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In Defense of Janick Gers, the [Second] Most Badass Dude in Iron Maiden

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If you’ve seen Iron Maiden live within the past 27 years, it’s been difficult not to notice him.

No, not Eddie, the band’s infamous mascot.

Janick Gers, one of the band’s three guitarists, although you’d be forgiven for confusing him with a mascot, because he kinda acts likes one. That’s him up there on stage left (audience right), prancing and dancing around the floor like a fucking goon, allegedly making a mockery of everything metal heads hold so dear.

Gers joined Iron Maiden following Adrian Smith’s departure in 1990, having previously played in White Spirit and Gillan (with former Deep Purple / Black Sabbath vocalist Ian Gillan) before collaborating on “Bring Your Daughter… to the Slaughter” as a solo track for Bruce Dickinson (it would later make its way into Maiden’s catalog). But then a funny thing happened: when Smith returned to Maiden in 1999 the band opted to retain Gers’s services for an unorthodox three-guitar attack.

The reasons Gers attracts so much fan ire are self-evident. 1) He’s not an original (or even really “classic”) member — further, he played on two of the most reviled albums of Maiden’s career during the Blaze Bayley era. 2) He’s not Adrian Smith or Dave Murray. 3) Iron Maiden do not really *need* three guitarists, a fact not lost on Gers, who spends good chunks of the band’s set flinging his guitar around his body and up in the air while Smith and Murray play. But, most importantly, 4) The dance moves. He doesn’t fit. He looks out of place. He moves like a ballet dancer in a genre rife with macho posturing: that’s not metal! To the staunchest of Maiden fans, he’s everything that Maiden are not.

I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong: Janick Gers is a hero. No one will ever question Bruce Dickinson’s status as ultimate Maiden badass — what with his unbelievable stage presence and stamina, piloting the band’s jet around the world, saving starving children, rescuing endangered species, etc. — but it’s time for Gers to get his due.

Face it: as solid as Maiden’s modern output has been, you mostly still care about this band for their bombastic, over the top live shows. And the reason their live shows are so much fun — outside of Dickinson, of course — is because of Janick fucking Gers.

At Iron Maiden’s tour finale in Brooklyn this past Saturday night, a friend summed it up perfectly: “Dave and Adrian just look like old rockers. But Janick is still a badass.” And it’s true. Even the once inimitable Steve Harris seems to have lost a step or two, although he still does a damn fine job (let’s give him the “third most badass member of Maiden” award).

Dude is a one-man entertainment machine. He flips his foot up on top of the speaker, then gives it a playful push as he backs away (“fuck you, speaker! I win.”). More than any other member (Bruce Bruce included), he “fights” Eddie with his guitar, using it as a the powerful weapon it is while running back and forth underneath the mascot’s stilt-raised legs. He flips his axe around his back, maneuvers it back, tosses it up in the air — and never misses a damn note (or maybe he’s just low in the mix… but who fucking cares). He jokes with the crowd, pretending to toss his guitar their way after unleashing a flurry of other memorabilia, only to yoink it back at the last second. His dance moves are artful and delightful, both graceful and rock as fuck, genuine interpretations of the way the music moves him. HE WEARS IRON MAIDEN SHIRTS ON STAGE EVERY SINGLE NIGHT, fer chrissakes!!! What could possibly be more quintessentially Maiden than that?

Here, let’s watch his dance moves:

And his guitar tricks:

And an epic battle with Eddie from the recently wrapped Book of Souls tour:

Yeah, he’s silly. But let us not forget this very important fact: IRON MAIDEN ARE FUCKING SILLY! Their stage production is ridiculous, based around ancient Egypt, the Mayans, the Aztecs, space, and whatever the fuck else. Eddie is literally a cartoon character. Their songs are about the devil and ancient mariners and space odysseys and honestly who the fuck knows what else, and who cares. Bruce Dickinson spent an entire song on Saturday night miming with inflatable monkeys the audience had passed up to the stage. And you’re trying to tell me that Gers’s care-free attitude somehow offends your sensibilities? Fuck off. Iron Maiden are goofy as hell, and Janick Gers is the embodiment of that.

For what it’s worth, Gers is credited as a co-writer on some of Maiden’s absolute best latter day tracks: “Ghost of the Navigator,” “The Mercenary,” “Out of the Silent Planet,” “Dance of Death,” “The Talisman” and the title track from The Book of Souls all bear his name. You’d be hard-pressed to put together a stronger “greatest hits” playlist of Maiden songs following the return of Dickinson and Smith.

None of us want to admit metal is silly, but it is inherently so. A little levity goes a long way, Iron Maiden have plenty of it to begin with, and Janick Gers is the epicenter of that. Simply put, he makes their shows more fun than they’d be if he wasn’t there. I’d say that alone makes him worthy of keeping around, no? And sure, I’ll say it: Maiden sound better with three guitarists anyway.

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