Current Biography, Vol. 62, Num. 2, February 2001, p. 52; transcribed by pwrwindows

Rock Band

Lee, Geddy July 29, 1953-

Lifeson, Alex Aug. 27, 1953-

Peart, Neil Sep. 12, 1952-

c/o Atlantic Records
1290 Ave. of the Americas

New York, NY 10104

Chicago Tribune VI
p11 Nov. 14, 1982

Macleans p66+ Sep.
30, 1991, with photos

Rolling Stone p33
Dec. 12, 1996, with photos

Washington Post
p24 May 4, 1990, with photo

In the history of rock, few bands have endured for as long as Rush, and fewer still have displayed such vigor and inventiveness after recording and performing for more than a quarter-century. Once dismissed as musical dinosaurs mired in 1970s progressive rock, the Toronto-based Rush is now spoken of in almost reverential terms by fans, and such groups as Primus, Metallica, and Dream Theater have cited Rush among their most important influences. Rush's three members-bassist and vocalist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson, and drummer Neil Peart-who have played together since 1975, have all been recognized as masters of their instruments, and some high-school and college instructors have made teaching tools of Rush's songs, which contain abundant references to literary material, ranging from the Greek legend of Sisyphus to J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy series The Lord of the Rings. They have also fashioned a reputation for being one of the top live acts in rock music, touring the world extensively and putting on shows that blend music and spectacle. "I think we've remained true to our own style, but [we've] not been so close-minded as to ignore new things that are going on in music that we respond to," Lee told Current Biography, when asked about Rush's longevity. "We love writing music together," Lifeson explained to Chris Gill for in 1997. "We laugh a lot together. When we work we like to be secluded. We go away to a studio in the country and take the weekends off to go home. We're around each other all the time-having dinner, sitting around in the evening when we've finished working-and all we do is goof around and laugh. We've always done that. It's made us want to be together. In fact, we look forward to it."

Geddy Lee (born Gary Lee Weinrib on July 29, 1953 in Willowdale, Ontario, Canada) and Alex Lifeson (born on August 27, 1953 in British Columbia, Canada, with the surname Zivojinovich) met in Toronto as eighth-graders. Inspired by the then-recent invasion of British acts who blended blues with guitar-crunching hard rock, the boys began playing music together in their basements. "When we were growing up," Lee told Dan Nooger for Circus (April 27, 1976, on-line), "the big bands were [Led] Zeppelin and [Jeff] Beck. We used to do a lot of Zeppelin material before we started writing our own stuff and I used to have to scream to hit the high notes." After a while Lee and Lifeson hooked up with John Rutsey, a drummer, and formed Rush, a name suggested by a friend of theirs. Lee and Lifeson also adopted stage names ("Geddy" is how Lee's Polish-born mother pronounced "Gary"; "Lifeson" is the English translation of "Zivojinovich").

The band played their first gig at the Coffin, a makeshift club in the basement of a local Anglican church. There they met Ray Danniels, a high-school dropout with a keen head for business. Danniels made deals with club owners in and around Toronto, and soon Rush was getting engagements in clubs, school gyms, youth centers, and any other place that would take them. The pay was minimal, and more often than not, patrons paid no attention while the group performed, usually presenting songs written by others. By continuing to accept such gigs despite such undesirable conditions, the band developed a strong work ethic. "It was just persistence," Lee told Debra Frost for Circus (February 14, 1977, on-line). "We only did tunes that we liked, and we'd sneak in an original here and there. Eventually we built up our own little following."

On the strength of that following, Rush recorded their first studio album-Rush, which Moon Records released in early 1974. The disc contained some songs that have become Rush chestnuts, among them "Finding My Way," "In the Mood," and "Working Man." Many critics dismissed Rush as a mediocre collection of Zeppelin-influenced bluesrock tunes, and it failed to generate much attention in either Canada or the U.S. The musicians were planning their first American tour, to support the album, when Rutsey announced that he was leaving the band. "It was obvious that his heart wasn't into it. . . ," Lee explained to Frost. "He just wasn't thinking the way Alex and I were and he decided it would be better for himself and for us if he left." After an extended search, Lee and Lifeson found a new drummer-Neil Peart (born on September 12, 1952 in Hamilton, Ontario). A self-educated highschool dropout who had spent a year in England playing with several bands, Peart impressed Lee and Lifeson with his powerful, intricate drumming, which favored syncopated beats over the straight-ahead rhythms used by most other percussionists at that time. Peart joined them on a tour of North America, during which they opened for such acts as Kiss, Uriah Heep, and ZZ Top, occasionally upstaging the headlining act. In the Midwest the trio discovered that Rush already had a fairly solid fan base, thanks in part to Donna Halper, a programmer at the Cleveland, Ohio, rock radio station WMMS, who had been inserting the Rush song "Working Man" into the station's daily rotation. During the tour, while the group's reputation as a top-shelf live act developed, sales of Rush began to rise, and Rush soon joined the roster of Mercury Records.

Meanwhile, Lee and Lifeson had discovered that Peart, an avid reader, could write lyrics. While still on the road, the band began writing songs for their next album, Fly by Night. Released in 1975, that record contains not only straightforward rockers, such as "Best I Can," but also epic-length pieces, with lyrics inspired by the writings of Tolkien, Ayn Rand, and Michael Moorcock. Fans' wildly enthusiastic responses to such songs as "Anthem," "Rivendell," and the seven-minute "By-Tor and the Snowdog," about a battle between an evil knight and a benevolent mythical beast, spurred the band to release another album, Caress of Steel, before the year was out. Two cuts from that disc, "Bastille Day and "Lakeside Park," became staples of the band's live show, while "The Fountain of Lamneth," which took up one whole side of the album, demonstrated Rush's affinity for progressive rock. Caress of Steel struck critics as bloated and pretentious, and its sales lagged far behind those of its predecessor. Rush's subsequent live performances during the "Down the Tubes Tour," as they dubbed it, failed to generate much income; indeed, Lifeson, who had married and become a father by then, had to use the money remaining from his wedding gifts to support his family.

In the wake of the failure of Caress of Steel, Rush faced demands from their label to conform to a more mainstream sound. "There was a lot of pressure on us to be more accessible," Lee told Current Biography. "We responded with something that was even less accessible." Instead of a collection of three-minute pop songs, for 2112 (1976) Lee, Lifeson, and Peart produced a 20-minute title track, which told of how the discovery of a guitar by a young member of an oppressive futuristic society helped to free the minds of his compatriots. "We were kind of angry about how much pressure we were getting from everybody else to conform, and that whole album is about not conforming," Lee explained to Current Biography. "It's probably the most important record we ever did." With the liner notes from the album acknowledging "the genius of Ayn Rand," and with virtuoso playing by all three instrumentalists, 2112 catapulted Rush to official superstar status. Although, once again, they were an opening act, Rush's performances on their 2112 tour reinforced their standing as one of the premier rock acts of the late 1970s. Portions of the 2112 concerts were captured on the live collection All the World's a Stage (1976).

A Farewell to Kings (1977) features quieter songs, accompanied by classical guitar, synthesizers, and the temple blocks, chimes, and gong that Peart had acquired. In addition to such meditative reflections on the human condition as "Closer to the Heart," "Madrigal," and "Cinderella Man," the album includes the II-minute "Cygnus X-I." Describing an astronaut's encounter with a black hole, the song was inspired by an article about black holes in Time magazine, and along with "Xanadu," a song based on Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem "Kubla Khan," it established Rush as the thinking person's heavy-metal act. On their subsequent, seven-month "Drive Till You Die Tour," Rush was the headliner, and the band enhanced their show with rear-projected films (some of them made by Lee), laser effects, and an array of pyrotechnics. Taking advantage of the extra time allotted to them, they occasionally ended each show with a medley of songs, which they stitched together to form one long piece, and closed with a crowd-rousing explosion of fireworks and confetti. Lee explained to Current Biography that Rush's extravagant live show reflected concerts the musicians had seen while growing up, as well as experiences they had had as an opening act. "We opened for Kiss on our first couple of tours," he recalled. "And here we are, three Canadian musicians sitting on the side of the stage watching guys put makeup on and blow things up on stage. And, like their music or not, they worked really hard, and they tried to give an all-around performance and put on a show for their fans. So there was a work ethic that rubbed off on us, and we began to think, 'If we can play as well as we can, and add a show to that, that's gonna be kind of sensational.'"

A month after completing the tour, Rush released their sixth studio album, Hemispheres (1978), whose name refers to the left and right halves of the brain. Two concert tours and approximately 150 concerts later, the group made two albums that many casual admirers and diehard fans consider to be their best-Permanent Waves (1980) and Moving Pictures (1981), for both of which the trio wrote shorter songs. Explaining Rush's reasons for this change, Lee told Howard Reich for the Chicago Tribune (November 14, 1982), 'We got to a point where it was almost expected for us to do a 10- or 20-minute song on each album. It wasn't real challenging anymore, to be honest. It was like standing still. Sure, we could do another concept thing in a 20-minute piece, but that would really be like doing the same one again, except with different notes. It stopped becoming a challenge to write a tune that would be considered good simply because it lasted 10 minutes, and not good because it ran four minutes." "The Spirit of Radio" and "Free Will," from Permanent Waves, and "Tom Sawyer," from Moving Pictures, became radio hits. In addition, the instrumental "YYZ," from Moving Pictures, earned Rush their first Grammy nomination-for best instrumental-and the album itself went quadruple platinum. The live album Exit. . . Stage Left (1981) features highlights from the Moving Pictures tour.

In the next year Rush released Signals, a sleeker, more high-tech album that displayed Rush's continued interest in keyboard-driven rock. As he did for Hemispheres, whose songs examine the differences among people, Peart chose a theme for Signals-the idea of communication between people. The album generated the singles "Subdivisions," about suburban adolescents' isolation, and "New World Man," and also offered such songs as "The Analog Kid" and "Countdown," about the majesty of a shuttle launch.

Soon after the release of Signals, the band split from their longtime producer, Terry Brown. "For all intents and purposes, he was in the band; he was one of us, and that was great," Lee told Greg Armbruster for Keyboard (September 1984). "We made a lot of great albums together, but 10 records is a long time working with the same attitudes. Sometimes you have to have a radical change. Sometimes you have to shake yourself and make sure you're not falling asleep at the wheel, or falling into bad habits, or taking the easy way out every time." Working with the producer Peter Henderson, the group made the dark and introspective Grace Under Pressure (1984). That album includes "Afterimage," a tribute to the trio's friend Robbie Whelan, who had died in a car accident; "Between the Wheels," about what the group perceived as the decay of society; and "Red Sector A," which deals with the Holocaust. (Lee's parents survived incarceration in the Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz, Poland.)

Rush left Henderson and linked up with the producer Peter Collins to make their next album, Power Windows (1985). An exploration of various forms of power, it includes such songs as "The Big Money," "Marathon," and "Manhattan Project," which deals with the aftereffects of the bombing of Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945. 'When I started that song, I only wanted to dramatize the event itself," Peart told Ernie Welch for the Boston Globe (December 5, 1985). "But after doing so much research, I realized just what had happened and began to empathize with the people involved. They weren't heartless, crazy monsters, just regular, patriotic people caught up in the momentum of events." Employing strings, keyboards, and, on "Marathon," a full choir, Power Windows offers a more polished sound that previous Rush discs. The radio-friendly single "Power Windows" {<--- I believe they meant "Mystic Rythms"} helped propel sales of the record to more than one million copies by the end of the year.

The lushly orchestrated, keyboard-heavy Hold Your Fire (1987), which is widely regarded as the band's strongest effort from this period, boasts a string of Rush classics, including "Force Ten," "Mission," and "Time Stand Still," the first Rush song to include an outsider (Aimee Mann) on backup vocals. Written by Peart, "Time Stand Still" reveals the musicians' desire to focus less on their careers and more on their personal lives; the lyrics include the lines, "I want to look around me now / See more of the people / And places that surround me now." "All through the 70s our lives were flying by; we spent so much time on the road that it became like a dark tunnel," Peart told Brett Milano for the Boston Globe (November 19, 1987). "You start to think about the people you're neglecting, friends and family. So the song is about stopping to enjoy that, with a warning against too much looking back. Instead of getting nostalgic about the past, it's more a plea for the present."

Such sentiments notwithstanding, Rush spent eight months on a concert tour in support of Hold Your Fire. Afterward, Lee, Lifeson, and Peart took a break from performing and recording that lasted about two years. "Call it maturity, but we discovered that we didn't have to be obsessed about Rush 24 hours a day," Lee told Nicholas Jennings for Macleans (September 30, 1991). "It was just one of the things that we do."

In late 1989 Rush released their 13th studio album, Presto, the first recording to bear the band's own label, Anthem. Produced by Rupert Hine, it relies on basic rhythms from each instrumentalist rather than synthesized sound. "Presto is kind of a renewal to me," Lee told Nick Krewen for Canadian Musician (April 1990). "It's a renewal of energy and a positive outlook, in musical terms and in personal terms, both in my place in the band and my feeling about recording." Highlights of the album are "Show Don't Tell," which was inspired in part by the 1925 trial of John Scopes, a high-school teacher who broke Tennessee law by teaching the theory of evolution; "The Pass," which addresses suicide; and "Superconductor," about the vagaries of fame. The video for "Show Don't Tell," which aired repeatedly on the cable music channel MTV, raised the band's profile. It also introduced the band to anew generation of listeners, many of whom responded enthusiastically to Rush's next recording, Roll the Bones (1991). That album debuted at number three on the Billboard charts, and within a week of its release, its single "Dreamline" had become the most requested song on rock-oriented radio stations; within a month, the album had sold a half-million copies.

With Counterparts (1993), which is dominated by a hard-driving guitar, Rush reunited with Peter Collins. Counterparts, Lifeson told Andy Aledort for Guitar World (February, 1994), is "about the three of us playing together. There was something very satisfying about making this record. It took us back to what we've always been about as a three piece band." Another hiatus followed the release of Counterparts. "After 20 years, we needed to just explore ourselves as people," Lifeson told a reporter for Billboard (August 3, 1996). "Our lives had been centered around the band. When I think back over the last 20 years, I think in terms of tours, or where were we recording at any given time. My connection is always to the band, and we needed to break away from that." During this period Lee became a father for the second time and Lifeson released a solo album, Victor (1996). Peart engaged in various activities during his sabbatical: he produced and (along with several other drummers) performed on the two-volume Burning for Buddy: A Tribute to the Music of Buddy Rich (1994 and 1997, respectively); studied drum techniques with the renowned teacher Freddie Grubber; and wrote a book, The Masked Rider (1996), which describes his experiences while bicycling in West Africa.

Rush returned with Test for Echo (1996), their 16th studio effort. Centered on the concept of human interaction in a technological society, the album spawned two singles-the title track and the acoustic rocker "Half the World." "It was the most enjoyable [album] for us," Lifeson told Gerald Mizejewski for the Washington Times (November 7, 1996). "We were very unified in what the direction was. I think it shows on the album." Test for Echo debuted at number five on the Billboard charts, making Rush the only Canadian act with more than one Billboard Top 10 success. During the Test for Echo tour, the band performed for almost three hours without an opening act. "When you have 16 studio records out, we decided the only way we could do it is be so self-indulgent that we have the whole show to ourselves," Lee explained to Jancee Dunn for Rolling Stone (December 12, 1996). During their shows, Rush performed "2112" in its entirety, something they had never before done in concert.

In August 1997 Peart's only daughter, Selena, was killed in a car accident at the age of 19. Less than a year later, his wife, Jackie Taylor, an art dealer, succumbed to cancer. In the wake of these tragedies, the group took another extended break. "We're brothers," Lifeson explained to Tom Harrison for the Vancouver Province (November 10, 1998, on-line). "We feel for each other, especially in a time like this. We have a great relationship that's been strong since day one." To satisfy fans eager for something new, Rush released the triple album Different Stages (1998), a collection of highlights from their last few tours, as well as a rare recording of a 1978 concert at the Hammersmith Odeon, in London. On other fronts, Lee and Lifeson contributed a recording of "0 Canada," the Canadian national anthem, to the sound track of the film South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut (1999).

Peart, who married Carrie Nuttall, a photographer, in 2000, has been traveling extensively. Lifeson's activities include managing his music club cum cocktail lounge, the Orbit Room, in Toronto. Lifeson and his wife, Charlene, are the parents of two sons, Justin and Adrian. Lee, who with his wife, Nancy, has one son, Julian, and one daughter, Kyla, took the time off to record a solo album, My Favorite Headache. "I was not interested in stepping out as a solo artist," Lee told Current Biography. "I've had enough attention to last me two lifetimes. And I have no frustration working with Alex and Neil. But [with My Favorite Headache], there was something different at work. I was expressing myself in a different way." My Favorite Headache was made in collaboration with the Canadian musician and producer Ben Mink, a longtime friend of Lee's. Lee began writing songs with Mink as a way to remain artistically engaged when not working with Rush. "But even before that Ben and I would always say 'We should write something together.' So basically we made a pact [in 1997] that we would write one song before the end of the year." That one song led to 10 more, and the resulting album, released in November 2000, has generated positive reviews and strong sales.

The members of Rush have raised several million dollars for the United Way. In 1997 the group was awarded the Order of Canada, thus becoming the only rock act to be so honored. In 1999 they earned a star on the Canadian Walk of Fame, in Toronto. Also that year, in an on-line poll conducted by JAM! Showbiz (on-line), Rush was voted "Canada's most important musicians of all time." - J.K.B.