Geddy Lee: Do Not Skip Chapter 3 of His Book
Back in April, when Geddy Lee of Rush announced the release of his memoirs, My Effin’ Life, the timing made sense. Rush’s career ended with their 40th-anniversary tour in 2015. Five years later, in 2020, drummer/lyricist Neil Peart succumbed to brain cancer, seemingly ending any hopes of a reunion. (Although, Lee and Alex Lifeson seem to have become open to the possibility of working together again.)
Lee’s post-2015 career has included some Rush projects (reissues, a pinball machine, and their own line of beer). In 2018, he published Geddy Lee’s Big Beautiful Book of Bass, which seems to have led to his recently released Paramount+ miniseries, Geddy Lee Asks: Are Bass Players Human Too? After all of that, it seemed like a logical time to tell his full story and publish his memoirs. Rush fans were elated when it was announced that My Effin’ Life would hit bookstores in November 2023.
But reading the book now, the timing doesn’t feel just “logical,” it feels urgent. Yes, the book documents Rush’s career (from Lee’s perspective, of course). It doesn’t really get into the band until about page 100. Up until that point, Geddy writes about his childhood and how that childhood was influenced by generational trauma.
In Geddy’s case, that generational trauma is a result of the fact that his parents, Morris and Mary Weinrib, were survivors of Nazi concentration camps. (Lee notes that these are “anglicized” versions of their original Yiddish names.) The first two chapters of the book cover his childhood in Canada. It includes stuff that you’d find in differing versions in many rock star bios. You’ll read about his memories of his parents and siblings, how he discovered his musical aptitude. He didn’t fit in at school, and he was bullied. He notes that their family would refer to gentiles (non-Jewish people) as “white people.” And he describes the antisemitic slurs he endured. (“Not exactly the way the world looks at us polite Canadians, eh?”) He recalls how his friendship with future Hockey Hall of Famer Steve Shutt helped keep him protected.
But at the end of chapter 2, he warns you that what comes next might be tough to read. “In the next chapter, I’m going to relate my parents’ experience of the war,” he writes. “After all, if it wasn’t for what happened to them then, I wouldn’t be here to tell you my tale now. I wouldn’t be the person who I am.”
He adds, “I feel both duty-bound and honoured to tell you their story. For their sake… I feel we’re living in an era that seems to have forgotten what can and will happen when fascism rears its head. I think we all need reminding of it in the face of those who either deny the past or never knew about it in the first place.”
But, he notes in what we would consider classic polite Canadian fashion, “If you find [this part] half as harrowing to read as I did writing it, you might be tempted to skip right along. If you do, I won’t blame you, and I’ll see you in chapter four.”
Geddy is right: a lot of people don’t know about the Holocaust. According to an Axios report earlier this year, a majority of U.S. states don’t have laws requiring public school students to learn about the Holocaust. A 2020 Pew Research survey revealed that, while most American adults know what the Holocaust was and approximately when it happened, fewer than half can correctly answer multiple-choice questions about the number of Jews who were murdered. Fewer than half understand the way Adolf Hitler came to power. Only two-thirds know that Nazi-created ghettos were parts of a city or town where Jews were forced to live. Less than half of Americans surveyed (43%) know that Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany through a democratic political process.
More disturbingly, another 2020 survey revealed that nearly half (49%) of Millenials and Gen Z have witnessed Holocaust denial or distortion on social media. Worse, 11 percent of U.S. Millennial and Gen Z respondents believe Jews actually caused the Holocaust.
Of course, Geddy Lee couldn’t have imagined when he started writing the book that it would be released just weeks after the deadliest attack on Israel in its 75-year history. In the weeks after that attack, there has been a 400% increase in reported antisemitic incidents in America over the year before, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
So, tragically, Lee’s book has come out at a relevant moment. The vast majority of fans buying the book surely want to learn more about Rush (and I count myself among them). And Geddy Lee is right: chapter 3 is harrowing. It could not have been easy for him to write. He surely didn’t have to go into that much detail. But in sharing the story of his parents, he does honor them. And he also provides a service to the world. Because yes, we all want to know the secrets of 2112, Moving Pictures and Alex Lifeson’s immortal Rock and Roll Hall of Fame acceptance speech. He gets to all of that and more in the book.
But no one’s story occurs in a vacuum. Geddy Lee’s parents’ story explains the man he is. That includes the effects of generational trauma suffered by the families of Holocaust victims. But their story can also provide some context to the debates that have been playing out all over the world. (And we’ll point out that we’re saying it can provide “context” and not “solutions”). Hopefully, readers will hang on through the very difficult 40 pages of chapter three and hear this part of the story. It’s more important than ever that we all do.