Toronto’s veteran prog-rock trio Rush have always believed in giving back, says guitarist Alex Lifeson.
So it’s no surprise the group - rounded out by singer-bassist Geddy Lee and drummer Neil Peart - are getting this year’s 2015 Allan Waters Humanitarian Award during Saturday night’s non-televised Juno gala dinner & awards at the Hamilton Convention Centre leading up to Sunday night’s broadcast at FirstOntario Centre (CTV, CTV GO).
“My parents were always very, very generous. They couldn’t afford much, but they were always very generous,” says Lifeson, 61, in Toronto recently.
“I learned very early that it feels really good to help somebody else. A lot of times it feels better than getting help yourself and now that we’re in a position to do something and have been for awhile, it only makes sense. It’s a duty, really, that we all have to help the less fortunate.”
Starting with their earliest show at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens, the band worked with the Food Bank encouraging fans to bring food.
Later in the early ‘80s, they did their first charity concert at the Gardens to benefit the United Way followed by an amFAR show to benefit AIDS research in the early ‘90s.
The list goes on to present day with too many donations and charitable initiatives to mention, but among those benefiting from Rush over the last four decades have included Doctors without Borders, The Canadian Red Cross, Little Kids Rock, the Dominic Triano Foundation, Casey House, The Kidney Foundation, the Chilean Red Cross, and Grapes for Humanity Canada.
“It’s a wonderful thing to get this kind of recognition,” says Lifeson. “We’ve been very lucky, particularly over the last many years that there’s been all this attention paid to us. And it’s lovely and it’s very much appreciated but it’s not the most important thing. But we happily accept these sorts of things but we don’t try to make a really big deal. You know, it’s a typical Canadian attitude, trying to stay under the radar, and do the thing that we do, and then complain as much as we can.”
Alas, those hoping for a Rush sighting over Juno weekend will be out of luck.
Peart is in Los Angeles - where the band will start rehearsing March 30 for their upcoming R40 tour celebrating their 40th anniversary which kicks off May 8 and hits 4 Canadian cities in June and July - and Lifeson is away with his grandkids.
But Lee will be on hand Saturday night to accept the honour in Hamilton.
“We’re prepping for the tour; we’re at that stage where we’ve just started playing. You don’t want to hear us,” says Lifeson.
One thing’s for sure, after more than 40 million albums sold, Rush is not resting on their laurels for R40.
“We’re nuts,” says Lifeson. “We rehearse for six weeks before the rehearsals. I’m serious. I’ve been rehearsing for three weeks now. I spend four hours, three times a week, and then the rest of the time I play for an hour to two hours. And that’s just to get ready for rehearsals.”
It turns out the group is just back from over a year off following their last tour.
“It’s been great to be home and kind of disconnected from the whole thing and just spend time with family and reconnect with friends,” says Lifeson. “And my wife and I travelled a lot. We went all over the place. We did a couple of trips with our grandkids to London and Mykonos and we went to Japan.”
Lifeson says travelling the world can sometimes lead to some strange encounters.
“The friends that we were visiting in (Japan), he had another friend who plays the ukulele, a sumo wrestler. I can’t remember his name. He’s from Hawaii originally, and he wanted to get a ukulele. We were in a music store and we were just walking around looking at stuff and I noticed there were a couple of models of my guitar there and then the floor manager came over and he was from Australia and he went (does Aussie accent), ‘Oh no, it’s Alex Lifeson!’ I don’t know if I get used to it - it always seems odd to me.”
R40 2015 Canadian tour dates:
June 17 and 19, Toronto - Air Canada Centre
June 21 Montreal, Bell Centre
July 15 Calgary, ScotiaBank Saddledome
July 17 Vancouver, Rogers Arena