Review of Geddy Lee’s “My Effin’ Life”

I’ve been a Rush fan since Moving Pictures in the early 80s. Bought it when I was 12. Best album of my youth.Geddy Lee Autobiography

I didn’t make it to one of their shows until my late 20s. My wife bought me a ticket. Witnessing that show axis-shifted my notion of musical performance. Even though I had a bunch of their albums, I didn’t really ‘get it’ until I saw them pull it off live.

One thing I don’t hear very many people come out and say is: I believe Rush inspires *some* of their fans – especially me – to say to themselves:

“I can’t play drums like that. I can’t play bass like that. I can’t play guitar like that. BUT…

“I CAN design a circuit like that.


I can write a book or scientific paper like that.


I can analyze a genome sequence like that.


I can create a piece of fiction like that.


I can create a new technique for open heart surgery like that….


I can do so with integrity, even in a commercial world that is laden with compromises.”

SO…. Fill in the blank with any challenging stir fry of technical + artistic competence, and Rush is a metaphor for wielding a level of excellence 10X beyond even the “icons of your industry.” KISS might be considered a great rock band, but their technical chops and place in history are nowhere near Rush.

That is, I believe, the real place that Rush occupies in the broader landscape. It’s not about certain songs like Spirit of Radio or Tom Sawyer. It’s about wielding virtuosity in a world that mostly doesn’t appreciate it.

The most impressive thing about Rush in my personal opinion is not that they can play like that – because if you dig deep into music you discover there are numerous musicians in prog rock, classical and jazz who have comparable chops. The impressive thing is that Rush took that complexity and virtuosity and packaged it in a way that millions of people could love and appreciate. Their songs are memorable and have great tunes and you don’t have to have a degree in music theory to love them.

So if you design circuits or write papers in scientific journals or analyze genomes or develop new methods for open heart surgery, Rush’s music not only inspires you to engineer details that only one person in 1000 will appreciate, but to ALSO somehow package and sell them to the world in a way that even ordinary people can understand and relate to.

That is PRECISELY the effect Geddy’s body of work has had on me. And that’s why I’m a fan.

I think I’m an “average” fan. I’m not the zealot who followed them around the continent and went to 10 shows on every tour. I’m not the guy who read every single forum discussion or knows every anecdote… but I did go to every show since Test for Echo and I bought all the albums.

I found this book hard to put down. Finished it in 3-4 days, and for a 500 page book that’s saying something.

Biggest unexpected thing for me was how many events in Geddy’s life I can identify with:

  • Losing my father as a teenager
  • Not being able to deal with the raging emotions of my bereaved mother
  • Being intensely dissatisfied with an ultra-conservative religious upbringing
  • Meeting a girl who, like me, was running from her past
  • Marrying her and fleeing from our pasts together, but finding out eventually that we have to face up to it anyway
  • Drenching myself in workaholism, leaving her alone to care for the babies and manage the house
  • Always finding that “the band” [ = “the business” or “the schoolwork” or “the obligations”] are a convenient excuse to sidestep the urgent conversation that n-e-v-e-r seems to get finished
  • Working like an absolute dog for a decade+ until you can get your head above water
  • Finally achieving some success… then discovering there’s a huge mess to clean up from years of abdication and neglect.

So many times the parallels were absolutely eerie.

That’s why what I appreciated most about the book was its level of candor. There are things I don’t like or agree with in Geddy’s story, but the book absolutely gets 5 1/2 stars for, at least to some degree, showing “warts and all.” Including the grudges and the anger and the FU moments.

There is a point of departure where I’ve taken a different road than Geddy, Neil and Alex. It’s pretty clear that they all gave religion the finger which is embodied in their song “BU2B” which stands for “Brought Up To Believe.”

Believe in what we’re told
Until our final breath
While our loving Watchmaker
Loves us all to
Loves us all to death

I define faith a little differently. It’s not simply “believing what you’re told” but rather wrestling with the questions (just like ALL the prophets and sages) until you sort it out. St Paul phrased it as “working out your salvation with fear and trembling.”

You might have to read 1000 books. It might take decades.

I had serious disagreements with my upbringing and plenty of reasons to walk away from faith. When my dad (a pastor) took my mother, who turned out to be bipolar with mild schizophrenia, to a psychiatrist who prescribed medication, my dad was immediately demoted from his job and our family was publicly shamed in front of 2000 people. Because psychiatrists were considered evil. And my mother was believed to be indulging in “rebellion.”

We had every reason to be cynical. But instead of bailing, we worked it out. My mom got on medication, my dad vindicated himself, got his job back, and when he died of cancer 3 years later we had a community around who looked after us.

A local entrepreneur sent my mother $800 a month for years and kept her afloat (as a widow she barely had any marketable skills and worked a minimum wage job) and the only reason he did that was because he was a Christ follower – the sort who DOES the good work and doesn’t merely preach it. His generosity made it possible for me to finish college.

I went through a wrenching crisis of faith not once but more like 3-4 times. I drilled as deep as I knew how into science to answer the question “Is it really just billiard balls bouncing around in the universe, or does there appear to be some kind of plan?”

The answer I arrived at again and again – from the fine tuning of the universe and physical constants to the origin of life to the inner essence of evolution – was ABSOLUTELY YES we have every reason to believe in Goodness and that there is a Plan of some sort. I spent six years writing a book about that. That book is my equivalent of Moving Pictures. (It even has a couple of Rush lyrics scattered throughout.)

This is why there is a thread in Rush’s work that I dislike. I don’t enjoy the Clockwork Angels album because it’s drenched with cynicism and radiates negativity. The youthful exuberance of earlier albums has been replaced with, in the end, a bitter old man.

And I can’t help but feel like the 3-4 places in the album where Geddy calls out people who’ve let him down, gone back on their word or otherwise screwed them, mentions them by name in public and says “FU” – is an inevitable consequence of this philosophy.

It’s just not healthy to carry that around, not beneficial to transmit that to others.

Real life is not all caramel lattes and frequent flier bonus points. One thing you discover when you become successful is that even if you get the world’s best caramel lattes and fly around in private jets (I’ve done a little of both myself) is that it doesn’t take away The Ache.

The Ache is something you can only wrestle with and hopefully make peace with. That can only happen if you’re willing to, in my case, scrupulously tease out the good and the bad from what you’re brought up to believe.

What’s so wonderful about this book is how much “truth that can speak for itself, thank you very much” is here.

It’s not a halo polishing book. Rather it’s a gritty insider’s view of a famous musician’s life that’s a great deal harder than most people suppose, and a window into a world that while in some ways is light years different than mine, is still hauntingly familiar.

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2 Responses

  1. Paul Braoudakis says:

    Great review, Perry. I’ve seen every Rush show since 1980 and literally waited half my life for this book. The members of Rush were notoriously ultra-private, so a 500-page tome is a pleasant and welcomed surprise. Rush’s openly antagonistic stance toward faith was always hard for me as it became more pronounced later in their career. Geddy calls Clockwork Angels one of their best albums but I have a very hard time listening to it. Neil Peart’s fist-shaking toward God and anything with a twinge of faith became downright annoying. On one leg of that tour, they inserted a back-to-back-to back missive of hostility toward God by placing the songs Faithless,BU2B, and Freewill one after the other, as if to say, “Are you getting the point here?” Peart had just come off a string of horrible tragedies and his anger toward God was raging (funny, I thought atheists don’t believe in God). Still, I found it very juvenile. I’m holding off reading the book for another week or so since Geddy is coming to town to talk about and I will be attending the event. Rush changed my life in innumerable ways. Can’t wait to dive in. Thanks for the heads up!

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