Interviewed by Philippe Touchard Source: Enfer Magazine (France) – Number 8
There is a rather hot atmosphere on this Wednesday 16th, in this hotel of the Champs-Elysees quarter of Paris. The whole Iron Maiden staff just arrived at the bar and, as the musicians of the Michael Schenker Group are already there, the discussions are quite loud. With the help of the PR man of Pathe-Marconi, I managed to corner Bruce Dickinson, looking merry with his cap on and a great smile
So Bruce, you're doing it again this year. Are you still ready to wreak havoc like last year?
Oh, yes. I heard there was some kind of trouble in the metro after our gig in the Pavillon Baltar last year.
You could say that! You got the kids so hyped up that they tried to chase Eddie down the metro and the seats suffered quite a lot. Well, that's rock'n'roll! (cheers!)
(cheers!) I love Paris, this is the town where we've given our wildest gigs. It's a great city and that's where we find the craziest audience – the hottest and the funniest, in fact!
It looks like, since you joined the band, Iron Maiden went very quickly from success to success. How did you become the vocalist of the world's most popular band (with the infamous Kiss)?
Steve Harris asked me. I already knew Steve before I joined Samson, and the first time I saw Iron Maiden rehearsing, I was immediately impressed by their music and mostly by Dave Murray. To me, he was a real "Guitar-Hero" and his playing reminded me of Ritchie Blackmore's, who's my favourite guitar player. From then on, I was waiting for somebody to leave so I could replace him, 'cause I was crazy about that band. Then I joined Samson and, as it happens, we toured with Iron Maiden. I remember that, one night after a gig, I had a long conversation with Paul Di'Anno. He was asking me for advice, he wanted to know everything about my vocal technique, 'cause Iron Maiden was really starting to get big. They didn't have any album out and it was a good opportunity for them to open for Samson.
Then, two years later, we all found ourselves in the same studio. Iron Maiden were recording Killers at the Battery Studio and Samson were recording Shock Tactics at the Battery Studio I. So, we all lived together; Clive Burr used to come over often to watch us record, and I used to go and see Steve and the others.
It's at that time that I realised that problems were starting to happen between Paul and the rest of the band.
What kind of problems?
The same probles as those that occurred with Clive Burr and forced him to leave this year. In fact, I think that Paul never fully understood what Iron Maiden was really about.
Psychologically or musically speaking?
The problem was both psychological and musical. The music you want to make comes from your attitude towards a musical concept, so wherever there is creative process, there is also psychology through subjectivity.
Paul had lost all creative pulsion. When he was singing, it felt as if there was no more conviction, and he didn't have any critical sense anymore, he was unable to tell wrong from right.
The problem became obvious when they recorded Twilight Zone, it went to the point where Steve had to tell him how he should sing.
When I record the vocals, I can tell if it's good or not, and if I feel it's not good enough, I do it again until I think it sounds good, then I ask the others what they think.
In order to do things right, you need to feel this inner fire that pushes you onward and forces you to do everything as close as possible to perfection.
You have to be proud of what you're doing. You cannot do things right if you have lost your self-confidence and need to refer systematically to the others, whereas it's not their job.
The last sessions with Paul were really pathetic. He was completely out of it and unable to control himself. I had to leave 'cause it really pained me to see that! Afterwards, I haven't seen the band. I went on tour with Samson. Iron Maiden started their European tour for the promotion of the Killers album, and half of the gigs had to be cancelled because Paul had problems with his voice.
What do you think was the cause for this low point in Iron Maiden's career?
I think that the whole problem was a conceptual problem. You can't afford to play in a band where you're not happy. You have to have a professional approach, mostly in Iron Maiden where there are permanent confrontations between strong personnalities. If you don't stand your ground, you get crushed, and no one can stay in a band if he feels that he's not fully a part of it. In Iron Maiden, everyone must be able to bring his contribution and his initiative, if not, you're not really part of the band and you suffer from it, and the others too.
Finally, after the KillersWorld Tour, was getting rid of Paul the only solution?
It was a collective decision. Steve asked me to sing for Iron Maiden. It was at the Reading festival. Two weeks later, I was rehearsing with them. Then, they went back on the road again to Sweden, Norway, Holland, with Paul who just left right afterwards. At that time, we started working really hard. I had to learn all the songs that were already there and I was preparing the Number of the Beast album. At the end of 1981, we toured Italy, where I familiarised myself with Iron Maiden on stage. Then we came home to record the album, and we went out again for the European tour. From August 1981 until August 1982, I've never been so busy in my life. I didn't stop working.
Going back to the making of the Number of the Beast, I've noticed a lot of progress on this album, as much in the song writing as in the production itself (Note: don't think I'm brown-nosing, I really mean it!). Can you explain?
The problem with Paul had demoralised the rest of the team and, when I joined, everybody had to get a grip on themselves in order to re-build Iron Maiden. On stage, they'd lost the fire 'cause they were worried sick. Paul was not able to front the band like a singer should do on stage, and Steve was the one to address the audience and to look after everything. But Steve only wants to concentrate on his bass. He loves playing bass and get off like this, with peace of mind as to what the band does on stage. So when I joined Iron Maiden, everyone trusted me and this energy came back. All of them could do their jobs without any worries and this new-found serenity can be felt on the Number of the Beastalbum, I think.
Would you say that it is a concept-album?
No. To me, a concept-album is in fact the same song throughout the entire album, with different passages and tonalities. But Number of the Beast is nothing else but a compilation of tracks.
Yes, but there is a certain continuity and many similarities in the songs of the album.
I agree, but this is due to our approach at the time, and we all have more or less the same ideas concerning the great problems, may they concern society, business, or our attitude to the world. People often ask me if Piece of Mind is a concept-album, but it isn't. No more than Number of the Beast. This is due to the fact that we are a real band and we all share the same ideas.
To me, there was a domineering concept in the Number of the Beast album, whose highlight was 'Hallowed Be Thy Name'.
We think that 'Hallowed Be Thy Name' is Iron Maiden's best song. Musically, I think it represents a turning point in Maiden's music. Steve wrote this song as a follow-up to 'Phantom Of The Opera'. In fact, the writing of this song represents in itself a series of concepts. So we can say that it's a "concept-song". Concerning the lyrics, the original idea is in line with that of 'Purgatory' or 'Twilight Zone'. Steve writes a lot of lyrics where several scenes appear one after the other. Every time, he tries to build up an atmosphere, a bit like a theatrical piece.
That's right, when you listen to 'Hallowed Be Thy Name', it's easy to imagine a film. What's interesting in Number of the Beast, and mainly in 'Hallowed Be Thy Name', is that the music summons images.
Yes, the story is seen through the eyes of someone who is about to be taken to the gallows. At the end, he sees it differently and, from fear, hope arises because he knows that he will return, hence the reference to the Bible, "hallowed be thy name".
The lyrics end on the realisation that life is an illusion. What do you think of this?
Well, I don't think that life itself is an illusion, but I think that the way the majority of people look at their lives is an illusion. I mean, they have the illusion that the life they live was meant for them. In fact, they don't look far enough and their original plans are warped by the illusion they have of their own lives.
So many things happen on this earth, and so many people miss them because they are blinded by illusions.
Do you think that music can be an eye-opener on the possibilities life offers and that are ignored?
Maybe, yes. Music can cause a shock inside you and incite you to look beyond your traditional universe. In Iron Maiden, the context and the way our minds work are so present that they can only be expressed through violent music.
Our lyrics are also very importants and the spirituality we'd like to get across are in par with the aggression of our music, because aggression pushes always further the boundaries of understanding, and therefore the intellectual effort, and therefore the opening of the mind.
Take' Revelations', for instance, on the last album.
That's what I wanted to discuss. How far do you, and the other members of the band, get involved in all those questions of spirituality and religion that you have developed on the recent albums?
I take a lot of interest in all the religions of the world and the different forms they take, because I think that all the religions are the mirrors of the various possibilities and opportunities of life that could benefit mankind without being aware of it. I think that, at the beginning of our era, man was much more conscious of supernatural phenomena and that religion has helped to reconcile human nature and paranormal forces.
Well, why not? Although I don't agree.
You don't agree?
No, I think that if there are any such things as supernatural phenomena, they originate in the power the brain has to influence the environment, without man's consciousness being able to intervene. So, I also believe that religion has for aim to make people guitly in order to channel these phenomena and to draw its nature, its essence as a refuge for man who is afraid in front of a mystery, hence the manipulation of human behaviour.
I agree with you when you say that the power of the brain is much more important than we can imagine. However, the advent of religion brought some "officialisation" to these phenomena. Before it reached a level of intense industrial development, society allowed man to become aware of these supernatural powers, which are after all the basis of the religious discourse. So, if you go back to pre-medieval societies, man was living in a world of insecurity, where paranormal phenomena and the awareness of their existence gave him some sense of security, as a counter-balance to the violence of the environment. Today, every individual lives in a safe world and the brain, as well as its powers, has no more need to get protection from nature's dangers. So, only religions appear to incite the lifting of the spirit through a mass-discourse.
And it's no surprise that the great mystics nowadays are all religious. The yogis, the bonzes, the brahmans, and even the christian monks, all practise meditation in order to control their brains that they use like a muscle. If a muscle isn't used regularly, it quickly becomes useless. This is what they know and what the rest of us tend to forget as far as our brain is concerned.
So, you understand my approach. I'm interested in the place of man within the universe, his original relationship with nature, and this is why I have to study religions, in order to define the fondamental problem.
It looks, however, that your approach has considered more the Jewish/Christian discourse. 'Number Of The Beast' refers to the Bible and 'Revelations', on the last album, to Saint John's Apocalypse.
In fact, 'Revelations' has a double meaning. Of course, on the one hand it refers to the Christian mythology, but on the other hand, you can invert the basic idea and it becomes something else if you read between the lines. Do you know Aleister Crowley?
Yes, of course. This mystic who was experiencing drugs, sex, and all these things, in order to make abstraction of his body so he could feel only his mind? I think that he's also criticised all religions, one by one, in his books, right?
Exactly. As an atheist philosopher, he's written fantastic books. He thought that through the mind, by concentrating all his energy in his brain, man could influence the course of events. He denouced religions as deceiving, useless and inviting to passivity. To him, religion was leading to the death of man's mind. According to Crowley, man has to struggle against nature to exercise his brain and the powers it possesses in order to attain supreme felicity. I chose to write 'Revelations' in reference to this theory. Beyond the biblical meaning, there is the principle of man revealed to himself. So, there's a pun because on the one hand it's linked to the biblical theory, and on the other hand there is something that religion want to keep quiet. The first verses of 'Revelations' are taken from an English hymn that we used to sing at school. The song is in three part. It's pretty complicated!
So it's a 'concept-song', right?
Oh yes, absolutely. So the song is in three parts. The first one is made of the first verses from this hymn, and I chose it because there is something visionary in these verses. They were written about a century ago (Note: see text on the cover sleeve of Piece of Mind), and they describe exactly what's happening nowadays.
A lot of money goes around in our society, and the more money you have, the more miserable you are, in fact. The last verse, "Take away our pride", is the centre of the whole mystical universe. The main obstacle to communication and fulfilment is selfishness and a misplaced self-esteem, and these things divide the men.
The next two verses are a reference to hindu philosophy. "Just a babe in a black abyss" is an allusion to Aleister Crowley, the word "babe" refers to the human being, and "black abyss" refers to a desperate world. "No raison for a place like this" shows the nonsense of man's existence on earth if hope is no more. The second sentence in the second verse mentions the "secret of the hanged man".
In popular hindu imagery, the hanged man signifies to "good luck". This is why the hanged man has a "smile on his lips", and this is basically the secret of the hanged man.
Then, we get to the third verse. The most important sentence is"The venom that tears my spine".
Have you ever heard of the significance of the Hindu snake called "Kundalini" in the Yogi mythology?
In Yoga, there's a snake called Kundalini who is supposed to live at the bottom of the spine of each individual. During orgasm or an intense meditation, a spiritual entity called "Samadhi" is created, symbolising the transcendental union with God. Then the Kundalini is freed and goes up the spine all the way to the brain, where it releases its venom. The mixing of the venom with the brain substance create a union with God.
Next verse, "The eyes of the Nile are opening", imply that a whole universe of possibilities is opening as soon as the venom is released inside of you.
So the snake has a constructive value.
Yes, absolutely. In the Bible, it's a representation of evil, whereas in Hindu philosophy, it's the symbol of creation and ecstasy.
In the next verse, there's the expression "Serpent' Kiss", something Crowley discussed in length. Then, there's "The Eye of the Sun". The Sun is the symbol of the creator; it represents the male side of life. A bit further, there's the female side appearing in the term "Moonlight", where the Moon represents the woman. The verse goes, "Moonlight catches silver tears I cry"; and everything's revealed, because silver is the colour of the Sun. So, you find here the universe, with the male entity and the female entity, both being inseparable.
In fact, the universe, as seen in this philosophy, is dual, binary, and any notion only exists through its opposite. In other words, there isn't any manichean separation like in the Christian way of thinking, where good and evil are dissociated while trying to eliminate evil, only the Christian system of values is monolithic. All the other great philosophies encompass this duality of notions, like the Ying and the Yang in China, or the Jewish Caballah. Well, you know, you have to be careful with all these notions because it's all very complicated.
I suppose that you gather many documents long before you start writing lyrics like 'Revelations'?
Oh, yes. I have a large library with all the main works concerning human mystic.
Don't you think that it's somehow a shame that the audience doesn't always understand what you're singing about, as the meaning is apparently only understood by very few?
No, I think that as long as there is some mental energy coming out, there's nothing to regret. Here, I'm explaining everything in detail, but if only a fraction of the lyrics stands out and touch some people, then I think I won't have wasted my time. You can't convince everyone because many notions that are not used are in fact unknown by the majority of people. What's interesting with this song is that you can take only one verse and you can reconstruct a whole new text, make a brand-new song.
How, in your everyday life, do you apply this search and this exploration of the philosophies of the mind?
I read a lot, I listen to people, and I take the time to think and ponder everything I discover in books. Anyway, I don't practise meditation. I tried, but I never could do it. I think that if I could meditate I'd certainly feel better.
The thing is, I feel a tremendous happiness and a fulfilling serenity just by being on stage, because I think this is where I belong, and this is for me the best way to locate myself in spave and time. I think we all have somewhere where we belong, where we can express ourselves and feel absolute satisfaction. The hardest part is to find where.
What do you think about the Japanese philosophy that deal with the role of man in society?
I think that this philosophy uses the study of human behaviour in order to rationalise the economical activity of the society. So, you have four major categories of individuals, all complementary, who actively participate to the life and evolution of the social group. You have the workers, the artists, the warriors, and the priests.
Alright, but this compartmentalisation of individuals is based on a religious and rather elitist vision, as the the leader of traditional Japan, the lord, is closely associated with the monks and priests.
True, but the organisation of societies has always been related to the natural order, therefore to the religious doctrine.
What's important is that you have to find your place, the direction of your existence, because it is the key to fulfilment. In the Japanese doctrine, you can right away find this place in the organisation of society. Too many people around the world cannot find their way, or don't even look for it, and they are unhappy.
Yes, but don't you think that you're forgetting a problem? How about the level of economical development of society? From this point of view, it is difficult for many to reconcile economal survival and mental fulfilment.
OK, there is a material part to cope with, and that's work. But what do many people do after work? They slump down, they drink, they make love... and when they're 70, they retire and get bored because they have nothing left to do. And in the end they die of boredom, without leaving a trace. Others have an inner fire and look for a way all their lives until, maybe, they find their place, a place that gives them absolute satisfaction. This approach corresponds in fact to the way of creation.
OK. You know a lot of things and you have thought about them, but don't you consider yourself very privileged to have enough time to work towards your inner fulfilment, and mostly to have had the chance to get into contact with knowledge, something that many people cannot do, not necessarily because they don't want to, but because they didn't get the chance?
In fact, this is a massive problem. I think that knowledge is a field large enough for anyone to access it any which way they want. You have to be "mentally organised", I mean you have to know whether you want to spend most of your time searching for a particular piece of knowledge, even if it implies casting aside your material problems, or if you want to earn money quickly and ignore your mental happiness, in which case you find yourself rapidly sucked in and crushed by the economical system.
Let's take the simple example of a carpenter who spends his time in his shop making tables and chairs. He's probably happier in his creative work, watching things appear through his handiwork, than the top manager of a large company who doesn't create anything and only piles up millions. His happiness probably comes from the fact that there is the trace of his personality and of his knowledge in what he creates.
Don't you think that little craftsmen, like the carpenter you mentioned, will have less and less room in our society, where machine is gradually replacing man?
There lays the problem. The educational system raises kids as if, twenty years down the line, they will have a job and will be profitable. But there will be less and less work opportunities and, raised according to these economical laws, people will end up with nothing. They won't have any insurance, either material or intellectual, and they will therefore be unable to give a direction to their lives.
Can you roughly tell us what's your education?
I was raised in a very traditional system. My grand-parents were miners from the Sheffield area. My parents sent me early to a private school. They had followed the social evolution of the British working families. So my parents, who were earning money, had risen from working-class to become middle-class, and they wanted me to succeed to get to the next level.
I was unhappy at school, I didn't get on well with the others who, to me, were just greedy opportunists. Eventually, when I was 16, I got kicked out of the school and, as I didn't know what to do, I joined the Forces for a year. Considering my education, I was supposed to take the exam to become an officer. But I strongly disliked officers and army men in general, so I went to London and registered at the university where I studied History for three years. During those three years, I reconsidered everything. It was the first time in my life that I really felt free. I spent the first year partying with my mates – we were pissed every night! At the end of that year, I had put on twenty pounds! During that year, I let myself into all sorts of things: I got into politics with the students, I started playing rock'n'roll, and I tried out all sorts of substances. Anything coming my way was interesting to me, and I'd get into it systematically!
At the end of that year, I decided it was time to calm down a bit. I looked at myself in the mirror and I thought, "I have to stop!" No more beer, or I'll end up dead! I managed keep away for for months, not a drop of beer. In the meantime, I got further involved in rock'n'roll, playing with one band or another, until I joined Samson, which looked like a robust band. I thought that rock'n'roll was giving me the best chances to express myself and to create.
And you know the rest.
(At that point, the manager signals that the interview is soon to be over, amazed that we could have chatted for almost an hour without realising it. Considering that most interviews last for only 15 minutes, I've been really lucky, and I wish to express my gratitude to the PR man, Denis Leprat, who contributed a lot to the good conditions of this interview.)
One last question, Bruce. What is the meaning of Eddie's trepanation on the album cover?
It's an allusion to an old Aztec custom. Originally, the idea was to kill Eddie, but we thought that it was too much. So we trepanated him, like the Aztecs used to do to the sacrifice victims that they offered to their god. In fact, the album was going to be called Food For Thought, but we decided that Piece Of Mind was more subtle.
What is Eddie's place in Iron Maiden's imagery?
Look at a band like Kiss, for example, when they had their make-up, what did you see on stage? Well, you didn't see anything else but four Eddies. They didn't look like musicians anymore, but like clowns. Nobody cared about their musical abilities because they were hidden by the image they were giving of themselves. It's the same with Ozzy Osbourne, although Ozzy's music is worth listening to it! Nobody considers Ozzy like a musician anymore, but like a clown, which is a shame. So, in order to have this character, this clown, and keep our identity as musicians at the same time, we created Eddie.
What values does Eddie represent?
He represents neither good nor evil, he's a pantomime. You see in him whatever you want to see.
OK. Bruce, many thanks for the substance and intelligence of the conversation.
P.S.: I have to humbly add that, in seven months of interviews with all sorts of people, Bruce Dickinson is the only one who managed to teach me something.
Although he is trying to make himself look like a character straight from Quest For Fire, and the press makes it even worse – pictures with his face covered in tomato ketchup, or puking spaghetti (Kerrang), or even holdisg a dish with the bloodied remains of some bird of prey – you need to know that this is pure theatrics. Bruce's intelligence and subtlety are only equalled by the quality of Steve Harris's bass playing!
This Intreview is taken from the Iron Maiden Commentary