Kind of Blue-Collar

Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson on Huxley and the proletariat

"Most of it was like middle-class college kids who went to art school who desperately wanted to be working-class. And that part of it was just bullshit."

He says Iron Maiden's members "would have been bashing out sheet metal or working in some factory had it not been for music. So I ended up joining them. And it was ironic that I got cast into the mold as, 'Ah, yes, the guy that went to private school joins the blue-collar band.' And I'm like, 'Ah, well, okay. I'm just not gonna go rewrite history and go, "Hey, look, I'm as blue-collar as they are; let me show you my credentials."' Who gives a shit?

"So I used to look at these people [punks] and go, 'You know what? All these fake working-class accents is just bullshit.' I ended up joining Iron Maiden. And Iron Maiden is a legit blue-collar band. Most of the guys all left school at 16."

Tattooed millionaires: Bruce Dickinson (foreground) 
and the men of Iron Maiden.
Tattooed millionaires: Bruce Dickinson (foreground) and the men of Iron Maiden.

If nothing else, the Madison Square Garden sellout (in March) was some sign of a grand return. Yet Brave New World -- a record with no rapped choruses and hip-hop beats -- has yet to crack 200,000 in stateside sales. Do words like "obsolescence" ever creep into his mind? And are rock's real chart rulers -- the sport-metal rap dorks selling 20 times as many records as Maiden now -- a threat?

"Not in the slightest," he says. "For starters, it depends on what type of obsolescence. I mean, motorcar engines have been obsolete for years. If you look up top-fueled dragsters, I mean, they're prehistoric. But people still go out of their way by the thousands to go and watch them every week. Because it's fun. And, actually, whether or not music is or isn't obsolete, the whole word 'obsolescence' becomes meaningless in musical terms. Because stuff gets recycled. And it's simply a question of style and opinion whether or not anything is relevant. And those things change like the wind. I'd much rather say that Iron Maiden has a classic sound. And whilst you can tinker under the hood of the engine, it's always gonna be a muscle car. It's always gonna be that kind of music."

Dickinson asserts his return to the Maiden's fold wasn't motivated by money; rather, he was feeling energized after a nourishing retreat. He loathes those who continue to use rock 'n' roll as some gluttonous gravy train to self-gratification. He could be talking about Aerosmith or KISS or any number of groups long past their best who resort to sellout tactics of the highest order.

Maiden, to many, including Dickinson, is one of the greatest heavy rock bands of all time for not employing such policy.

"I mean, it's greed, isn't it? It's like, 'We have a career, we've built up lots of self-respect, and we have the respect of our fans. But you know what? We don't give a shit about all that, all we give a shit about is money.' And it's greed. And, so, the greed factor lights up. And all of a sudden it's like, 'What do we need to sell, 10 million records? Wow. Let's get somebody else to write all of our songs, no matter how cheesy they are. And get some other guy who's produced all these hits to produce them all.' You might as well just go onto the strip and sell your ass rather than be a musician at that point. Because that's effectively what you do. I mean, you are then, at that point, a musical hooker. Just a prostitute with a guitar. So that's what Maiden's never done. Ever.

"I don't know why people can't figure out something in life that they really believe in, as opposed to something in life that just makes them famous. It's a fucking modern disease. And it's awful because everybody has an identity. Everybody's different."

Other things rile Dickinson, particularly the omnipresent whiny rock star, the sort mythologized on TV biographies like VH1's Behind the Music and Storytellers.

"[It's] the same rotating litany of sad stories and drugs and 'I earned $25 million last year and still I'm not happy, boo hoo hoo. Did I ever tell you about my abusive childhood, boo hoo hoo. And I still earned $25 million last year, boo hoo hoo. I should have another 15 mil but I don't know where it's gone. Boo hoo hoo.' I mean, goddamnit, these guys wouldn't last 15 minutes in any decent bar anywhere in the world. Some guy would come up and just say, 'Oh, fuck off,' and smack the livin' hell out of 'em. And this would be a place where they couldn't get sued in a country where you have to stick up for yourselves and not 'ave a bunch of weasels in suits there for you."

Dickinson claims he quit Maiden simply because he wrote himself off as a metal singer, that he felt "old and tired." But at the time it was well documented that he and the band's founder, bassist Steve Harris, were at each other's throats. The two, he says, are now mates.

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