Rush and Ottawa have always seemed to be two passing ships in the night. Ottawa has often been overlooked on Canada’s premier rock trio’s touring schedule. In return, Ottawa has often looked away from the Toronto scene. Last Wednesday, the stars aligned for the two to connect in the most intimate way with at least one of Rush’s three members: its bassist, Geddy Lee.
Lee’s tour, which promotes his new book, Geddy Lee’s Big Beautiful Book of Bass, stopped at the new Carleton Dominion-Chalmers Centre on Cooper Street. At the event, Lee was interviewed by CBC Ottawa’s Alan Neal amidst an audience composed of festival members and diehard t-shirt-donning Rush fans alike.
To start off, the venue itself was stunning. Carleton University purchased the former Dominion-Chalmers United Church last year, and spent the interim renovating its interior, creating a fitting setting for an interview with rock royalty. The interior of the new arts centre, resplendent with its fine wood trimming, gold stenciling, features a stage backed by a full pipe organ occupying the entire rear wall. Since the centre just opened to the public back in April as a rehearsal, performance and lecture space for Carleton University’s music program, the Geddy Lee event was one of the first events to be held in its new incarnation.
After a thunderous standing ovation for Lee finally died down, Alan Neal posed questions in his affable way, using lighthearted jokes in reference to the sheer size and weight of the book. Neal’s tone was a perfect match for Lee’s brand of humour, which frequently employs thinly veiled cutups and jovial self-deprecation. Lee responded to Neal with his own witticisms and brainy shop-talk about his love for the electric bass.
Lee spoke of his own journey as a bass player, meeting his heroes and taking his own misguided steps in emulating their sounds before settling on what would become his own sound. The conversation followed Lee’s steps as he found his way to becoming a rock-and-roll hero in his own right. Alan Neal had really researched his topic, asking Lee pointed questions about the exasperation of finding the right tone for the bass to complement the projects at hand, such as his decision to use his 1972 Fender jazz bass to cut through the wall of sound in the song “Tom Sawyer.” Neal and Lee also revisited Lee’s memory of meeting Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones, a moment when Lee had to fight the urge to geek out as Jones played the bass lines for “Heartbreaker” for himself and his friend.
The comments that drew the most enthusiastic responses were the ones that answered questions from the crowd. Lee admitted that his favourite song to play live was “Headlong Flight” from the album Clockwork Angels. The song is a typical Rush opus of straight-ahead rocking out which drew on the band’s endearing talents. Lee was quite candid and truthful when he spoke of his plans for the future, saying: “I think I am still too young to just stop.”
Indeed, Lee was his usual energetic and approachable self, even while signing copies of the book. It was definitely a dedicated crowd, and he obviously has more to offer as far as his creativity and his connection to his fans. It was a fortunate thing to have him visit, knowing how such opportunities may be rare and precious forthwith, so it was a magical night for Ottawa, its writing festival and music itself.