Hundreds of fans stood in the pouring rain this afternoon in north Toronto to see Rush singer-bassist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson at the official opening of an art park named after them, where they received the Key to the City.
The Lee-Lifeson Art Park — which has a giant likeness of Lee and Lifeson in mosaic tile — includes a small outdoor stage and amphitheatre for acoustic performances and permanent interactive sculpture installations. It is in Willowdale, the neighbourhood of North York where Lee and Lifeson both grew up and formed Rush in 1971.
“We’re obviously thrilled and amazed that someone would want to do something like this and put our names on it, and we’re really happy for the community that there’s some investment arts and leisure for this neighbourhood,” said Lee.
“This park will still be here weeks after we're gone,” quipped Lifeson.
The mothers of both musicians were in attendance, shielded from the elements under the tented stage.
The ceremony for The Lee-Lifeson Art Park began with a performance by Jacob Moon of “Subdivisions,” the rooftop cover he did in 2008 that is now approaching a half-million views on YouTube. George Stroumboulopoulos then interviewed Lee and Lifeson, asking about the park dedication, as well as the album 2112 (they sat on 2112 stools), and what they have been doing since their final tour, R40, ended in 2015.
“We may do house calls — maybe,” joked Lifeson.
“It’s been an adjustment this past year,” he added, seriously. “We’ve been following up on some interests that we both have. We’re learning to get used to the idea and it’s taken a while, but I feel confident about a lot of things and music is definitely still one of them. And I’m sure that we’ll do something in the future. You can’t just stop playing and writing music.”
Said Lee, “I play almost every day that I’m around the house. I’ve been traveling a lot with my wife. We’re very big into seeing the world and taking advantage of this break in my career, whatever it may be, but I love playing and I play a lot and sooner or later the right thing will happen.”
The two members of Rush — solidified as a trio with drummer Neil Peart — have always lived in Toronto, where they raised families. Lifeson started the band in Willowdale in 1971, with Lee joining that May. Peart joined in 1974, finalizing a lineup that has remained intact all these years.
“Our friendship started very close to here and our musical life together began very close to here,” said Lee, 63, recalling “the first night he [Lifeson] got me high in the park.” (“Quiet, our moms are here,” said Lifeson, also 63).
One of their first gigs, which cost 50 cents to get in, was also around the corner at St. Gabe’s (Saint Gabriel’s Parish), put on with their long-time manager Ray Danniels, who was at the park dedication.
Asked by Stroumboulopoulos what it means to them that the park is an “art” park, Lee said, “Art is the thing that elevates you out of whatever situation you’re in. Art is constant for that. Art is the thing that you pour your heart into, that whatever you’re doing, whatever aspect of life, whatever situation you find yourself in, art elevates it. It heals. It’s given us everything in our lives, so to be associated with that kind of thought and that kind of concept is amazing, fantastic.”
The idea for the 7000 sq. metre art park originated with Councillor John Fillon in 2012, who also came onstage to say a few words.
“We wanted to name the park after them, not because they’re rock stars, not just because they’ve sold many, many millions of albums and sell out concerts around the world and have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but also because they are such extraordinary musicians, and this park is about creativity and encouraging the creative spirit, encouraging people to just work on their craft and become great and do something great,” Fillon said. “So it is wonderful to have the park named after such inspiring musicians.”
Mayor John Tory then gave the pair the Key to the City.