SOMEWHERE INSANE: BRUCE DICKINSON WENT LOONEY THERE FOR A MINUTE
I was a teenager when singer Bruce Dickinson departed Iron Maiden. It was 1993 and years away from the internet, soon to be our tool for crawling up the asses of any celebrity, even a metal musician. So at the time, I was left to make sense of his resignation using only his words and those of his former bandmates, i.e. official sources.
So I could only speculate about the real story: To me, the culprits were probably burn-out (due to Maiden’s relentless schedule) and bassist Steve Harris’ tight control of Maiden’s creativity. I also suspected that Harris harbored a belief that his Maiden could prosper regardless of personnel; after all, he and manager Rod Smallwood had unflinchingly replaced guitarist Dennis Stratton, singer Paul Di’Anno, drummer Clive Burr, and then-guitarist Adrian Smith just in the band’s first decade as recording artists. My friends called this ‘Arrygance.
But what I didn’t know until now was that Bruce Dickinson had gone slightly, charmingly bonkers. According to interviews from back then (that I just read), it started after the massive World Slavery Tour in 1985, when Dickinson submitted to Iron Maiden a set of acoustic folk songs for what would become the Somewhere In Time album. He felt that Maiden risked stagnation unless they unleashed “a Physical Graffiti or Led Zeppelin IV,” a project “audacious, vast, and daring.” Harris stated that Dickinson was “so fried that he couldn’t write anything. Anything coherent, anyway. He’d lost the plot completely.” Producer Martin Birch agreed with his employer: “[Dickinson’s songs] had to go. They just weren’t right.”
It wasn’t until the band convened to commence recording that Dickinson was informed of his material’s rejection by the band. Says the singer:
“In the Bahamas when we were recording the album, Martin told me that the others didn’t like my songs. So I went away and thought, ‘Well, what shall I do here? Shall I throw a wobbler, pack my toys, and go home?’ But I’d gotten far enough away from the state of mind I was at [upon completion of the Powerslave tour] to go, ‘Who knows? They could be right. Maybe I am a basketcase.’ And so I convinced myself that I should go with it. Still, I felt like a fly being swatted … for a long time inside.
“I’d been very messed-up in the brain department at the time. It was like … your brain throwing a temper-tantrum, saying ‘I’m not going to write any more of this stuff! I hate it! Look what it’s done to me! Why can’t I stick my finger in my ear and be a folkie?’”
The next Maiden album, Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son, seems to have marked a return to good collaborative health in Iron Maiden, though for its follow-up, Dickinson was again finding inspiration in um odd places. He stated in 1990:
“The title of [No Prayer For The Dying‘s lead track] ‘Tailgunner’ came from a porno movie about anal sex. Then I thought, ‘I can’t write lyrics about that!’ So I wrote it about real tailgunners.”
So, alternate title = “Buttfucker”? Pretty weird! But alas, Bruce had only begun to weird. Here’s Dickinson on “Holy Smoke,” his indictment of dishonest televangelists:
“I had this big image of all those ovens in the death camps with preachers’ feet sticking out and holy smoke going up.”
Wha? That’s not just confused. It’s also confusing!
On his interpretation of the Nightmare On Elm Street movies, for which he wrote “Bring Your Daughter … To The Slaughter”:
“I tried to sum up what I thought the Nightmare On Elm Street movies are really about: adolescent fear of period pains. That’s what I think it is deep down. When a young girl gets her period, she bleeds and it happens at night. So she’s afraid to go to sleep, and it’s a terrifying time for her sexually as well. The real slaughter in the Freddy Krueger movies is when she loses her virginity.”
He couldn’t make “Daughter” any less likable with that groce explanation, but geez did he have to ruin the Nightmare On Elm Street movies for us?
Finally, Dickinson revealed his inspiration for “Hooks In You”:
“Me and my wife went to look at a house to buy, and it was lived in by three gay guys. One of the guys was into S&M and leather and stuff; in one room there were these enormous industrial hooks screwed into beams. My mind boggled at what the could be used for. I couldn’t write [“Hooks”] about gay guys, but what if you went round to the house of Mr. and Mrs. Average and found all these hooks in the ceiling? What do they get up to?”
Ugh, what metal fan wants to imagine average Brits having kinky sex? Man, it’s like he was trying to get fired. Regardless, Dickinson returned to sanity and Iron Maiden in 1999. Since then, Maiden has resumed a grueling tour schedule, with Dickinson also serving as captain of the production’s jumbo jet, and has released four good-to-brilliant albums. So geez he may be overdue for a crack-up. Let’s keep an eye on that :)