Literally the most interesting man in the world

Anyone who listens to heavy metal on anything approaching a regular basis has heard of Bruce Dickinson. He is, quite simply, THE best heavy metal vocalist out there today.

There was a time when one could dispute that accolade. The case could be made that Ronnie James Dio or Ian Gillan or Rob Halford had a better voice. Arguments could be made in favour of other, less well known metal luminaries with powerful operatic voices and multi-octave ranges as well.

However, Rob Halford's voice is nowhere near what it used to be- the man is getting on to seventy years old, after all- and neither is Ian Gillan's. And Ronnie James Dio is... well, he isn't, anymore, to every metal fan's great sorrow.

For any man but Bruce Dickinson, being known as the greatest heavy metal frontman of his age, and perhaps of any age, would be the crowning achievement of his life. He could sit back and rest on his laurels quite happily and never have to work another day of his life while living extremely comfortably off the royalty cheques that come from being the frontman of THE GREATEST BAND OF ALL TIME- otherwise known to you and me as IRON MAIDEN.

Bruce Dickinson is assuredly not most men. And his autobiography shows you, in considerable detail, exactly why.

The "Air Raid Siren" has a list of hobbies, pastimes, and achievements that simply boggle the mind. On top of being an effin' legend of a singer, Bruce Dickinson also is or has been, in no particular order:
  • A published author
  • A highly qualified pilot who has logged thousands of flight hours in many different aircraft
  • A collector of rare aircraft
  • A professional airline captain
  • Very nearly an Olympic-level fencer for Great Britain
  • An entrepreneur, several times over- with his own fencing equipment business and an aircraft maintenance outfit
  • A motivational/business event speaker
  • A longtime broadcast radio presenter
  • A TV documentary presenter
  • A scriptwriter
  • A film actor (in cameo roles)
  • A beer connoisseur
  • A beer brewer and developer (sort of)
  • A prolific songwriter
  • A highly accomplished solo artist with several amazing albums to his name
  • A proud father of three children who have turned out rather well in their own right
And those are just the highlights. On top of which, he is- as I may have mentioned before- THE GREATEST METAL SINGER ALIVE TODAY.

Bruce Dickinson's career stretches over forty years now, and his brilliant, exceptionally well-written, and very, very funny autobiography gives you an outstanding overview of his life and times through the eyes of one of the most genuinely gifted men alive today.

There are not many men, alive or dead, who truly deserve the accolade of "polymath". Paul Bruce Dickinson is one of those who assuredly do.

The book starts out right where you would expect, with Bruce's birth to parents who were most thoroughly unprepared for his arrival, and his youth spent in the mining towns of the English north. Winding its way through his awkward adolescence and his time spent in boarding schools and then high schools- Bruce's description of how he was expelled for effectively urinating in the headmaster's dinner has to be read to be believed- we get to his time spent in college and his singing career, and about a third of the way through the book, we arrive with him at the beginning of his tenure with IRON MAIDEN.

From there we are taken on a whirlwind tour through the next ten years spent at the helm of the greatest band ever to grace the Earth, and what an experience it is. Reflecting as it does the character of the man himself, this book does not take anyone or anything too seriously; the anecdotes contained within poke fun at everyone, including himself, and yet there is a certain level of respect and reverence for the fans and the reader that never goes away.

The book glosses over the split with IRON MAIDEN that took place in the early 90s, which is perhaps not too surprising given that there was actually quite a bit of bad blood at the time, and given that, in the nearly 20 years since then, all has been forgiven between the various parties involved and the band has come back bigger, badder, and more amazing than ever. It delves into Bruce's solo career, his career transition into becoming an airline pilot, and his journey right back to his old mates in Maiden.

It closes out with a chapter about his battle with cancer, which, thank Almighty God, he won handily. And it spares no details either about just how messy and ugly that fight really was, or the terrible toll that it took upon his health, mental well-being, and sense of self.

That story of survivorship holds a particularly poignant quality for us hardcore fans. I saw IRON MAIDEN performing live at the very last show of their Book of Souls: Live Chapter tour in Brooklyn back in July, and when they performed the second encore, "Blood Brothers"- one of my absolute favourite songs of all time- it was impossible to hold back the raw emotions, the tears, and the sheer joy that we all felt in seeing the band that we love so much, that means so much to us, up there at the very peak of their powers and skills.

There in front of us, by the grace of the Lord, was the greatest band ever, performing a song that spoke to us all about brotherhood, honour, loss, grief, and respect- and one that, just two years earlier, might never have happened if the Grim Reaper had claimed the life of a much-beloved man.

It was a moment that transcended words, a deathbed memory that will always be with me.

As for the book itself, it is impossible to pick out just one highlight that stands out from all of the rest. It was excellent from start to finish, packed full of memorable anecdotes, larger-than-life characters- there is a particularly hilarious story about how Bruce met his idol, Ian Gillan, after puking his guts out in a toilet due to some very strong weed and Ian showed up to steady him and hand him a towel- and extraordinary circumstances.

This is a book written by a man with a powerful and profound sense of humour, who loves his fans and writes for them, yet who is respectful of the privacy and honour of his bandmates and his loved ones. Not one word is written about his ex-wife, and virtually nothing at all is written about his current wife of nearly 30 years or their three children. No names of the (assuredly very many) women that Bruce dated and slept with before he got married are mentioned at all; only brief passing references to live-in girlfriends are made, which is a rather refreshing change from the usual rock-biography fare concerning how many groupies X slept with when compared with Y.

Former bandmates and members of the band are also treated with considerable respect, even when they did not necessarily have to be. Paul Di'Anno, for instance, is handled really quite gently, and although former singer Blaze Bayley is given only a sentence or two's worth of time, Bruce goes out of his way to call him a "thoroughly decent" and good man who stepped into the impossibly large shoes that Bruce had left empty. Clive Burr, IRON MAIDEN's original drummer before the ever-entertaining- and unbelievably skilled- Nick McBrain came along, is praised extensively, while the drug and alcohol problems that led to his departure are given honest, but understated, treatment.

This book isn't just for heavy metal fans. It goes way beyond the standard biography of its sort- I'm thinking here of the MOTLEY CRUE biography- and gives an intimate glimpse into the life, times, and mind of a true exemplar of risk-taking, innovation, and human reinvention. More than anything else, Bruce's autobiography shows us all what we could become if only we let our imaginations roam free, capitalise on our opportunities as and when they come, and never, ever lose touch with the inner 8-year-old that sits within each of us.

That little boy within every one of us is the same one that wonders, What Does This Button Do? - and then goes and presses it, and never mind the consequences.

Hilarious, heart-warming, silly, over-the-top, larger-than-life yet down-to-earth, inspiring yet humbling, brilliant and balls-out-insane- this book has it all. Go read it. NOW.


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