Red, Rush And A Head Full Of Stars (the Manchester edit)
The train pushed north through rods of rain and a headwind that could make your teeth rattle. The passing countryside a smear of greens and black. Geddy Lee, eyebrows arched over round, tinted, spectacles, holds up his phone to show me a vintage Rush ticket for a gig at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall in 1977. “All The World’s A Stage tour, I’d guess, we went to Wales to record A Farewell To Kings after that”, a quizzical furrow forming a line between his eyebrows. A beat, “£1.50, wow”.
“The Free Trade Hall, that’s a hotel now,” someone says to me on the stage at The Dancehouse later that night. The room brimming with people and noise, the queue to get Geddy’s Big Beautiful Book of Bass signed, Rush playing through the venue’s PA. Earlier in the evening, we’d sat on the stage and talked about bass guitars (a Steinberger bass has no head, that’s about the upper limit of my bass guitar nous), Rush, writing, but mostly about a life lived making music and dealing with all of that when it ends. Then, we went to the audience, an audience I chose to heckle, not least the poor kid who looked like an 80s-era Geddy Lee. “Do Subdivisions!”, I shouted at him, I could only admire the way he shrugged it off with a smirk, he, like the rest of the room only had eyes for Geddy Lee. And who could blame them? No European R40 tour, through no fault of Geddy’s, he’d still be leaping into the air to 2112 if life and circumstance had taken him that way, this was the closest to the great man they were going to get now.
A few days before at the giant Waterstones bookstore in London, I’d stood in the basement as hundreds of fans (almost all men, almost all in Rush shirts) walked through the door and realised that Lee was literally feet away from them, though still at the end of a slowly snaking line. There were very audible gasps, silent shock and awe, people stilled and stopped, their phones and cameras hanging loosely in their hands, slack-mouthed, Geddy Lee, just there, grinning, signing books, fist bumping strangers like long awaited friends. Once they get to the podium some forget to speak until they’re prompted by Lee, it’s as if he’s brought them back to life, they come to and he’s standing there smiling, pen poised to sign their book and then they can’t believe they’re not dreaming.
Dreamline: as the book tour made its way across Canada, Lee started wearing the promotional T-shirts I had made for my second novel, The Death and Life of Red Henley. Lee and Neil Peart are fans of both Cross Country Murder Song and Red (which the 15 year old in me will never truly come to terms with), but I had no idea that Geddy would wear the top at his book signings until strangers started posting pictures of a grinning Lee with my book title and name emblazoned across his chest and stomach.
He sent me a note that said he had Red with him on the road and I assumed, quite wrongly, that he had taken a copy to read, touring, any touring, has long stretches in the day to fill and books are good for that. I’m still not sure if he even took the book with him, not that it mattered once he started wearing the top. People bought the T, some bought the book too. When he walked out of the lift at the hotel in Manchester, as we were leaving for the venue, I saw that he was wearing it again (he has two now) and wished I packed a Rush top to return the compliment.
For a while, Geddy helped me develop the manuscript for Red as TV show, helped get it optioned, helped me create a world set a year after the novel, he’s got a great editing eye and notes for days. The manuscript sat in LA for a year and then came back to me to become the novel you may or may have not read yet. If I want, I have the bones of a book that could be the follow up to Red because of all those ideas and sketches he and I sent across the water and back. Though that’s not the next book, the next book is another, removed and more disturbed world altogether.
Back on stage a young fan asked Geddy for some career advice, after he told him to always take his wallet on stage when he played, Ged said, in so many words, that he needed to keep on keeping on, work harder, play his instrument more, write anytime you can, surround yourself with the right people. And then there we are the morning after, in the greying light of Manchester Piccadilly station, surprised fans from the night before startled to see their hero standing there waiting for his train to Glasgow. Which is where I left him until the next time, pushing through the gate for my train back to London. Two travellers headed in different directions, waiting for the next thing, to keep on keeping on.