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Geddy Lee | My Effin’ Life

An earnest, frank, and funny book, full of anecdotes. We get a picture of a singularly driven musician, ambitious and talented in equal measure, but who also spent long parts of his life coming to terms with the consequences of his disposition and his actions, and for which the book is, in some ways, his final reckoning.


Autobiographies serve a number of purposes – to set the record straight, to lay down a version of the truth (whether true or not), even sometimes to settle old scores, but also to try to record the details of a life because there is something inherently valuable in doing that. Lee states his intent early on, to capture memories before they fade, having seen his own mother slide into dementia, thereby losing a treasure trove of memories from his own family.

It is an earnest, frank, and funny book, full of anecdotes, detailed descriptions of the band’s working practices and punishing schedule, dashes of colour from the Rush lexicon, the private language the band and their close collaborators used, which grew alongside the band, and Lee’s own reflections on his experiences and his choices, good and bad.

It is at its most hilarious where Lee is in the mode of a raconteur, as when he is telling stories of guitarist Alex Lifeson’s escapades when on tour, its most intriguing when he describes the practicalities of working in a band – not the logistics of tour life, but the emotional and practical landscape of being a professional musician, especially one experiencing increasing success – and at its most harrowing when he retells the stories of his parents’ experience in Nazi Germany, narrowly escaping the mechanical murder which cut short so many Jewish lives on several occasions, or when describing his and Alex’s experiences of their friend, drummer Neil Peart’s tragic loss of his daughter and first wife in less than a year and then, much later, Peart’s cancer and death.

His affection and respect for his two band mates is clear and unaffected and he’s also prepared to lay out where and how he put strain on his relationship with Alex, particularly, during periods where the band’s musical style shifted towards increasing incorporation of keyboards, something that Lee has only come to fully understand during the writing of the book. This honesty is another hallmark of the book. He admits his obsession with his work nearly ruined his marriage, that his increasing use of cocaine risked his career and more. You could say that it is a warts-and-all memoire. He certainly does not gloss over his (and the band’s) regular, near ritual use of drugs and alcohol or their problematic relationships with their families. As in other aspects of the book, he is careful to tell his own story only. He may judge himself for his actions, but he keeps back the same kind of commentary on others making the same mistakes.

He tries to express the same kind of fellow-feeling and respect for the crew, fairly late on in the book, by which time, historically speaking, Rush’s crew must have numbered in the dozens, and these feelings do not ring quite as true as his remarks about the band or their families and inner circle. There are not many places in the book where there is such a sense of a “PR job” so perhaps this assessment is unfair. Certainly, so much more in the book creates a sense of a brilliant but flawed individual who, despite everything, did actually learn from his flaws, that it does seem more likely than not that Lee is in earnest here. Alternatively, it may be that these are some of the passages where the support writer’s voice comes more to the fore. These moments are not too intrusive, and tend to stand out in longer chronological expositions where the language has been adjusted with a view to avoiding the mundane creeping in to sequences of events which merely unfold.

So, who should read this? Given the level of detail – sometimes too much – this book is a must for any accomplished or aspiring Rush aficionado. Every album and tour is given a moment in the spotlight, largely, it seems, in proportion to its significance in the history of the band. For anyone who has ever wondered what life in a working band is like, that is a band which has any longevity, this book is a gold mine of insights into the stresses, strains, challenges, and triumphs that life as a working musician can bring. Even for someone who is not a fan of Rush’s music, there is enough general story telling here, enough general insight for the undersigned to recommend it without hesitation. The reader is given insights into the recording, the production process, mixing, the interpersonal dynamics, and how relationships between the band and their collaborators work or fail. There is also a good deal of detail early in the book about his life growing up in Canada as the child of immigrant Jews, and, of course, the stories he has been able to reconstruct about his parents’ own harrowing early adulthood, which have their own inherent, if dreadful, fascination, all the more for being the tales of particular people.

On top of all of this is Lee’s own voice, where it has not been muted, which is witty, unaffected and engaging. Overall, the book ought to leave the reader with a view which is full of light and shade. Lee is never triumphant. He celebrates his and the band’s joys but, as he observes on a number of occasions in the book, prices usually have to be paid, and he is all too careful to point out the prices he did pay and how too often, in retrospect, they were too high. But there is no self-pity, but just a realistic account of what happened and how he felt (or should have felt). All in all, we get a picture of a singularly driven musician, ambitious and talented in equal measure, but who also spent long parts of his life coming to terms with the consequences of his disposition and his actions, and for which the book is, in some ways, his final reckoning.

5/6 | Alex Maines

Release date: 14 November 2023