052919 Geddy Lee, Ottawa, ON

Posted by

On the morning of May 29th, 2019 my eyes opened wide with the rising sun.  I jumped out of bed excited – like, teenager-excited – and looked at the clock.  7am.  How the heck was I going to fill the next twelve hours?!?!

It felt a bit surreal to know (know!) that I was going to meet Geddy Lee in just twelve long, torturous hours.  Of course Geddy was one of my boyhood heroes (one of three), and here he was coming to the Ottawa Writer’s Festival to promote his Big, Beautiful Book of Bass.  I couldn’t believe my luck; I had initially noticed that he would be appearing in Toronto for a signing and I was ready to book my ticket when it occurred to me that I was going to be in Newfoundland house-hunting that weekend.  Oh, I was so crushed.  And then, lo, his Ottawa date was announced and what’s more, in addition to offering a brief meet-and-greet at his Ottawa stop Geddy was also going to be interviewed live and answering some audience questions.

I was beside myself.  I’m sure that my hands were shaking as I entered my credit card information into the computer: $110 for the evening, which included a copy of the book (a bargain; it’s a big book).  As the date neared I started finding it hard to sleep at night.

When I was about fourteen years old I moved from Moncton, New Brunswick to Richmond Hill, just north of Toronto.  The move was also my graduation from Top-40 lowest-common-denominator tripe (all that Moncton’s airwaves offered at the time) to FM rock radio (of which Toronto offered several, including Q107 and CHUM-FM) and to put it mildly: when I arrived in Ontario my musical sensibilities got rocked.

I’ve probably typed the story before, but I recall vividly my entry into the realm of rock music.  I was in my neighbourhood arcade tossing quarters into Defender when Tom Sawyer came on the juke box (yes, a juke box).  “What the hell is that?” I asked, all the while saving a small pixelated planet from jittery mutants.  “That’s Rush,” I was told with an incredulousness that wondered if I was serious.  “Haven’t you heard of Rush?”  

Richmond Hill was Rush-country back then, as was most of Toronto.  

Anyways, the next day I carted my rather large collection of cassettes to the nearest pawn shop and sold ‘em all – about 150 tapes by the likes of Donna Summer and KC & the Sunshine Band – which gave me enough money to buy all of Rush’s albums in one fell swoop, a dozen in total, leading up to Signals, which had just come out.  I spent the next year listening to just those twelve tapes (and nothing else aside from a little CHUM-FM) and of course I listened to them chronologically, obsessor that I am. 

One of the reasons why Richmond Hill was so Rush-nuts was because at least two of the band members lived in the area, and man would it eat me up when someone I knew would come into school all excited, “I just saw Alex Lifeson at the variety store…”

Oh, I wanted so, so much to meet them, and of course to get their autographs.  It was my obsession for a long time, and it never happened*.  I mean, I kept a Rush scrapbook and everything.

And here it was!  Eventually I couldn’t wait any longer and I went down to the Dominion-Chalmers Church early and alone, bought a beer in the foyer and lined up to enter the General Admission room.  I ended up taking an aisle seat in the seventh row (so I would have easier access to asking questions) and twiddled my thumbs for the next hour.

I gotta say, I was very surprised at how many people were there.  In a fit of insanity, I was thinking there’d be maybe forty people there; in actuality the number was closer to five hundred or so.  Local CBC host (and an old school acquaintance of mine) Alan Neal was the host/interviewer and he did a pretty good job.  His introduction was long and well-researched, Geddy came out to a thunderous standing ovation and he regaled us with tales both informative and funny for the next hour.  It was all very bass-oriented, and very music-geeky.

As I was expecting a much smaller crowd, I never imagined the possibility that I wouldn’t get to ask a question, so I had prepared (and practised reciting) several.  But darn near everyone had their hand up and the roaming-microphone guy never got to me.  It’s too bad, I had some good questions.  Unlike the first dude who got the microphone, who started with, “Back in 1975 I was living on the street in Toronto, having just come out of heroin rehab…”  Oh, it was so painful.  He inflicted us all with a long, rambling tale that finally settled into a question of sorts: he had always gone by the nickname Tom Sawyer and he was wondering if the song was about him?

Which actually would have been a great segue to one of my questions, which would have gone as follows: 

“Max Webster’s lyricist Pye Dubois brought Rush several songs over the years, most notably Tom Sawyer.  Could you discuss how that song came to you instead of getting recorded by Max Webster; did Pye write it for Rush or did he write it for Max Webster, and are there any other Max Webster songs that you wish he had brought to Rush instead (because I think you guys would’ve done a great job with High Class and Borrowed Shoes)?  Extra points if you can work in a story about the recording of Battlescar.”

But the question I was going to lead with was:

“Would you describe the situation surrounding how John Rutsey left the band, and could you surmise as to what you think the trajectory, the sound, and the success of Rush might have been had he remained in the band?  And finally, could you describe the scene when Neil Peart first auditioned for Rush?”

Pretty good questions huh?  Denied.

After the interview came the actual meet & greet (following an hour+ wait in line as he signed four hundred books ahead of mine).  Surprisingly, as I waited I wasn’t nervous, nor did I spend much (or any) time thinking about what I was going to say to him when my turn came.  I knew the interaction was supposed to be fast, so asking my questions wouldn’t be cool.  I considered telling him the story about selling all my cassettes but figured he’d think (know) I was a weirdo.

Then it was my turn.

“Hi Geddy Lee,” I said.


“How’s it going?”

“Oh,” he replied casually, “pretty good.”

“That’s good.  Hey, thanks for doing this, I appreciate it.”

“No problem.”

And that was it.  

Walking home with my signed copy** of Geddy’s Big, Beautiful Book of Bass (which is both big and beautiful) I came up with a few things that I could have said, like “Your music has meant a lot to me and got me through some pretty rough patches,” or something like that, but then I realized that our interaction had in fact been quite perfect.  It occurred to me that for all those youthful dreams I had of meeting Geddy (or Alex or Neil) I had never ever thought about what I would have said to them.  I guess I just wanted to say “hi” and be a normal guy around him (or them), and what’s more normal than “Hi, how’s it going?”?

Though I’m super, super happy that I said “Hi Geddy Lee,” and not just “hi.”  It was more than your average “hi”, after all.

*Though I was thrilled to the bone a few years before this day when I got both Geddy and Alex to sign my LP copy of Signals at an event in Toronto, but it’s not like I really met them or anything; it was just a Sharpie flapping in the crowd.  

**Looking at the signature you’d swear the book was signed by someone named “Snee.”  I have a Bill Frisell autograph that looks like it was signed by Bill Nill and now whenever I think of Mr. Frisell I refer to him as “Bill Nill” in my head.  I think I will adopt a similar habit with Snee.  It’s like having an inside joke (albeit one-sided) with one of my heroes.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s