Home / News / The radical kindness of Geddy Lee and Rush fans unite in Chicago

The radical kindness of Geddy Lee and Rush fans unite in Chicago

Geddy Lee — or rather, as his poignant new memoir “My Effin’ Life” makes clear, the man born with so many family names, nicknames and colloquial name derivations — his own mother was unsure of the name on his birth certificate. – a complicated man. That’s what you’d expect from Rush’s bassist. They were a complex band playing complex prog-rock epics. The fans who packed the Auditorium Theater last Sunday night to hear Lee talk about his life are themselves in a complicated situation. Famously so. I’m a fan myself, but like some Rush fans, I’ve hidden my fandom for periods of time.

It can be social responsibility.

When I think of Rush fans, I’m reminded of the opening lines of “War of the Worlds,” about “vast, cold and uncomprehending minds” with “envious eyes on this world.” I thought about discontent, resentment, the 1970s and 1980s, and being a sensible kid. I thought about suburban housing, rule-following, and my friends who worshiped drummer Neil Peart, filling basements with more drums than they knew how to handle. Peart had Tama drums, so when I started playing (badly) I played Tama. Peart had two bass drums. I convinced my mother to buy me two bass drums, but I could barely play them.

I thought the lyrics were so complicated that sometimes it looked like Geddy Lee was singing from the owner’s manual to hook up his stereo. I thought the lyrics were so long and exaggerated that Lee was saying lines like: “All these machines making modern music / Can still be frank / Not listed so coldly / It’s really just a matter of your honesty.”

It’s still a silly lyric, but now that I’m older, I also hear the cheeky warmth that I was probably too embarrassed to recognize in my 20s when I thought I knew better. Pete Sylvester, a longtime fan from the suburbs, told me on the sidewalk outside the Auditorium Theater: “There it was Years ago, for many in high school, this fan base consisted primarily of outcasts. But this is no longer true; They’ve been around for a very long time, and most of those fans, of course, aren’t in high school anymore. Yet Rush knew such feelings.”

“’Fit in or be outed,’” he added, ending with a Rush lyric.

Luckily, I speak Rush fluently.

“‘Subdivisions'” I nodded, noting the song’s title.

He smiled.

“There’s an old joke,” he said. “He says, ‘I don’t need therapy.’ I’m listening to Rush.’ “

That’s not a bad way to think about Lee’s book tour—or at least a good way to describe the look of the Auditorium Theater, a bustling, sold-out family affair that can at times double as a casual rock church or inspirational outreach one way piety. “I didn’t even bring my bass guitar with me and they’re still here,” Lee said, glancing around the crowd in mock surprise that anyone showed up. There was no music playing. Rather, he spoke in the Rush dialect, a language that dazzled generations. A kind of romantic language. As the language suggests, this challenging world does not go easy on detail-oriented, cautious and sincere people like us. The rapid success of “My Effin’ Life,” which recently hit No. 3 on the New York Times Best Seller list, seems to serve as a reminder that Rush is a guilty pleasure for many people who shed that guilt as they mature. . Lee writes that when Rush was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, he heard well-wishers from a lot of weird fans: Public Enemy’s Chuck D, Jackson Browne, Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello, Tom Petty.

If a band like this shares anything, it’s an innate humanism, not unlike Rush himself.

At each stop on Lee’s tour, a surprise interviewer, a famous fan, appears. Jack Black in Los Angeles, Paul Rudd in New York City, Matt Stone from “South Park” in Colorado, Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers in Detroit. But for Chicago, it was Soundgarden guitarist and co-founder Kim Thayil, a Park Forest native who shared something sad with Lee; It was never mentioned in their two-plus hour conversation, but underneath their words was a very poignant statement: Both lost bandmates prematurely, Thayil when singer Chris Cornell committed suicide in 2017 and Lee when Peart died of brain cancer at 67 in 2020.

How many people say “WE LOVE YOU GEDDY!” he shouted, but it wasn’t the light-hearted conversation some might expect among rock stars. from the balcony. They talked about being children of immigrants: Thayil’s family came from India as students; Lee’s parents, Polish Jews who survived Nazi concentration camps, came to Toronto after World War II. When a fan asked Lee if he had a tattoo, Lee said he would never get one, and that he grew up in a family whose aging members still wore prisoner numbers on their arms. Lee talked about feeling uncomfortable as a Jewish child in Canada, about being bused to a middle school filled with anti-Semitism, and how at that age “you grow up resentful of being excluded in any way.” He talked about meeting a friend at school who was a star hockey player, who became his concert buddy and then pulled him into the world.

When asked if Rush had ever argued, Lee said they had never argued because he was Canadian.

“We I do not agree.”

Rush, as Thayil put it so well, was a “civilian” band that valued civility. They leaned left, even though Peart was an avowed libertarian (and later became a librarian at his daughter’s elementary school library). Guitarist Alex Lifeson was the class clown, and the band pragmatically used humor to soften the angular, sci-fi aspects of their music, no matter how Byzantine and complex it was. “SCTV” and “South Park” produced short videos for Rush’s concerts; the band itself would play against a backdrop of working washers, dryers, and rotisserie chickens that the road crew would nonchalantly use throughout their show.

With his long, straight hair flowing over his shoulders, Lee, now 70, looks like a wealthy wizard who moonlights as an English professor. But as the screen behind him scrolled through archive footage, you could see that insecure, disaffected teenager again. In fact, I found myself staring at Rush’s time machine while meeting young fans on the sidewalk before the speech. It was generations removed from the days of “Tom Sawyer” and “2112,” but there was the same discomfort with strangers, the same long, unstyled hair.

There I met 17-year-old Dagny Kowal from Indianapolis with her family; He gave a confused, distant look, cradled a stuffed pig and wore a Rush T-shirt. His sister, Rosalynn, a bright-eyed and ironic 23-year-old, said she was upset that Spotify informed her that Rush was no longer her most played band. She said she loved “complex music” and that Rush “speaks everything I’m feeling right now.” He is studying engineering at Purdue University. She said: “Honestly, it’s weird being young, female, and being into Rush.”

Lilly Bick in St. Just don’t mention Louis. Long, thin, straight straight hair. A classic Rush fan, if this were 1981. Not including, but also with wider eyes and a big smile. He is 15 years old. “Rush isn’t mainstream even now,” he said, “so I jumped in.” He is in the school’s robotics club and recently attended an Air Force-led STEM science camp in Colorado Springs.

Rush fan Dave Goldwater before attending the book tour for Geddy Lee at the Auditorium Theater in Chicago on December 3, 2023.

If I had more time, I would have hosted an intergenerational gathering on the sidewalk between fans old and young. They knew many things about each other. He said Dave Goldwater, 53, of Schaumburg, was not a popular kid at military school. He was talking with his sister, Wendy, and his 25-year-old son, Will Farber, who sees the Rush fandom as “a coterie that never ends but is still more philosophical than most.” Caryn Moczynski, 56, of Milwaukee: “I wasn’t a Dungeons & Dragons Rush fan, I was a ‘Star Wars’ Rush fan.” Barbara and Jane Greer, 58 and 60 respectively, had thin, wispy beards growing from their chins because they never cared to shave, they said. They are a self-possessed strain of Rush. They call themselves the Bong Brothers, and as Barbara says: “We were burnout Rush fans in high school, and we’re still burnout.”

A few yards away, straight from Appleton, Wisconsin, was a reunion of former members of By-Tor and the Snow Puppies, a high school band you’ve never heard of. “Actually, call us Second Nature, that was a better name for us,” said Daryll Hurst, 48. When they formed, they used Rush as a model, which was like studying Wayne Gretzky to learn how to skate. “We would have gotten a good response from a Van Halen song, but we were more proud that we got through without messing up any Rush songs,” said Bryan Hartjes, 47.

Barbara (left) and sister Jane Greer before joining Rush lead singer Geddy Lee's book tour on December 3, 2023 in Chicago.
Daryll Hurst (left to right) and Luke and Bryan Hartjes at the Auditorium Theater before joining Geddy Lee's book tour.

Of course, it’s not unusual to see the members of a rock band reflect on their fans, but when Lee talked about not being able to physically keep up with anything with Yes during his speech, I thought of By-Tor and Snow Puppies. Another 1970s prog-rock institution.

Many fans have told me they are baseball crazy. It’s no coincidence that Lee mentioned his passion for baseball while listening to WGN while touring the Midwest in a van in the band’s early days. more. Thayil recited the Cubs’ entire lineup from memory during their conversation. When Lee took the podium to ask questions, someone asked him how he would change the game if he became the commissioner of baseball. (He wouldn’t.) Someone asked him to choose between George Brett and Mike Schmidt. (He went with Brett.) Someone asked him if he would consider becoming a baseball announcer.

“That’s not Jack Brickhouse,” he said.

Again, not your typical rock star bombshell.

Lee choked up talking about Peart and later admitted that she often cried. She remembered crying in front of a painting by Gerhard Richter at the Art Institute. She also said that she is an architecture buff, so someone asked her to name her favorite building. She smiled towards the rafters with her liquid eyes: “I’m going with this one.”

cborrelli@chicagotribune.com

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