio. If we started today, we are in a period that is not very rock-friendly once again. It may be just as difficult today to get on the radio. It's hard to say."

But there's no danger in the future of Rush seeking pop radio airplay by collaborating with Puff Daddy?

"He hasn't been phoning. But I haven't checked my messages today."