“I don't know if I can play like I played back then”: Alex Lifeson discusses how arthritis is affecting his playing – and why returning to the road might not be wise

Alex Lifeson
(Image credit: Scott Dudelson/Getty Images)

Along with the likes of Keith Richards and Steve Morse, Alex Lifeson is just one of many high-profile electric guitar players who are having to juggle their passion for playing with pain onset by arthritis.

While others have had to fully adapt the way they play (and even invent new accessories) to overcome the physical obstacle, the Rush legend is sticking to a “very effective” medicinal regime – but, despite this, the condition is “slowly getting worse”.

Speaking to Eddie Trunk on SiriusXM, the Gibson signature artist reflected on his dealings with arthritis over the past two decades, and how it has affected his daily playing.

“I have psoriatic arthritis, and I've been dealing with it for quite a while – for almost 20 years,” he revealed (transcribed via Blabbermouth). “I'm on two biologics [biologic drugs for the treatment of arthritis], so sort of like a double whammy in dealing with it. 

“And it's been very, very effective,” Lifeson assured. “Despite the side effects and all of that, it's been a really effective regimen for me, and it's really helped my hands. I have times where the inflammation has its own mind, and that's when you'll see me shaking my hands [while I am playing]. 

“But it is what it is, and I can still get by, and I'm so used to it, I don't really even think about it that much anymore.”

With that in mind, Lifeson was also asked about the possibility of returning to the road, either as part of a new project or a possible reunion with former Rush bandmate, Geddy Lee.

However, with four decades of touring under his belt and his own growing doubts over whether he can still play like he did 10 years ago, Lifeson is in no rush to embark on another tour anytime soon, and says to do so may not be wise.

“The last tour I thought was a terrific tour for Rush,” he reflected. “I thought we played really well. I thought the show was really fun. Going back in time to the beginning was a great way to celebrate the end of the band. 

“I don't know if, at 70 years old, 10 years later, if I can play like I played back then. I haven't played that material in nine years. And if I can't play it like I played it nine years ago, then I really have no interest in doing it. 

“I think Rush has a strong legacy because of the way things ended. We ended on a high note, and that's the way people remember us. And I think that that also is partly the reason why so many people would love to see us back out, because that's the memory they have of us. 

Alex Lifeson

(Image credit: Scott Dudelson / Getty)

“We were dedicated to what we were doing. We practiced a lot. We were passionate. We played our hearts out. Physically, 10 years later, at this stage, [after] these 10 years, I don't know if we can do that. 

“I don't know, can Ged sing like he did? Can I play guitar? Can he play bass like he did? I don't know. Unless we did a big rehearsal and tried to do all that stuff, we'll never know. But just thinking intellectually how this would work, I'm not keen on doing it, really.”

As mentioned, Lifeson isn’t the only A-list guitarist to be dealing with arthritis and other painful joint issues that threaten to hinder their playing. Late last year, Keith Richards explained how he found new ways of approaching the guitar after his own arthritis forced him to alter his playing style.

More recently, Steve Morse sat down with Rick Beato to discuss his own dealings with arthritis, which prompted him to develop a new string mute that helped him adapt his technique.

In other Alex Lifeson news, the guitarist recently turned his attentions to the gear market, unveiling the LERXST By-Tor overdrive and boost pedal, and collaborating with Mojotone to debut a LERXST signature amp range.

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Matt Owen

Matt is a Staff Writer, writing for Guitar World, Guitarist and Total Guitar. He has a Masters in the guitar, a degree in history, and has spent the last 16 years playing everything from blues and jazz to indie and pop. When he’s not combining his passion for writing and music during his day job, Matt records for a number of UK-based bands and songwriters as a session musician.