I am not an Iron Maiden fan. I’m not even a fan of Bruce Dickinson’s solo work. But I most definitely am a fan of Bruce Dickinson. Seems the Maiden frontman is something we don’t see much of these days. He’s a polymath. Now think about who that word conjures. Thomas Jefferson. Benjamin Franklin. Maybe Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson, who is a fish farmer and scientist. Bruce? He’s a fencer, writer, airline pilot, entrepreneur, movie producer, and… Oh, hell, I’m pretty sure I forgot something.
Oh, yeah. He plays in a band called Iron Maiden. Perhaps you’ve heard of them?
As Dickinson was wrapping up his autobiography, What Does This Button Do?, he added cancer survivor to the list. And his approach to curing mouth and neck cancer was to treat it like another project, working out and carbing up before radiation and chemo treatment, researching how to attack the problem (Avoid WebMD!) and its possible root causes.
And when I say he’s a pilot, he’s a pilot, certified to fly the 737, 747, and 757, and having done test flights on the 787 and A320. He even flew Ed Force One, the zombie-emblazoned tour plane for Maiden’s later tours. Why not? He’s a captain, and he worked for the airline leasing the band the plane.
Dickinson could have written a straightforward “Look at me! I’m the lead singer!” self-congratulating tome. Instead, he looks at his life as a wild story that he had the best seat in the house to watch. Ironically, there’s little talk of bass player Steve Harris (who nonetheless is clearly first among equals in Maiden) or his ex-wife or kids. At the end of the book, he explains he set out to tell a really good story and had to leave out enough anecdotes and events to fill “800 pages.” Dickinson does not want to dish. Harris gets less mention but more respect than the rest of Maiden (even Blaze Bayley, though Dickinson refuses to listen to Blaze’s work because, frankly, it was Blaze’s job and Dickinson needed to stay out of the way. Van Halen singers not named Cherone, take notes. Copious notes. This is how you handle your successor/predecessor’s legacy.)
The title tells you all you need to know about Bruce Dickinson. “What does this button do?” sums up his philosophy. Aviation started for him with flying lessons on a Piper Cub in Florida and led to his certification in the US and Europe on some of the biggest airliners in the world. He’s an intellectual yet a rebel. And on audio, he narrates his story with a wink and a nod, letting you know that the star of this particular show is not a god, just an average bloke who can’t stop learning new things. We should all be so lucky.
And more rockers should be so smart and humble.