Interview: Rush’s Geddy Lee talks ‘Clockwork Angels Tour’, Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame
Rush‘s latest tour for their 2012 album Clockwork Angels saw them revisiting old songs for the first time in decades (and in some cases, ever) and adding a new dimension to their classics. Their latest live album/concert film, Clockwork Angels Tour, has a lot going for it — it features performances of many songs from the new album accompanied by the Clockwork Angels String Ensemble, as well as supremely rare live tracks such as “Territories” and “Body Electric.”
Fans can catch a preview of what’s to come on this starting at 12:00 Noon EST on Thursday (Nov. 14) where for 24 hours we’ll have six performances from the DVD available exclusively to stream on Radio.com. And then, starting at 12:00 Noon EST on Friday (Nov. 15), we’ll have two songs (“Red Sector A” and “Middletown Dreams”) to watch on demand.
Placing some strings behind their 1984 song “Red Sector A” adds a certain gravitas to one of the heaviest tracks in the band’s catalog. Ostensibly, it’s a song about a dystopian future where people are kept in prison camps. But bassist/singer Geddy Lee tells Radio.com that the lyrics are based in the past, and are quite personal to him and his family. Drummer Neil Peart (who doubles as the band’s lyricist) wrote the song based on Lee’s mother’s life.
“That’s a fantasy song,” said Lee, “but there’s no question that some of the lines came out of a conversation I had had with [Peart], telling him about some of my mom’s experiences at the end of World War II and her liberation from concentration camps. So some of those truths resonated with him, and he put them in another context, a sci-fi context. There’s no question that there’s not a night that I sing that song that I don’t think about that story that my mom told me and about her liberation.”
Lee’s mother was interviewed in the 2010 Rush documentary, Beyond The Lighted Stage, and in an interview last year, Lee noted that she was thrilled about Rush’s induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. “[It] made my mom very happy, so that’s worth it.” He still seems a bit bemused about being accepted by the Hall Of Fame’s voting body, which had ignored the band for well over a decade.
“I think it’s been a slow crossover from the outer reaches of rockdom to the mainstream. I think what happened was, a lot of Rush fans that had grown up with our music and had great passion for our music, started finding themselves in a position to ‘pay it back’ in a way. And people like [director] John Hamburg making I Love You Man and insisting that the only band that elicits that kind of passionate response is Rush. So that kind of thing kind of reintroduced us into the eyes and ears of many people and the documentary [2010's Beyond The Lighted Stage] went a long way to doing that as well, and slowly there were just these accolades that just helped pique interest.”
Now, Lee is preparing to fill out his ballot for next year’s Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction class (all Rock Hall inductees are voting members). While he hasn’t figured out exactly who he’ll vote for, he did tell Radio.com at least two of the artists who will make his ballot.
“Well, certainly Deep Purple, certainly Yes,” he admitted. “I have to give it a more complete thought but those are two names that stand out as omissions in my view. I think one of the things the Hall of Fame looks for is influential bands. And if influence is a big part of their criteria, and you can make the case clearly for Deep Purple.”
2014 will mark the 40th anniversary of the band’s self-titled debut album, and given the industry’s penchant for celebrating anniversaries you might expect another tour. Nope: “We’re off the whole year. We’re turning the machines off and recharging our batteries. We’ve been doing a lot of touring and writing over the last 10 years. It’d be much smarter for us to be out on the road promoting our 40th anniversary, especially after the Hall of Fame Induction. Thankfully we’re not very smart, so we’re gonna take a holiday and try and enjoy it.”
Lee will probably spend lots of time following baseball. In Beyond The Lighted Stage, he gives a brief tour through his collection of historic baseballs. What isn’t as well known is that he’s contributed a few hundred baseballs to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Lee’s involvement began after his first visit to the museum: “I was so moved by the stories of these players, and the fact that it’s an important museum that needs to be supported. I believe it should be financed and supported by Major League Baseball, I think they owe it to the baseball world to support that place and it needs to be more well-known. And when I walked away from it, it just kind of stayed with me: the stories of all these guys, the conditions and the characters and the personalities, so many amazing personalities played in those days.”
Soon after, he was at an auction where a number of baseballs with historic significance to that league were up for bidding. “I just said, ‘I think we should buy some of them and donate them to the museum, so let’s buy them for that purpose alone.’ So there was over 200 in the first lot that I bought; 200 signatures that someone had collected. The full collection was over 400. I was not successful in bidding on the second half of it. I went back to the guy who bought the other lot and said ‘This is my intent: it’s not to keep for me, it’s to donate to the museum, so would you sell me the other half of the collection?’ and the guy said sure, and he did, and we got over 400 baseballs and we gave them to the museum.” Those baseballs are now known as the Geddy Lee Collection.
~ Clockwork Angels Tour will be available on CD, DVD, BluRay and mp3 on November 19. You can also see Clockwork Angels Tour on the big screen the night before it’s release: more than 350 select movie theaters around the country will be showing it as a one-night-only event on November 18. Take note fans: the band’s performances of “Middletown Dreams,” “Grand Designs,” “Territories” and “The Body Electric” will only be apart of the Radio.com 24-hour streaming event before the DVD is yours to own. For a complete list of theater locations and prices, visit the NCM Fathom Events website (theaters and participants are subject to change).
– Brian Ives, Radio.com