It was the first of several such moments where the legendary bassist and founding member of Rush caught himself, paused and collected himself.
Peart, who passed away in January 2020 after a multi-year battle with glioblastoma, was only part of the pall cast over the man born Gershon Elieizer Weinrib during his recent history. The drummer’s illness came after a truncated 40th-anniversary tour for the band — one that inevitably became a farewell tour.
A little over a year after Peart’s death, Lee’s mother, Holocaust survivor Mary Weinrib, died at 95 years old. As the son of Holocaust survivors — and losing his father when he was just 12 — Lee suddenly found himself longing for a magnetic north, steeped in an unrelenting personal grief.
Added to that trauma was lifelong friend and bandmate, guitarist Alex Lifeson, sequestered in a hospital suffering from a severe bout of Covid-19-induced pneumonia for a time.
Lee is on an “Effin’” book tour for the tome (released last week) that will take him across North America and Europe. He began the evening by explaining the impetus and the importance of firming up stories and memories and institutionalizing them before they’re all lost to the mists of time.
“I wanted to introduce [myself to] the audience and whoever else would find some interest to read about my life,” said Lee on Sunday night of the book’s genesis — adding that he desired to “take the edifice of all these different identities I’ve assumed over the years and strip it down. Start from scratch.”
The near-capacity audience alternately cheered and sat rapt across two “sets” of sorts — a formal book talk with rock journalist Rob Tannenbaum and a playful Q&A moderated by legendary former WMMS music director (and discoverer of Rush) Donna Halper.
It was a multimedia feast. The stage was set up as a living room with a video backdrop that shared images of the young Lee during his formative years and of the band he helped propel to greatness. There was also a lectern positioned downstage left, where Lee read from various portions of the book.
The mood alternated between somber and ebullient, reflective and playful — almost dizzyingly so.
Lee and Tanenbaum talked generational trauma of the Holocaust and the impact it had on their families.
Lee’s parents met in the concentration camps and he initially wished to flee the burdensome nature of the Jewish tragedy as a young person. But he says he eventually came to accept that the Holocaust is in his DNA and a big part of who he is. He wished to honor his mother, who shared all the stories in great (and grave) detail.
Balancing out the harrowing detail of the courtship between his mother and father and the loss of family members in the genocide, he also recounted various performances in Cleveland and the blessing and importance of the city (and Halper) in Rush’s ultimate ascent to superstardom.
The audience delighted at the story of a very drunk Lifeson causing a ruckus in a hotel during a European tour in the 1970s. Several attempts were made by the band’s management to get him back to his room for the next night’s gig, only to have him pop out of the elevator on a rolling cart in a prone, flying pose.
Fans cheered hearing the story of Peart’s audition for the band, where he pulled up in an old Ford Pinto with his drums in garbage bags and how the unusually small bass drums in front of Peart’s drum kit were dwarfed by his own lanky stature.
And when Lee recounted how the band, management and crew are like one big family — with some of their personnel/organization having been with them for 30+ years — the audience applauded wildly.
Halper, who had been at the previous evening’s event in Boston, made a point of telling Lee that he and Rush was the exception and not the rule in the music industry. She commented that Rush always took care of the people they cared about in an honest, heartfelt way that was anything but common.
In all, it was a moving night and a lot to take in — even for a massive Rush fan like myself. But you didn’t need to be a fan to be absolutely gobsmacked by Lee’s reflections on this night.