From Surfing to Canning Vegetables, Geddy Lee Hangs With His Rock ‘n’ Roll Pals For New TV Series ‘Are Bass Players Human Too?’

Geddy Lee

Geddy Lee attends the launch of Paramount+'s 'Geddy Lee Asks: Are Bass Players Human Too?' at Toronto's TIFF Bell Lightbox on December 6, 2023. Photo: Jeremychanphotography/Getty Images

Geddy Lee bird photographer, wine collector, baseball aficionado and self-described “nerd,” as he calls himself in his new four-part Paramount+ docuseries, Geddy Lee Asks: Are Bass Players Human Too? — is, of course, best known as the frontman, bassist and keyboardist for the legendary boundary-pushing prog-rock trio Rush. 

The Toronto-formed band — including guitarist Alex Lifeson and the late drummer Neil Peart — went on indefinite hiatus in 2018, two years before Peart’s passing. But the past few months have probably been the busiest for Lee since Rush stopped recording and touring. 

Three weeks ago, the 70-year-old released his autobiography, My Effin’ Life — currently top 10 on the New York Times Bestseller List (debuting at No. 3), and No. 1 in Canada on the Toronto Star Bestsellers. He’s been promoting it with an “In Conversation” book tour across North America with surprise guest interviewers in each city, such as Paul Rudd, Jack Black, Eric McCormack, Jay Baruchel, Matt Cameron, and Krist Novoselic. 

On December 7 the “In Conversation” tour brought him back to Toronto‘s Massey Hall — the iconic venue where Rush recorded their landmark live album All The World’s A Stage in 1976 — and the special guest interviewer was none other than his wise-cracking bandmate and friend of 57 years — Alex Lifeson. The evening was filmed for a CBC Music Live at Massey Hall series special, while Lee now heads to the U.K. for five more appearances.

While in Toronto, Lee also stopped at the TIFF Bell Lightbox for a Q&A onstage with Are Bass Payers Human Too? director Sam Dunn. And on top of it all, it was announced this week that two unearthed songs, “Gone” and “I Am…You Are,” demoed during sessions for Lee’s 2000 solo debut, My Favourite Headache, were available on all streaming platforms, with tweaks from producer/engineer David Bottrill.  

Zoomer caught up with Lee at the TIFF Bell Lightbox to briefly discuss the new show, what he learned from his bassist pals while filming it, and which legendary rocker taught him how to can vegetables.   

KAREN BLISS: We know the jokes about drummers and screwing in light bulbs, but never heard that bass players aren’t human. Where does this come from? 

GEDDY LEE: My whole idea was born when I was writing my book on bass [2018’s Geddy Lee’s Big Beautiful Book On Bass]. I indulged my instrument for a few years there, studying it, collecting them, playing them. And during the interviews I held with bass players, I found out that some of them were incredibly interesting. And I thought, ‘Why am I surprised about that? I have a lot of hobbies. Why shouldn’t they have a lot of hobbies?’ So I thought, ‘I wonder if the stereotypical image of the bass player is a quiet skulking human that hangs around the drum kit.’ And I thought to myself, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to disprove that stereotype?’ So that’s what I set out to do.

KB: What were the coolest things you did for the show?

GL: Honestly, they were all so surprising. First of all, my buddy Les Claypool [of Primus] was teaching me how to work an excavator, which was a big surprise to me. [Laughs].

KB: You didn’t knock his house down or anything?

GL: Nope. 

KB: Tree? 

GL: No. 

KB: You did okay. 

GL: I did okay — with a little coaching. And, he was teaching me how to fly fish and showing me his world, which in Sonoma is quite an interesting place. And, then, of course, I discovered the wonderful town of Hudson, New York, through the work and community spirit of Melissa auf der Maur [Smashing Pumpkins, Hole]. She’s just a real promoter of the arts and a spectacularly interesting person. And so, she showed me around that town. And then going to the mouth of the mighty Columbia River to meet up with Krist Novoselic [Nirvana]. I mean, he is a really incredible guy, a real DIY guy, with his menagerie of strange animals that he gathers, He rescues every kind of animal. He’s a pilot. I mean, he taught me how to can vegetables. That’s pretty interesting.


Geddy Lee
L-R: Krist Novoselic (of Nirvana) and Geddy Lee can vegetables in Geddy Lee Asks: Are Bass Players Human Too?. Photo Credit: Paramount+


KB: Are you gonna carry that on? Make your own tomato sauce? 

GL: No, I don’t think so. And, of course, last but not least, Rob Trujillo [Metallica]. Aside from being an astounding bassist, he’s a surfer; he’s a skater. He’s so a product of that Venice Beach environment and I was so unaware of how interesting that part of the world was. And he showed me.

KB: Obviously, you have lots of friends who are bass players. Have you been getting lots of emails and messages, “Why didn’t you pick me?”

GL: [Laughs]. Well, this was an experiment for me to see how I would like it. I didn’t want to do too many episodes because I’m not a host. I’m not on that side of the camera. So this was a new thing. I was willing to try and see how it goes. And I did quite enjoy myself, so we’ll see if that bears further fruit.

KB: For your “In Conversation” tour, how did the idea come up to have a surprise special guest interviewer, and not journalists, doing all the interviews?

GL: Well, we just talked about what kind of thing would be interesting, and I said, ‘I think it’d be nice to have different people every night.’ And it originally started out as a combination of journalists and musicians and whatnot. But, I’ve been lucky. I know a lot of people in the entertainment business and when I would think of someone, I would give them a nudge, and they would say, ‘Oh, I’ll be there in a heartbeat.’ So I’m pretty fortunate to have so many lovely, successful friends.

KB: Have you been enjoying it all?

GL: I have.  I have. 

KB: Next year is the 50th anniversary of your self-titled debut album. You’re gonna be busy again, I imagine.

GL: I don’t know. Maybe. I might be. I don’t know yet. I want to get all this done and then disappear for a while.