An ode to Iron Maiden.
The first time I went to an Iron Maiden concert, I was 14 and almost cried when, during “The Trooper,” Steve Harris’ blue bass reflected light like a laser beam into my eyes and momentarily blinded me. I was leaning far too far over the railing and lost my balance. A strong hand pulled me back from falling into the Hollywood Sportatorium’s crowded abyss below. Dude had a fat joint hanging from his open lips. “Hey, man,” he said, “hit this.”
I didn’t then. That came later. But I was high enough that night. I’d been listening to rock and metal since I was 8 years old and heard Kiss Alive II. Seeing Iron Maiden on their Powerslave tour cemented not only my love of metal—it was my first concert, and the ridiculously entertaining Twisted Sister was the opening band—but hanging off that balcony in a cloud of smoke, with leather, neon spandex, and tattered denim all around me, with the music enormous and real in my rib cage, that show tattooed my devotion to Maiden into the very core of my DNA.
I’ve enjoyed a lot of metal bands, and I love all kinds of music, from Marley to Muse to Manu Chao to Mastodon, but nothing I’ve ever listened to has had more pull than Iron Maiden.
The galloping martial groove, the walls of sound, Bruce Dickinson’s siren voice: I was smitten at age 13 when by chance I heard “Flight of Icarus” at a mall in Miami.
A few years later, my buddy Jay picked me up to go to school near the end of his senior year (my junior year). Everybody got out of the back seat as we pulled into the parking lot of Beach High. Jay looked at me over the roof of his brother’s red Scirocco.
“The option is on the table,” he said.
“Orlando or Key West?”
“Whatever. Let’s do this.”
Listen, you’ve been there. An album, a record, a tape, a CD, a file, whatever, that music you can’t let go of ever. We hit the Turnpike, slipped in Powerslave, and rocked our brains to mush, our throats raw, and our necks sore.
In 1988 I went on the first March of the Living, a two week, emotionally wrecking rollercoaster of a teenage tour through concentration camps in Poland that ended in Israel.
After a few celebratory days in Israel, we had a couple of days to spend with friends or family. About a dozen of my very best friends had been spending that whole year—after they’d graduated the year before—learning and working in Israel.
Stuart, who had moved to Israel sometime before and was on leave from military service for the weekend, picked me up at the bus depot. We hugged, got in his parents’ SUV, and he asked what I wanted to listen to.
I pulled out a tape I’d saved for just that occasion: Iron Maiden’s Live After Death. It may have been the first time in my life that I was purposefully and meaningfully ironic. We banged heads and screamed lyrics as he drove through hills of sunlit stone and dusty faces from Tel Aviv to Tiberias.
“Two Minutes to Midnight” was especially cathartic, but when “The Trooper” came on, I looked at Stuart, stopped the tape, and asked him what kind of shit he’d been through in the army so far. He smiled. “What shit?” he said. “Some shit here, some shit there. Tremendous shit. Fuck shit. Put the music back on.”
Somewhere there are pictures that survived that night. We all drank way, way too much beer and Arak. When the festivities began, I was wearing a black and pink Kiss concert tee from the recent Crazy Nights tour. The sun woke us up on a roof. Pebbles in my hair. A different shirt. A rooster greeting, the call of a muezzin, a car alarm: the sounds of dawn. Someone put up coffee.
A couple of years ago, my son asked me about Iron Maiden. He was 12.
I said, “I’m going to properly introduce you to the best metal band ever.”
I printed out Lord Alfred Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade” and the lyrics to “The Trooper,” one of Maiden’s more famous songs off of Piece of Mind.
“Go to your room and read this poem and the lyrics to this song. Prepare to discuss the similarities and differences in about 15 minutes. Then I’ll play you one of my favorite songs of all time.” It’s got to sometimes suck having an English and Social Studies teacher for a dad.
He came down 10 minutes later, ready to rock.
“These lyrics are like the voice of one of these 500.”
I have taught my padawan well.
We blasted “The Trooper.” My daughter, who was 9, came down the stairs wearing her school skirt and shirt and knee socks.
“Is this Iron Maiden?”
“I like this!”
And it doesn’t end. I’ve skipped the time I sang on stage with the band during “Heaven Can Wait” on the Fear of the Dark tour. I skipped the time my wife and I hung out with the band back stage and had a couple of beers with Dave Murray and Steve Harris. I didn’t tell you how my son and I have jammed “Blood Brothers” in the car and sang every lyric together like it was a Chassidic niggun.
Maybe the martial artist and the reader in me are attracted to the martial rhythm and the lyrics that read like a fantastical comic book university course on Western Civilization. Maybe it’s the power of their guitars and imagery, the drums and bass changing the beat of my heart. I could go on, but I wouldn’t know where to stop. I’m a slave to the power of Iron Maiden forever.
Up the Irons, mates.
photo Adels / Flickr