By Brian Ives
Last week, Radio.com premiered “I’ve Been Runnin’,” an extremely rare Rush track from their early pre-Neil Peart era. That song and “The Loser” are two songs that the band performed at a televised concert from the Laura Secord Secondary School in Ontario in 1974, which featured their original drummer, the late John Rutsey.
The entire set is included as bonus material on R40, a six-BluRay disc compendium compiling of all of their live concert films from the past few years. There’s 2003’s Rush In Rio, 2005’s R30, 2008’s Snakes and Arrows Live, Time Machine 2011: Live in Cleveland and last year’s Clockwork Angels Tour. This week, we’re proud to host the premiere of “The Loser.”
You can pre-order R40 here.
We spoke with bassist/singer Geddy Lee about the performance, the band’s early days, and how he developed his on-stage banter.
What went through your mind when you watched the footage of you guys performing in 1974?
Well, watching that is like an out-of-body experience for me. Because I remember it, and at the same time, it was so long ago, it’s hard to know if it’s a real memory, or a dream state memory. It’s hard to feel like that same guy who was screeching on the stage back then in unusual clothing.
Alex Lifeson told us that the thing that stuck out in his mind is that the audience were seated the entire time, no one got up!
That was a very Canadian response back then. Canadians, especially back then, were an almost self-conscious audience. Even if they were loving it, most of the crowd was quite quiet. That’s changed, of course, over the years. Back then, you would play a small town in Canada or across the country, and you wouldn’t be sure that they were loving it. When they actually were loving it, but they weren’t very demonstrative about it. So, we’d come back from the U.S. and American crowds were famously exuberant, and then you’d cross the border and do some small town in Saskatchewan or something, the crowd would be not so exuberant. You’d feel like you were bombing, but afterwards people would come up and say, “Man, I loved your show!”
Was it bittersweet, watching the footage with John Rutsey?
Yeah, it is sad in one sense, but it’s also quite a nice thing that this footage is available, so people can see what we were like with him, and what he was like. I think in a way, it helps keep his memory alive. He’s part of our history.
Back then, John was the guy in the band who talked to the audience from the stage. Did you prefer that you didn’t have to take on that role?
I was always the reluctant… everything. I was originally a guitarist, and the bass player in my old garage band quit, and they voted and I became the bass player. I was the only one that could sing, so I became the singer. I didn’t really want to write lyrics, so in the early days of Rush, John wrote the lyrics. I was a very shy kid, I didn’t really feel comfortable talking to the audience, so John did that. So I really kind of backed into my entire career.
It seems to have worked out.
It’s worked out really well! I’m still playing it by ear.
How long did it take for you to get comfortable with being the guy who had to do the onstage banter?
It took quite a long time, really. I didn’t really have a persona. All the singers from rock bands in those days were taking on a persona of a very loud, sort of gregarious guy who would rile up the crowd. That’s not me, I’m not that guy. I’m not that guy socially, I’m not that guy period. For me to suddenly have to talk to the audience… I was rather soft-spoken, so it was always work for me to psych for myself up to try to do that. In the early years, the lack of persona seemed to be a problem. As we hung around, I think my lack of onstage persona has actually become my onstage persona. So you kind of grow into who you actually are. It’s kind of worked out for me. The ideal person to be our MC would be Alex, he’s naturally hilarious, he’s such a goof and such a funny, warm guy. But he’s, at times, even more shy than me. He didn’t want to do it either!
What do you remember about the song “The Loser?”
I honestly don’t remember that song, and I didn’t remember it until I actually saw the footage of us playing it. And I didn’t remember it was called ‘The Loser.” So much for my memory! We wrote so many songs in the early days, and half of them fell by the wayside. A while back, Alex uncovered a demo tape that he and I had done for copyright purposes. Since we couldn’t write music, the only way you could submit a song for copyright in those days was, you’d record it. Alex would play guitar and I would sing onto a tape. We found one of these very basic tapes. I just could not remember half of the songs that were there. It was just teenage ramblings.
Any chance you’d consider putting out a compilation of previously unreleased pre-1974 Rush recordings?
They’re not very musical! Maybe after we’re dead and gone, if somebody uncovers those tapes. While we’re still alive, I don’t think we would want anybody to hear that stuff.