Friend for a Night…Hero For Life
Have you ever dreamed of meeting your hero or idol? Of course you have. In reality, most people never get to meet them. They only dream about it. This story is proof that dreams do come true.
I have been a Rush fan since I was 14 years old( I am now 43) when I won one of their albums at a dance contest. Fortunately, I was not forced to dance to a Rush song as that might have proved difficult. Whenever I hear a Rush song somewhere it instantly brightens my mood. They have been a positive influence throughout my life.
The guitar player of Rush is Alex Lifeson. I began fiddling around with the guitar in high school. When I was 19 I started playing the guitar seriously and would try to emulate Alex’s complex parts. My room at my parents house had a whole wall full of Rush articles and photos that I had clipped out of various magazines. These still remain there today. Most of these were of Alex. I have been in many bands over the years and everybody says they hear a lot of Rush influence in my playing. That’s a huge compliment as far as I am concerned and I owe it all to Alex.
Throughout the years I have seen them 31 times in concert dating back to 1978. I constantly read about people on Rush message boards who had met Alex or Geddy or Neil and wished I was in their place. I have had recurring dreams of meeting the band since I was in my teens.
So a trip to Toronto was planned in route to a cross country ski vacation north of Toronto. I knew Alex co-owned a bar(The Orbit Room) and had seen photos of him on the website playing at the bar. My heart started beating faster at the thought of seeing him play in such a small establishment. My Girlfriend Rae and I altered our plans a little so we could stop by the Orbit Room on a Thursday night, then Friday we would head up north to do our skiing. On the drive up from Cleveland we played Rush tunes all the way to get us psyched up as we were heading to the home base of Rush, where their history had been forged over the last 32 years.
We took the subway and then a cab to get to The Orbit room on a dreary rainy night. We walked up the stairs…the same stairs Alex had walked up many times before I thought. Just being in the bar that Alex co-owned was a thrill in itself. We got to the top of the stairs and talked to the door man. There were 2 people in the bar and a bands gear set up. I asked the door guy if Alex ever comes in the bar. He replied ”He hardly ever comes by anymore…he’s a little busy these days…He was here in November for our anniversary bash. He only comes in a couple times a year.” Great….he hasn’t been here in 3 months. Not very encouraging to say the least. But if I were honest with myself, I knew way before that my chances of meeting him were slim to none.
On that note we decided to go eat a few doors down a great restaurant called Utopia. We enjoyed a fine meal and then decided to head back to The Orbit Room. We started walking up the stairs and the band was extremely loud and I sad to Rae that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to pay $7 to see a loud cover band. Rae said “What the heck…we’re here…lets check ‘em out anyways.” We re-encountered the door man again and he informed me that his brother, the manager of The Orbit Room, and Alex were having dinner somewhere close by. “So there’s a chance” he says. I wanted to ask him where the hell they were eating so I could just go meet him right now! But I knew that wasn’t the cool thing to do. We sat down and got settled at a table right next to the door man. Not 2 minutes goes by when the door man leans over to me and says “You’re in luck.” What?! He’s here. Oh My God! I looked at Rae and said “He’s here” in a voice that wanted to scream out but remain cool and calm at the same time. She looked at me like I was nuts and making this all up as a cruel prank.
A few guys walked into the bar and none of them were Alex. “Where the hell is he?” I thought. At that moment I turned my head and there he was with a big smile on his face and his hand extended to shake my hand. Apparently, the door man had told him that there was a fan waiting to meet him and pointed me out. I stood up shook his hand and leaned over to him and said “Thanks for inspiring me to pick up the guitar 24 years ago.” He smiled and told us to sit down and that he would be back later. I never expected him to come back. I had met him and said what I wanted to say. I was satisfied.
About 30 minutes went by and I was trying to comprehend what had actually happened. I felt like I was in a dream. Is this real? Can this really be happening? Rae and I just couldn’t believe it. What are the odds? It was destiny I thought to myself. I was destined to meet him. All of a sudden he shows back up and pulls up a chair right next to Rae and right across from me. Holy ######! What do I say? I only had one line prepared. Now he’s hanging out with us and I have no clue what else to say. Rae begins talking his ear off. I just pray that it’s not too much to drive him away. The band is playing so loud I anxiously wait for a song to end so I can ask him how the new album is going. Finally I get my chance. He seems to light up and tells me how well the writing is going and says they have 6 songs done and a few more sketched out. Oh my God!! I now have exclusive information on how the new album is going. This is huge news!
I tell him I play a PRS guitar and tell him how great they are. Duh, you idiot! He knows that already. He’s a freaking spokesman for the company. That was stupid! I then say I got a pick of his he threw out at a show. Now I am sounding like a typical fan. My worst nightmare. I redeem myself by asking about the ending song played during the credits of the new Rush R30 DVD. He said he has a lot of stuff he messes around with in his studio and that was something he had laying around.
Rae continues to talk his ear off and she is in a much better position to talk to him than I am unfortunately. She asks if we can get pictures with him and he says sure. I snap one of him and her and then she snaps one of me and him.
He put his arm around me for the picture and you can see the disbelief written all over my face.
I tell him that I first saw Rush on the Farewell to Kings tour in 1978 and he says, “Wow that was a long time ago” and asked what the name of the venue was and I told him Veterans Memorial. He asked if UFO was the opener and I told him April Wine was actually the opener. He then proceeds to whip out pictures of his grandchild. How cool is this? He’s like a regular guy. Wait ….he’s my hero…there’s nothing regular about him. He’s immortal. He can leap tall buildings in a single bound. But still he seems so normal.
Alex ended up sitting with us for 30 unforgettable minutes. He bought us drinks and chatted with us like we were old friends. Rae asked him if he was going to play with the band and Alex replied “I have to ask the band first.” Most guitar gods would have just felt a sense of entitlement and barged up there and started playing.
He finally excused himself from our table as someone brought a guitar from down the street for him to play. What a bonus! First I get to meet him, now I am going to see him play 10 feet away from me in a bar the size of a large living room. He began tuning up to the guitarist in the band when the doorman leaned over to me and said, ”He probably hasn’t tuned his own guitar since 1975.”
Little by little he started to play a few more licks with the band.
A staff member from the bar came up to me and said “This is your lucky night eh?” It seems like the whole bar staff was happy for me. After one song the band took a break and Alex disappeared in the back.
The doorman leans over and tells me one of the guys that came in with Alex was Alex’s son. Very cool. He asks me if I like the band Joydrop. I said I had one of their CD’s and loved it. He then says “Well that’s the lead singer right over there and she was also on the Rock Star INXS TV show….Her name is Tara.” I instantly remembered her from the show but had no idea she was also the Joydrop singer. The doorman then told me that the drummer in the band that was playing was the drummer on the Joydrop album as well. He called both of them over and introduced them to us. They were both super nice and chatted with us for a bit. Another staff came up to me and said “You get Rush and Joydrop in the same night…not bad eh?” Indeed.
Alex reappeared from the back as the band started their second set and Alex was still sitting in with the band.. This time he played throughout the entire song as they played a total of 3 songs together. I was trying to imagine what the band members on stage must be thinking playing with a legend like Alex.
We managed to snap some pictures and even take some video of him playing. I felt guilty for being jealous but I couldn’t help myself. Alex then blended back into the crowd and finally into the back.
We watched the rest of the second set and then time was becoming a factor as we had to catch the train before it closed at 1:35pm. We go our coats on as Alex walked to the other end of the bar and sat down with the manager and began chatting. Another bar employee asked if I would email him my photos of Alex with his arm around me. I said sure and he gave me these square cards advertising Alex at The Orbit Room. The doorman said he had never seen those cards before. I really wanted Alex to sign one but didn’t want to intrude on his privacy. The doorman said not to worry about it and that Alex is very cool about the type of stuff. So we walked to the back of the bar and before we even got back to his table he saw us coming and got up and hugged both of us. I said “Thanks for making my dream come true” and he smiled and seemed very flattered. Rae thanked him for taking the time to talk to us. He asked if I wanted him to sign the card I was holding. I said yes. He wrote “To John, Great meeting you…All the best….Alex Lifeson.” I thanked him and he in turn thanked us for coming in.
We walked out of the bar on such a high trying to comprehend everything that just happened. We were in absolute disbelief all night long. Alex absolutely exceeded all expectations of what I thought he would be like in person. He was down to earth, warm, genuine, and caring. Although I’m sure he wouldn’t say we were his friends, he sure made us feel like we were for one special night. And that’s good enough for me. Check out the video footage here