Joni Mitchell and Rush are almost as synonymous with Canadian culture as maple syrup, poutine, and ice hockey. They have both helped shape the musical DNA of their fine country, and Mitchell takes up ample space on Geddy Lee’s record collection.
Musically, Rush and Joni don’t play from the same hymn book, with their pioneering brand of prog-rock is cut from a different cloth to her, she did play an essential role in Geddy Lee’s life ever since adolescence. They both share a homeland, which gave Mitchell’s work further relativity due to the proximity element. That facet, coupled with her exquisite songwriting, is a recipe that still manages to make Lee feel fuzzy inside today.
Speaking about his primary influences in 2002 with CNN, Lee reeled off how she helped make him want to become an artist. He explained, “Certainly The Who played an important part in my early life. Joni Mitchell, in a way, I used to love her music when I was young. Neil Young, so many artists. I was such a huge music lover when I was a kid, and I had an enormous record collection.
“I don’t know if one message or one person’s music helped me psychologically, but I know the music of many, many bands, and many individual artists always moved me and made me want to be a musician, so in that sense, they affected my life very directly.”
Over a decade later, Lee opened up further about his adoration for Mitchell when speaking to The Quietus in 2012. The singer opened up the keys to his encyclopedic mind and revealed 13 of his favourite albums. Blue was one of the records he listed, and although Lee admits that it didn’t play a role in the formation of Rush, there’s something magical that happens when he drops the needle on the wax.
“As a young Canadian, I was very aware of Canada’s folk legacy. From Gordon Lightfoot to Neil Young,” Lee explains. “Of course, Joni Mitchell loosely falls into that broad category, although her music is impossible to pigeonhole, really. Even as far back as Blue, you could hear traces of jazz… oh, all sorts of things. Everybody seemed to have this album. It is one of those records that always seemed to hang in the air.
“The songwriting is sublime and has never dated. It is not a record that actually had any effect on the formation of Rush, but it was something that captured those times and can instantly transport me back there. I don’t know if it is her best album but it is certainly the one that cut through all the other music around. It is also very, very beautiful.”
Their music might be from two opposite ends of the musical spectrum, and the broad range of Lee’s taste is what helped give Rush their unique, celestial sound. Subconsciously, these albums soaked into the psyche of Lee, and even though his life headed down a disparate route, it’s undeniable that he is blessed with a similarly mercurial touch.