Not so coldly charted, it’s really just a question of your honesty
“Do what you believe, because if you do what someone else believes, and you fail, you’ve got nothing. If you do what you believe, and you fail, you still have hope.”
Today marks the death of legendary Prog Rock drummer Neil Peart, who died three years ago on January 7th from brain cancer. When planning this episode I was unaware that my topic about his fellow bandmate and bassist virtuoso Geddy Lee would fall on this day.
A Wall of Sound and Lyrics
To quote a lyric written by Neil Peart “Never leave spontaneity up to chance”, so perhaps that can be interpreted as prepared to take advantage of your luck. It’s all in the timing … of your luck. And “Run The Ball” when you can. The lyrics from their songs inspired, they still do today. Perhaps you’ve heard me quote:
You can choose a ready guide, in some celestial voice
If you choose to not decide, you have still made a choice
You can chose from phantom fears, and kindness that can kill
I will choose a path that’s clear, I will choose free will
The lyrics were not bubble gum rock music. Many themes from Ayn Rand and other literary works were incorporated into works that inspire to this day.
The rock group Rush celebrated a 40 year career with 20 studio albums.
The band released its self-titled debut album in March 1974, after which followed 19 additional studio recordings, 8 live albums and 6 compilations. As a group, Rush has made 24 gold records and 14 platinum (3 multi-platinum) records. According to the RIAA, Rush’s number of sales place them fourth behind The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Aerosmith for the most gold or platinum albums one after another by a rock band
Their story is that of the underdog group, not recognized by the mainstream as popular, but lauded by musicians as extremely gifted, their music being a well crafted of sound, powerful rhythm and lyrics that imparted a sense of wonder and curiosity. All but a few radio stations played their music, yet they continued making the music that they felt was true to their hearts and toured relentlessly to present a fabulous live show. Their records were shaped by what they could reproduce live. It was a constraint, and given that there were only 3 band members, it was amazing what music they wrote but also performed. They grew a dedicated fan base that lasted 40 years, culminating with the induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
In a recent interview, Geddy Lee highlighted the various turning points in his career matched with the music or albums they released. 3 man band that produced a wall of sound meant that each member pushed the limits on what additional support they could give one another, Geddy sang, slapped the bass, and played keyboards – all on the same songs. Moog pedals, synthesizers and bass guitar while singing was a complex gig, and it’s why I have admired him. He pulled a 4 man feat off every performance.
When you listen to the bass part in the chorus on “The Anarchist” from Clockwork Angels, it’s one of my favorite bass parts I’ve ever written. But when it came to being able to play and sing it live, it was almost impossible. I have to split my brain into such completely independent things because the vocal melody and the syntax have no relation to where the bass is going. That was one of the great challenges I’ve ever had — learning that song to be able to play it live. I loved writing it because it’s one of those songs where I double-tracked my bass with an octave above, so there’s really two basses playing in sync with each other, one an octave higher than the other. It gave it this really broad soundscape that moves that chorus.
Rejection Of The Worst Kind
Amazingly Rush was considered extreme right wing given that Ayn Ran, a libertarian, was cited for inspiration. Rolling Stone magazine published a review of Rush’s 2112 album where they associated Rush with Ayn Rand and Nazism. These are the offending lyrics:
Waiting for someone to call
And turn your world around
Looking for an answer to
The questions you have found
An open door
Oh, you don’t get something for nothing
You don’t get freedom for free
You won’t get wise
With the sleep still in your eyes
No matter what your dreams might be
Geddy Lee is Jewish, his parents are survivors of the Holocaust. His grandfather was the first male Jew to be selected for deportation to prison camps for Jews for illegally selling meat.
Are We The Only Ones Left Alive?
Geddy was born Gershon Eliezier Weinrib in 1953 to Miriam (Rubenstein) and Morris Weinrib. While those names sound German, they are actually Anglicized from Polish, the number of migrations from their homes in Poland due to forced labor under the Nazis, then to Auschwitz and Germany, then finally to Canada forced multiple adaptations. Geddy was called “Gary” by his mother, but with thick accent it sounded like “Geddy” to his Canadian born cousins and his friends. Elie became Lee when Geddy decided to pursue a career in music.
His parents bore the tattoos from the concentration camps in Poland. Morris passed when Geddy was 12, and most of what Geddy learned of his parents experience came from his mother. Geddy describes fondly like a lyric from his song New World Man:
He could be hard headed – you wouldn’t want to mess on the wrong side of him – but he was funny, upbeat, hard-workng, proud, fulling filling the shoes of a New World Man. He had joie de vivre. He was able to push aside whatever demons walked around with him.
His father, having survived SEVEN concentration camps, was the foundation of Geddy’s family. His strength, both inner and physical, enabled Morris to survive manual labor, and his quick mind and charm guided his ability to barter and bribe. He was able to keep a small piece of gold in his shoe, which came in handy during the early days of working in the factories in Warsaw. Wierzbnik lay on the outskirts and was close the factories that the Nazi’s commandeered. Jews were ordered to work or would taken off to concentration camps like Treblinka and out of the ghetto. This was death sentence, Geddy’s father bribed and worked a network of “friends” to keep his family alive for as long as possible.
Miriam , Geddy’s mother relays the rapid changes that transformed Warsaw and the smaller Wierzbnik. Being blonde, Miriam was able to escape some scrutiny in the beginning: she and her mother would slip off the golden stars and could pass for Poles while slipping outside the confines of the ghetto, their designated area where the Nazis confined them. The young were assigned manual labor, as schools and learning was illegal during the Nazi occupation. Miriam was assigned to make bricks, and that is where she met Morris. That piece of gold that I mentioned earlier was used to secure Miriam an easier job where Morris worked. He watched out for her, and later when they were both deported to Auschwitz, he managed to smuggle shoes to her by bribing a guard. Prior to being deported, Morris and Miriam attempted an escape, but when Miriam twisted her ankle, Morris remained despite her urging him to flee. That saved his life – they escape party were all captured and killed. Morris and Miriam managed to sneak back to their barracks.
At Auschwitz both Morris and Miriam received their tattoos. From that point on, the Nazis addressed the prisoners by number only. While “Arbeit Macht Frei” hung over the concentration camp gates, they had no right to belongings, nor their names. It was at Auschwitz that Miriam came to be know Josef Mengele. At the time, the Nazi’s were collecting blood samples, and while Miriam was older than her sister, they bore a resemblances as thought they were twins. This caught Mengele’s attention, who, according to Miriam, hand an interest in her. For whatever reason he did not select her for his experiments. Perhaps it was based on their exchange.
In late 1944 Morris, Miriam and those who had survived Auschwitz were transported to Germany. The Soviets were making headway capturing territory on it’s march toward Germany, and the evidence at camps Auschwitz needed to be evacuated. Trains and as well as death marches moved prisoners to Germany, where Morris and Miriam would remain until the Liberation in 1945.
While music was in their home, Geddy relays that he never knew that his father was musically gifted. His mother asked him to stop playing when they came to Canada, thinking it as a frivolity that they couldn’t afford to waste time with. They had arrived with only 10 dollars, no time other than work. Morris bought a piano and managed to get lessons for his daughter, Geddy would watch. Neither ever knew until years after his passing that Morris was very musical. Geddy relays that he discovered from his Aunt from Detroit that his father kept it a secret, partially because the war had taken so much from them, so part of Morris’s survival mechanism was to keep things buried deep within.
A Love of Live and Triumph
Geddy imparts a wonderful moment he shared with his mother, who returned to Germany and Poland in 1995. It was a painful experience, particularly in Poland where she still felt betrayed by the Poles. In Germany, as Helmut Kohl gave a commemorative speech about the Holocaust atrocities, she declared to Geddy:
As I listen to these speeches, I realize, maybe for the first time, that it was I who have actually won the war. I am still here, standing on German soil with my three children and the Nazi’s are dead and gone.
More About Spirit With Neil Peart
If you are listening to the LIVE when it aired on Jan 7th, it is on the day that Neil Peart passed away. As I stated, my goal was to discuss Geddy Lee’s parents as I was blown away about the account in his book, and also by the fact that he included with the legends of how he started his own career.
But Neil has a special place in my heart, his lyrics have been integral to so many moments of my life, and I see Geddy Lee’s influence in the words of triumph and introspection. To this day I still get chills when I turn on the radio and a riff from one of those songs rings out, it makes me think of those hard time, those time of triumphs, and those times were I learned a little humility the hard way. I still learn from those, and there words in particular that Geddy sings for well.
The arrow flies when you dream
The hours tick away, the cells tick away
The Watchmaker keeps to his schemes
The hours tick away, they tick away
The measure of a life is a measure of love and respect
So hard to earn, so easily burned
The measure of a life is a measure of love and respect
So hard to earn, so easily burned
In the fullness of time
A garden to nurture and protect