Bruce Dickinson’s ‘maiden’ voyage with spoken word

Heavy metal vocalist and all-around renaissance man recounts hanging out at Mike’s Place, surviving cancer and why he would never want to be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

BRUCE DICKINSON  (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
There’s something about a British accent that usually adds an automatic 10 points to the speaker’s IQ. Well, maybe not Ozzy… but fellow rock & roll banshee Bruce Dickinson wouldn’t even need the Royal inflection to sound intelligent.
The longtime vocalist for heavy metal legends Iron Maiden can pepper a conversation with talk of quantum physics, the wonders of poet William Blake and the meaning of life, all accompanied by a youthful chuckle and happy-go-lucky attitude.
Maybe it’s because head banging is just one of many talents the 60-year-old Dickinson has mastered –  he’s also a licensed commercial pilot with years of flight experience, an international fencing competitor, a successful beer brewer, a radio show host, a tongue cancer survivor and the author of an entertaining 2017 autobiography What Does This Button Do?
In between Maiden tours, Dickinson, who debuted with the group on their mega-selling 1982 album The Number of the Beast, is embarking on spoken-word tour based on the book. Before his stop in Israel on December 3 at the Opera House in Tel Aviv, he sat down last week with The Jerusalem Post for a phone conversation.
How are you feeling?  
I’m alright, good… as far as I know, unless you’ve heard anything different. It’s been nearly four years since I finished my treatment [for tongue cancer]. I go back every six months for a checkup and everything is fine.
Has your health battle changed your outlook on life?
Strangely enough, no. I thought it would. When you start treatment, you think: ‘When I get to the end of this, wow, I’m going to look at life totally differently.’
But when I finished, I went... ‘Um… no, I don’t think so.’
I’m just really grateful that I’m alive. Not just alive, but properly alive with everything working. Life is good in the sense that it’s much better to be alive.
However, like most traumatic periods, the trauma sort of fades with time. Which is how it should work – you don’t want to be carrying around that burden. Cancer is a pain in the ass, or wherever you happen to have it. And having gotten rid of it successfully and hoping it doesn’t come back, you don’t live your life on the basis that it might come back. You live on the basis that it’s gone so let’s get on with life.
I suppose that one change is that I might have lost a little patience with people who want to waste my time. Other than that, I just want to grab every opportunity that’s out there.
You seem to attempt diverse projects and excel at them. Is there anything you’ve done that you just haven’t been very good at?
Cooking – you really don’t want to have me cook anything. But flippancy aside, I’m still not very good at maths. I can do enough maths and sciences for my airline pilot stuff – I know what a sine and cosine does, but given a choice, I’ll always go with the word over the number.
For me, the universe is poetic, not scientific. Words fill not just your mind, but your soul. Music is an emotional thing, and even though you can reduce music to mathematics, when I create, it’s entirely from an emotional angle. Sometimes people will say ‘that’s very interesting from a composition aspect, how it goes from this to that to the other,’ and I go ‘Really? I thought it just sounded good.’
One of my favorite poets, William Blake, had a constant battle between science and art – whether the universe is scientific or poetic. But when you think about it, the more you get into Newtonian physics and what is the nature of reality and where do we come from, that is mystical poetry.
As long as you come from somewhere with a view of the world, then that will do. I’m sure a mystical mathematician and a mystical poet can get together for a beer and agree on most things.
You were recently in the headlines for descriptively slamming the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Do you think Iron Maiden has been overlooked?
Ha! I was so annoyed with that coverage because they took my statement out of context to make it seem like I was upset that we weren’t in the hall of fame.
I’m really happy we’re not there and I would never want to be there. If we’re ever inducted I will refuse – they won’t bloody be having my corpse in there.
Rock & roll music does not belong in a mausoleum in Cleveland. It’s a living, breathing thing, and if you put it in a museum, then it’s dead. It’s worse than horrible, it’s vulgar.
Can a hard rock band grow old together?
Maiden is doing quite a good job of that, for the last 40-odd years. We’ve all kind of settled down.
We’ve kind of grown in this weird brotherhood. When you’re 25, you’re a bucket of raging hormones, but once you get that out of your system, you realize that you’re in a fantastic band with an amazing catalogue of music and fans all over the world. Why would we want to screw that up?
We’ve all learned how to give each other space and have grown up. Having kids of our own really helped. When your kids start acting like little rock stars, you go, ‘Oh my God, that was me.’
Israel is mentioned once in your book when you talk about flying the Tel Aviv-London route as a pilot. Have you spent much time here on your travels?
I used to fly the Rangers [Football Club from Glasgow, Scotland] to play Hapoel Tel Aviv about 10 years ago, and before that I regularly flew the Tel Aviv-Heathrow route on 737 charters for Israelis vacationing in England.
I would spend a couple days on the seafront and then fly back home; I’d run up to Jaffa and walk around.
There was a blues bar by the sea, Mike’s Place, where we used to sit and relax and have a beer. There was an absolutely drop-dead gorgeous bar maid who used to wear her combat fatigues. We used to say, ‘Can we get arrested by her?’
Then I read that some asshole blew the place up [in 2003] and I saw a photo of one of the victims and its was that poor girl. It was just terrible. What a pointless, stupid thing to do. We had the IRA blowing stuff up in the UK on a regular basis, and this kind of brought it back home to me.
When I came back with the Rangers in 2007, we went back there and it was resurrected, bigger and better than ever. It was good to see.
Do you get any pushback from people who may not be pleased that you’re coming to perform in Israel?
I don’t even get involved in that stuff. Israel is a country, and that’s it. End of story. People can go there, just like any other country.
If you had to choose between only piloting or singing from now on, what would it be?
I would have to choose performing onstage. You only have to look out the window in the sky to figure out that there’s loads of people who can fly airliners pretty well.
But there’s not too many people who can front Iron Maiden.
Dickinson will hold a question and answer session at the end of the talk, all ticket-buyers will receive a copy of his book. Tickets are available at *5169.