My heroes are people who don’t fit the mold. When it comes to music, I've always been more attracted to and inspired by people who don’t resemble the stereotype of their chosen profession. I never respected any argument that suggested rock music couldn’t be taken seriously as deep and meaningful art. Similarly, it sickened me when a whole school of rock anti-intellectualism emerged, suggesting that any music displaying skill, virtuosity, or evidence of intellectual acuity was somehow not authentic and a betrayal of the music's primitivistic tenets. I begged to differ. Not all rock musicians need be depraved drug addicts capable of playing only three chords and incapable of carrying on a meaningful conversation about topics not involving tour buses and groupies.
This is why I've long been fascinated by Bruce Dickinson, singer with Iron Maiden. Dickinson challenged heavy metal stereotypes from the beginning. He was smart, funny, erudite, irreverent, dramatic, clearly gifted, and unwilling to limit his interests to those dictated by conventional rock wisdom. Dickinson's freshly published autobiography, "What Does This Button Do?" adds another admirable quality to the list – Dickinson writes very well. There's no ghostwriter lurking over his shoulder here.
Dickinson chose to walk away from Iron Maiden when it was one of the most popular rock bands in the world. He did so because he feared it becoming too easy for him to coast along. He came back five years later, and launched the band's incredible second act. (Iron Maiden remains one of the biggest rock bands in the world today.) He was a serious fencer, and represented the UK in European competitions. He learned to fly, and eventually became a fully professional pilot, guiding Maiden's own 747 around the world several times during several tours. He's now chairman of Cardiff Aviation. Most recently, Dickinson seems to have defeated head and neck cancer, emerging from radiation treatment with a clean bill of health. He promptly hit the road again with Maiden, and hopped back into the pilot's chair.
All of this, while maintaining one of the most impressive tenors in the history of heavy rock, and contributing immensely to the artistic success of Maiden, who, since Dickinson's return in 1999, have released several albums that rank among the band's finest work. ("Brave New World" and "A Matter of Life and Death" are my two favorites.) Charlie Rose, during a recent interview with Dickinson, called him "a bit of a renaissance man." Rose nailed it.
Dickinson's restless and creative spirit is inspiring. Read this book.