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RANT 27

My Maiden Affair

Michael

My fanaticism for heavy metal rockers Iron Maiden bloomed at the end of sixth grade, when my eye lids widened at the sight of some seventh graderís jean jacket during recess. Standing with his back to me, within the territorial circle of the "head bangers" – the ones whose parents let them listen to this increasingly popular genre of music – was a magnificent patch of a monster, holding an ax. To the right of the gruesome yet eye-catching creature was the blood red word Killers.

The creature, which I later ascertained as Eddie, the mascot for the band, represented a musical form that looked deadly, bloody, and heavy. I had never heard an Iron Maiden song. None of their music was ever played on American radio stations. This somehow seemed to make sense to me. Who would play music from a band whose mascot was portrayed as a killer? I was already a big fan of AC/DC and Metallica and I never heard any of their songs on the radio either. I came to know the latter bands the same way I came to know Iron Maiden: friends that believed in their music.

Maybe it was the beautiful intricate illustration by Derek Riggs that stayed in my mind, but I wanted in. I wanted to know the music.

Following my bizarre interaction with a patch on the back of some kidís jean jacket, I acted as a fair-weather fan. I pretended to like the music when I was amongst friends, who were also, at the young age of 12 and 13, starting to grow into heavy metal music. We were familiar with other metal acts, but Iron Maiden seemed too metal for us; it seemed like music that was out of our league. The only reason we felt this way was primarily and solely because of the artwork of Eddie. Other bands had mascots that I had seen that were just as intimidating as Eddie: Anthraxís the Not-Man, Megadethís Vic Rattlehead, Kissís face-painting, to name a few. My contact with these bands came later. The bands we listened to didnít have a mascot.

The impressionable group that I spent many of my middle school days with pretended, like me, to be a part of something meaner, riskier, even though we were just a bunch of kids that loved the freedom that rock ní roll provided. We werenít connecting the music with hurting people or causing widespread panic. The music was the music. Either you enjoyed it or you didnít. In our case, we were a curious group of kids that wanted something harder, something more satisfying musically than the pop hits on the radio, which at the time included New Kids on the Block.

Our talk during morning recess about Iron Maiden lasted for weeks on end before any of us did anything about it. Then, Jon purchased Iron Maidenís newest release – at the time – Seventh Son of a Seventh Son on cassette.

If his mother was willing to let him get the album, our parents should let us, too. It was a silly presumption, but my desire was strong and relentless. I knew that if my mother laid her eyes on the cover art, she – a practicing Catholic – would be convinced it was devil music. None of us had to try too hard, though.

Jon brought us all recorded copies of Seventh Son soon after. That night I didnít attend to my homework until a little before bed. Instead, I sat all afternoon and evening listening to the cassette over and over again. It sounded like a mixture of Judas Priest, Rush, and Queen, but a psychopathic version of these artists. On one hand, singer, Bruce Dickinson had a high-pitch, operatic voice that provided a larger than life presence to the music. On the other hand, he had a stifling, eerie voice when speaking during openings or long choruses which complimented the synthesizers and rumbling bass playing of Steve Harris. Dickinson was a perfect match to the often-epic length songs from Seventh Son. The wailing yet melodic sounds from lead and rhythm guitarists, Adrian Smith and Dave Murray, provided a force field of riffs right beneath Dickinsonís life-like voice. The bass galloped endlessly, following in sync with two balancing guitar players. Nicko McBrain, the drummer, pummeled and kicked the drums faster than I had ever heard. The music was alluring and cool, but complicated.

Their music offered more than I was ready for. It wasnít like anything I had heard. Who was the Moonchild? Who was the narrator? Eddie? What Evil Did Men Do? What is a Clairvoyant? Was it possible to imagine infinite dreams?

Within the pool of glam-metal bands singing about booze, debauchery, drugs, and the power of rock ní roll in the late eighties, Iron Maiden wasnít singing about any of these often tiresome subjects.

Much later, it had come to my discovery that Seventh Son of a Seventh Son was a concept album. The songs were centered on a common theme of which I feel The Iron Maiden Commentary page (http://www.maidenfans.com/imc/) can explain much more seamlessly and along the margins of truth than I could possibly muster.

I was never a big fan of the fantasy, science fiction, or folklore genres. The only sci-fi movies that got my attention were Alfred Hitchcockís The Birds and Ray Bradburyís Something Wicked This Way Comes. Dungeons and Dragons was never a hobby of interest to me either. My interests came in things that were more hands on, visible, not imagined. But, strangely, Seventh Son hinted at something peculiarly similar to the fantasy and folklore genres. It took an ambitious imagination to undertake an album that told so many stories and presented an articulated array of varied song arrangements – and still be classified under the heavy metal genre.

After heavy play of an album that, at first, contained complicated guitar shifts and lyrics, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son grew to become a favorite of mine. And since this was their most recent addition to an ever-increasing catalogue of Maiden albums, I had to catch up.

What worked to my benefit during this time was that I had a paper route. If there ever came a point that I wanted other albums, which I would determine by the cover art, I would try to get them.

Months after acquainting myself with the new sound of Iron Maiden, I admitted my love of the band to my mother. Strangely, her response was not what I expected. I didnít show her the cover art because I didnít have anything to reveal. All I possessed was a blank tape.

    "Are there any swears on it?" she asked.
    "No, there arenít any," I said convinced that I hadnít heard one throughout Seventh Son.
    "Thatís fine. I have no problem letting you get a couple on your birthday."
    "But, mom, I have money to buy them now."

She knew I loved heavy metal, but refused to buy me anything that had swears. This posed a problem once when a friend of mine bought me a copy of Anthraxís Iím the Man EP. Upon listening to the tape, swears dripped out of the speakers. Next I knew, my mother had the tape in her possession and soon after, it vanished out of sight, out of mind.

Since I had 30 neatly stacked one-dollar bills saved already, all my mother had to do was provide the means of travel. A couple weeks following my request to have my mom bring me to the mall – and some chores somewhere in between – we went. I ran right into Tape World. This was a highly anticipated introduction. Hurrying over to the I section, I came upon Maidenís Killers album, which contained the same artwork as the seventh graderís patch. I picked that one out right away. The other, only because of artwork, that I chose was The Number of the Beast. While I was picking Iron Maiden tapes, my mom was at the other side of the store, looking for something she might like.

The Number of the Beast was going to be tricky getting past my mother. Right on the cover was the symbol of evil: Satan. Cleverly, I placed the Number of the Beast underneath Killers as I approached her.

    "Is that all you want?" She asked.
    "Oh, yeah! This is it!" I said proud of my newly selected music.

I went up to the register and paid for it. I kept Killers on top as we left the store. I had two things going for me at this point: my mother trusted my purchases and neither Maiden album had a parental advisory sticker on the case. After listening to Seventh Son, it was expected that none of their albums had a warning label on them. Iron Maiden didnít need to spit curses in their music. They were talking about something different from all those other rock bands. This was my way of thinking then.

Right before we left the mall, we passed by a store called Headlines – an eighties version of Hot Topic. I veered from the path that led to the set of exit doors and into the store. In the mid to late eighties, if you were a fan of metal, this was a place where all those metal fantasies came true. They had Maiden shirts, patches, posters. Everything metal was there!

I just stood in the middle of the store in awe. My fanaticism began. I no longer needed my friends at school to provide me with Maiden music. I was already a part of it – and getting deeper.

When I got home that afternoon and the next day delivering newspapers, I listened to both tapes. The Number of the Beast was everything I was expecting, except harder. Killers, on the other hand, wasnít at all what I was anticipating. There was another lead singer. It certainly didnít sound like Bruce Dickinson. The music was even different. It didnít parallel anything close to that of The Number of the Beast or Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. It was punk rock. Although I wish Dickinson came out of my speakers when I played Killers, there were a couple catchy riffs: 'The Ides of March' and 'Wrathchild.' The two that really stuck with me were 'Murders in the Rue Morgue,' a balancing act of slow choruses and speed metal and 'Genghis Khan,' a tight and focused metal treat.

The Number of the Beast soon left the other two in the dust. Yes, even Seventh Son of a Seventh Son came second to the metal thrashing and the early swooning vocals of Dickinson. I had a hard time picking which song I wanted to hear, each was a musical entity of its own. Fast forward, then rewind. Fast-forward, then rewind: 'Children of the Damned,' then 'Hallowed Be Thy Name,' then 'Number of the Beast,' then 'Run to the Hills,' then 'Invaders,' and finally 'The Prisoner.'

As the Number of the Beast became a revival of sound and a creative staging of huge proportions for the band, it became a classic album to me. It was always playing; Killers grew stagnant. Seventh Son was also shelved.

But the longevity of any tape was unknown during the eighties. Once, while playing the Number of the Beast, the tape quit and then Dickinsonís voice turned into Alvin the Chipmunk. I ran to the stereo and pressed stop. Upon pressing the eject button, I witnessed the shocking end of my copy. The film of the tape let loose and spun everywhere. I took it out and cradled it. This was the end of something great. When would I ever be able to get another copy? My birthday? It would be an eternity before I was listening to 'Children of the Damned' again. My better half had departed. In retrospect, it seemed to make sense then, silly as it was, but a few days afterwards I brought the case inserted with the suddenly "departed" and walked into the woods. I soon came to a giant boulder I used to climb. Carefully and with care, I buried the tape below the boulder, using the case as the headstone. Nowadays, I would simply toss the tape – or whatever form it came in – and go buy another. Back then, Iron Maiden – or this particular album – was helping me to uncover something that I would realize sixteen years later.

About the time Beast became my favorite album, I, like the seventh grader, had my own Killers patch. I couldnít tell you what means of persuasion worked: good behavior, birthday presents, money saved. I wished for their concert shirts, but I settled for a poster of their World Piece Tour in 1983. It hung like a banner on my wall alongside a live Metallica poster from their ÖAnd Justice for All tour. I wanted my whole room to be one Iron Maiden picture after another, but it never happened. I became a walking Iron Maiden encyclopedia. Even though I didnít have the whole catalogue of albums, I knew the high points, hits, and lost songs of the band. I even came to own an Iron Maiden video on VHS that I watched daily. This allowed me to see the band with Paul DiíAnno (the singer on Killers) and then with Bruce Dickinson; I listened to the changes in the band, the makings of an album, and where they were heading musically. I especially loved watching Eddie come from behind the stage and attack one of the band members. The VHS spanned the band from their debut album to Somewhere in Time. Like the albums, it was on heavy rotation. Although it fell into the archives of old VHS tapes at my parentís house, Iím sure if I looked hard enough, I could find it.

Along the way, and unbeknownst to me in the timeline of collecting Maiden albums, I managed to pick up the self-titled debut, Powerslave, and Live after Death. I donít recall Piece of Mind coming into the picture until much later and Somewhere in Time never entered into the collection. I always wanted Somewhere. I wasnít aware how much of a classic album that was until I picked it up a couple months ago. Most of the songs were great, including highlights, 'Alexander the Great,' 'Wasted Years,' 'Caught Somewhere in Time,' 'Stranger in a Strange Land,' and 'Heaven Can Wait.'

Live after Death was another contribution from Maiden that never seemed like a live album – it was that good. It was a tape I put into my stereo and let play from beginning to end. I adored my growing collection, but I never had all of them. I wish I did. I had reached the climax of my Maiden fanaticism. Every chance I got to listen to music, Maiden was playing. No matter what tape I was listening to, I appreciated all of them for what they offered.

As I left middle school and entered high school, Nirvana soon broke out and a new wave of music surfaced. Iron Maiden and the heavy hitters – Metallica, Megadeth, AC/DC, and Anthrax – were put away indefinitely. I couldnít tell you why they were suddenly ignored. Maybe I needed to expand upon my collection of music; maybe I had overplayed Maiden. Maybe it was puberty. Since then, I have run the gamut of genres and bands that lasted anywhere from two to seven albums before returning to the source of my inspiration sixteen years later.

Now I am rediscovering Iron Maiden, purchasing album after album, absorbing the classic sound I remember and the albums I never purchased in the 90ís and 00ís. Iron Maidenís albums are like books: curious front covers that hint at a story that each song reveals. It is hard to find the ĎIron Maidení in many of the bands out there today. The only band that strikes a resemblance is Coheed and Cambria. Their attempt, unfortunately, is a weak one. Maidenís albums are historic records of what music can offer someone who takes the time to listen and look for more than just verse-chorus-verse. For me, Iron Maiden was an expedition and a learning experience as I grew and came into the person I am today.

Michael
3rd August 2006

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