Q&A: Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson Talk ‘R40’, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Future of Rush

By Brian Ives 

Over the past two weeks, Radio.com have premiered two live versions of two previously unreleased Rush songs from the band’s early era: “I’ve Been Runnin'” (and our interview with guitarist Alex Lifeson about the song). Then there was “The Loser” (and our accompanying interview with bassist/singer Geddy Lee).

Fans of any artist can be expected to get excited over lost and rare tracks. But within the Rush catalog, very few rarities exist because, for decades, they’ve only recorded as many songs as they’ve needed for their albums. There are no B-sides or non-album tracks to be found.

However, in the band’s early days, when the lineup featured drummer John Rutsey, they wrote several songs that weren’t used for the band’s 1973 self-titled debut. And once Neil Peart replaced Rutsey, those songs were pretty much scrapped; in fact, Lee and Lifeson barely remembered either of them.

Related: Alex Lifeson on Early, Long-Lost Song “I”ve Been Runnin'”

But both of those songs were performed by the band at a televised concert from the Laura Secord Secondary School in Ontario in 1974. And that entire set is now included among the two hours of bonus footage on R40, a new six-BluRay disc compendium compiling of all of their live concert films from the past few years. It includes 2003’s Rush In Rio, 2005’s R30, 2008’s Snakes and Arrows LiveTime Machine 2011: Live in Clevelandand last year’s Clockwork Angels Tour. The box set is available now.

In separate interviews with Lee and Lifeson, we discussed some of the other bonus footage: namely the band’s 2013 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (including Lifeson’s infamous “blah blah blah” speech, which deserves to be in the Comedy Hall of Fame), as well as their increasingly production-heavy comedy videos, Lee and Lifeson’s acting resumes, their under-the-radar charitable efforts, and of course, what Rush will be doing in 2015.

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Radio.com: Among the extras in the box set is footage from your Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. The Hall of Fame is very much a product of Rolling Stone magazine, who, up until a few years ago, didn’t really recognize Rush. Much to the chagrin of your fans!

Alex Lifeson: Yeah, well, I don’t really know what the deal was there. They didn’t like us at all at Rolling Stone, in fact, I think it sort of bordered on hate. They were a “hip” crowd from an earlier generation. I think we were eligible for 14 years before we finally got in. They just did not want us in there at all. But after a while, they didn’t really have much choice, because the other inductees—other artists—voiced their opinions about us not being in, and voted for us.

It’s not lost on us that they used to have the induction ceremony at the Waldorf Astoria in New York, and our year it was at an arena packed with Rush fans paying a ridiculous amount of money for tickets. [Note: that was actually the second year it was open to the public; the previous year it was held at Cleveland’s Public Hall.] We had to smirk a little bit at that. The Hall of Fame is a money making proposition. And that’s fine. I think we were ambivalent going into it. When we were nominated, it came as a bit of a surprise to us, because we thought we wouldn’t get inducted unless it was over Jann Wenner’s dead body. But he was still quite alive!

Related: Rock Hall Finale: Supergroup Featuring Rush, Heart, Chuck D, Foo Fighters, Fogerty, Morello & More

Lifeson: I have to say that at rehearsal the night before, we had the jam rehearsal for the closing jam, and all of those great musicians were there on the stage. We were jamming to “Crossorads,” and I’m looking around at Tom Morello and Chris Cornell and Dave Grohl, all the players that I really admire, and it felt like such a community. It struck me that this is what the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame should really be about. At the end we were all high-fiving each other, and it all felt so right and so good. So, any kind of negative feelings that we had dissipated after the rehearsal.

Geddy Lee: It was a great moment, I didn’t want it to end, I could have played that song forever. After all that was said and done about us and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, all the tension, and how long the evening was…but at the end of it all, to have this moment, with just musicians making music, and the common denominator being such a classic blues song—and the whole theme of the night was kind of how the blues gave birth to rock and roll—it just seemed appropriate, it was just one of those perfect moments. It was total heaven for me.

And you guys don’t jam with other bands too often. 

Lee: I’m not one to jam much. Usually when bass players jam, they play the most boring s–t, but that was a special one.

I was in the building for the actual ceremony. I noticed that at the beginning of the night, when Jann Wenner came on stage to welcome everyone, he was greeted by resounding boos, obviously from the Rush fans. That part didn’t make the HBO broadcast!

Lifeson: I guess a lot of people enjoyed that moment. What blew us away was when he introduced the inductees. H saved us for last, and he said, “And from Toronto, Canada…,” and the place—you were there, you heard it—it blew up. It was unbelievable. And that wasn’t lost on Jann either. We were holding back tears. It was incredible, I’ll never, ever, ever forget that moment.

Lee: We all teared up at that moment, it was quite something to see. It became apparent pretty quickly that a large portion of the audience was there for us; it was a Rush crowd that night. But that moment took us as much by surprise as it did Jann. We really didn’t think a lot about what we were going to experience that night. We had no idea of the magnitude of the moment. It’s a moment that I’ll always remember.

There was some poetic justice that one of the guys who did the speech for you—Dave Grohl—was the drummer of Nirvana, one of the most critically lauded bands of the past few decades. 

Lee: It was really sweet that Dave and Taylor [Hawkins] wanted to do that, they’re such fantastic people, as well as hugely talented musicians. I don’t think people realize how rare it is in this business to meet musicians of that caliber who are just normal guys who you would want to hang out with.

Obviously you guys had to rehearse with them to perform “2112,” but did you know they were going to be dressed in full “2112” garb? 

Lee: [laughs] No, they didn’t tell us that. They came down to our rehearsal space, and they played the song, and it was so furious and so amazing. I have a picture of the three of us—Alex, Neil and I—just sitting on road cases watching them, we’ve got these s–t-eating grins on our faces, it was just unbelievable. Dave just nicked all of Alex’s parts, exactly. Even the parts that Alex can’t play!

Read more on Radio.com

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