Toronto Prog Legends Rush Discuss Band's Long History With Charity, Junos

By Nick Patch, Canadian Press, March 11, 2015


The members of Rush will be receiving another one of those glittering prizes this weekend: the Allan Waters Humanitarian Award, honouring their decades of dedicated philanthropy.

The gifted Toronto power-prog trio is characteristically low-key about the honour, which will be issued during a Juno Awards ceremony.

If Rush’s generosity was a bit of a secret, they wouldn’t have minded if it stayed that way.

“It’s a way that you can do it as a unit, which Rush is, without making really a big deal about it,” guitarist Alex Lifeson said recently from Toronto.

“This is really great to get this award — it’s always very humbling — but this is just something that you’re supposed to do. We don’t make a big deal out of it.”

Among their charitable contributions, Rush has donated significantly to Toronto Food Bank, United Way, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the New Orleans-assisting Make it Right Foundation, Doctors Without Borders, Alberta Flood Relief and Casey House.

Lifeson and his peerless bandmates Neil Peart and Geddy Lee are currently preparing to rehearse for their upcoming 40th anniversary tour — practising for practise, basically: “We rehearse ourselves to death,” the guitarist said.

He took a break to talk to The Canadian Press about the band’s charity and a 40-year history with the Juno Awards.

CP: You guys didn’t grow up wealthy, but was charity always instilled in you?

Lifeson: We’re all middle, or lower-middle class, suburban kids. First of all, it’s the right thing to do. We are very, very fortunate. We’ve had an amazing career as a band. I think we were raised with those sorts of traits. It just seems right to give back. Move it forward.

CP: Rush performed a benefit for AIDS research in the early ’90s and you’ve been a huge supporter of Casey House. Has AIDS long been an important cause for the band?

Lifeson: It was. We all knew people who passed away, who died from AIDS. You couldn’t stick your head in the ground and just ignore it. I think that particular (concert) in San Francisco was a foundation that was set up by Elizabeth Taylor.

Casey House does an amazing job. They’re so compassionate and they’re so caring. It’s really your last place to find a friend in a lot of ways, especially in the homeless community or the drug-addicted community, where they have nowhere to go.

CP: You’ve personally done a lot of work for the Kidney Foundation, painting to raise money.

Lifeson: My dad had kidney failure before he died so it hit close to home. I’m not a painter by any stretch of imagination. I have a lot of fun with it and it’s an experiment and I’m always learning something. It’s nice to be able to raise 10 grand for some blobs of paint on a canvas.

The Rush community buys up a lot that stuff. We’ve raised a quarter of a million dollars in seven or eight years.

CP: Is that something you’ve seen a lot, Rush fans taking on the band’s causes?

Lifeson: I do recall reading some things on some fan postings. And that’s a wonderful thing. I think our fans are aware of what we do, and if it inspires them to help out in some way, it’s a fantastic thing. That’s a great legacy to leave.

CP: You first won a Juno for most promising group way back in 1975. You were on tour with Aerosmith so you couldn’t accept it, but do you remember how you felt?

Lifeson: I remember being really, very, very excited about it. You know, it was tough for us in the early days. We couldn’t get a record deal here even with the smallest distribution label. Nobody wanted to touch us. Nobody was interested.

It felt good to get that kind of recognition.

CP: You won again in ’78 for best group, and when you accepted you said: “We’d like to thank Dan Hill for not being a group.”

Lifeson: (laughs) That was the year he won everything.

It was a few years later that I met Dan. We laughed about that. He remembered it.