by Alexandra Mrozowska
— Sr. Columnist —
If there’s anyone in the world of Heavy Metal that could have been dubbed the Renaissance Man, only one name comes to mind, this of Bruce Dickinson. In addition to being an Iron Maiden singer and having a quite successful solo career, he’s also an airline pilot, entrepreneur, book and script author, a TV and radio personality, an avid fencer… a polymath, so to speak. Already an author of the two dubiously kid-friendly novels, this year Bruce Dickinson had his memoirs published via HarperCollins/Dey Street under the title of What Does This Button Do.
Most autobiographies penned or co-penned by rock musicians basically develop the same scheme. It all starts with the fairly unimpressive childhood, followed by his teenage years spent on honing one’s musical craft towards future stardom. Stardom brings debauchery (a handful of detailed, juicy descriptions is more often present at this point than not). Then, there’s the culmination point – the downfall of the main protagonist, usually identified by a harrowing description of one’s substance overdose or health deterioration (or their best drug buddy’s sudden death due to either of those). A moment of enlightenment comes and that’s exactly when the story morphs into a strange kind of a self-help book, the washed-up musician now onto giving valuable advice and discussing the meaning of life.
Surprisingly or not, What Does This Button Do has none of these elements. And that’s what makes it an extraordinary reading from the start. “No births, marriages or divorces” was a rule Dickinson imposed on himself while writing, thus avoiding the tabloid-esque rhetoric that plagues many of his peers. But perhaps the most extraordinary thing about the book written by and about one of the biggest Heavy Metal stars of all time is a person whom this book reveals. Consciously or not, Bruce Dickinson portrays himself as anything but one of the biggest Heavy Metal stars of all time and is absolutely charming in his down-to-earth approach to telling his story.
If there are no idyllic stories of honeymoon(s) and no bitter commentary on ugly divorces here, what else could have Bruce Dickinson included in his autobiography then? The answer is simple – anything you could have expected from an unconventional Rock hero that he is. First pages of What Does This Button Do bring the detailed, honest and humorous depiction of the singer’s childhood, difficult family issues discussed as well, onto his turbulent school years and interests than this period evoked. His approach to storytelling is mature, but also sarcastic at times, the language vivid and picturesque, although colloquial at times. Obviously, a reader will get to know Bruce “Scream-For-Me-Insert-The-Place-Here” Dickinson, the lead singer of Iron Maiden, but also – Bruce Dickinson a schoolboy, a fencer, a would-be historian, a Samson singer, a pilot, a radio and TV personality, a book author, a scriptwriter, a cancer survivor and… a fan (although his personal encounter with his vocal hero Ian Gillan didn’t go exactly as planned).
The book gives an insight into issues like aviation, fencing, singing techniques and entertainment industry, all shown from a dual perspective – an emotional participant and a distanced, objective narrator providing all technical details and thorough explanation of various facts and processes. Obviously, matters typical to biographies are also there, but even the apparently standard descriptions of concert tours have a grain of unusualness in them. Certainly not every Western Heavy Metal singer visited the former Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz and not every one of them played a Rock gig in war-torn Bosnia, in the midst of military operation. Bruce Dickinson did – and he lived to put pen to paper.
What Does This Button Do is one of the best autobiographies released in recent years, its only fault being slightly overloaded with technical details at times. The book reveals the creative and fascinating man who always wanted more – and who, in consequence, has lived many lives at the same time, each of them fulfilled. Obviously, it’s a must for everyone who became his fan due to his work with Iron Maiden and beyond. But if someone’s not a fan yet, they should have read this as well – the future singer’s most outrageous school antic (the one involving a boiling pan, a bottle and a strong dislike towards school authorities) is itself a reason for respecting him. And as the content of the book apparently suggests, in spite of a few decades that passed since that fateful school dinner Mr. Bruce Dickinson changed only a bit…
Publisher: HarperCollins, Dey Street Books