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Rush's Alex Lifeson joins Geddy Lee at Toronto book tour stop to share memories

TORONTO — Geddy Lee surprised a venue full of Rush fans on Thursday by marching out old friend and longtime band mate Alex Lifeson to help him traverse back through decades of shared memories.

It was a rare opportunity to see the progressive rock legends in a semi-causal setting, sans guitars but armed with many punchlines, as the bassist closed out the North American leg of his "My Effin' Life" book tour at Massey Hall in Toronto.

"Don't make me cry before I get started," he pleaded with Lifeson shortly after the Rush guitarist was revealed as the other half of the two-hour fireside chat.

Turns out, the evening was mostly bereft of tears but loaded with laughs and the occasional light barbs at one of his closest pals.

All of it was catered to the thousands of Rush diehards in attendance, some of whom didn't waste a moment before unleashing their adoration for their heroes.

"I love you guys, man!" shouted one from the balcony, provoking others to echo the sentiment in a rising chorus of rowdy compliments.

"Excuse me, I'm talking," Lee responded in good humour when they started to get too unruly.

But the Rush fans couldn't be silenced.

Cheers and heckles continued throughout the show — albeit at more appropriate times. That allowed Lee and Lifeson to showcase what it might be like to hang out with them at home, a tradition they've kept alive over the years.

The pair joked it was rare to be in shared company without a bottle of wine in reach. The "Fly By Night" musicians had recently returned from their first-ever holiday together, Lee said, without disclosing the destination.

The loosely structured chat began with stories about the foundation of their nearly life-long friendship which predates the band.

Lee and Lifeson were 13-year-old schoolmates when they met, they said. Now both 70 years old, they acknowledged how quickly old age has crept up on them.

"And yet, you still seem so well-preserved," Lee joked to his friend.

Those friendly prods characterized much of the conversation, with Lee pulling out anecdotes and Lifeson often knocking them out of the park with a quick-witted punchline.

They told stories about the formation of Rush and the first time they met drummer Neil Peart, who died of brain cancer in 2020. He was a late addition to the band when another member dropped out.

When he showed up at the audition with his drum kit in garbage bags, they were confused. After they saw his skills in action, there was little question he would be part of the band, they said.

Other memories touched on Rush's so-called "Fun Craft," the nickname for the Dodge van that carried them across North America in the early days.

They recalled their unfavourable experience opening for Aerosmith in the 1970s. Steven Tyler's band refused to let them perform a sound check before their shows, much to their dismay, they said.

Sadder tales mentioned in the "My Effin' Life" memoir were left mostly off the table.

While Lee brought up the tragic loss of Peart's teenage daughter in 1997, and his private battle with cancer after Rush's final tour, it was mostly in passing.

The duo spent more time discussing the complicated emotions of Rush's final tour in 2015, a decision made by Peart who wanted to focus on his family life. The others admitted they weren't quite as eager to hang up their instruments.

"Towards the end, it became sadder it was coming to a close," Lifeson admitted.

One passage Lee read from his memoir detailed Lifeson's drunken rampage through a hotel, dressed only in a window curtain draped across him like a toga.

Lifeson sat in the shadows as his friend recounted the details, shaking his head at whatever he might remember of the unhinged moment.

George Stroumboulopoulos, media personality and music aficionado, joined the conversation for an audience question-and-answer period later in the evening. It was the only time Lee choked up, recalling the production of the 2012 album "Clockwork Angels," which he says marked a high point for the band.

"I'm proud of that record for a lot of reasons," he added.

Lee's "My Effin Life" book tour began last month in New York before winding through other big cities with a surprise guest each night.

Friends and admirers including actor Paul Rudd, Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith, Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic and Calgary singer Jann Arden were among those who joined Lee on stage in various cities.

Lifeson's appearance in Rush's hometown was special, Lee noted, because it took him back to his younger years before they came on stage.

"We were sitting in the dressing room remembering all of these crazy things," he said.

"I'm so happy we have this shared volume of memories."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 8, 2023.

David Friend, The Canadian Press