METAL MONDAY: Heavy Metal Book Club: “What Does This Button Do?” Bruce Dickinson, An Autobiography

*Find out how to win a copy of this book at the end of this review!*

I'm never one to turn away a good music-related auto/biography. Just as with music documentaries, most are surprising and sometimes, surprisingly edifying. Bruce Dickinson, of Iron Maiden fame, has entered the fray with his autobiography, and I'm pleased to say it ticks both boxes, despite being quite the strange creature.

In that sense, there is no doubt that this book mirrors its author. Fans of Iron Maiden—and Dickinson himself—know him for not just his vocal abilities, but also for his well-publicized and idiosyncratic hobbies: aviation and fencing. Both are heavily documented here, along with his unexpected forays into fiction writing, filmmaking, and one particularly hair-raising chapter about his travels to Sarajevo in the middle of the siege.

The very start and the very end of the book shine the strongest, especially in their contrasts. The beginning, where Dickinson describes his life as a child in a chaotic, mutable environment, then through his colourful school years, sets the stage for his later interests, and is told through curious anecdotes and vivid Britishisms. It is early on that he finds a passion for mechanics, war history, fencing, theatre, and eventually music, all of which return as threads woven throughout his life. As he repeats often over the course of the book, “nothing from childhood is ever wasted.”

The end of the book deals with his successful battle with cancer, and is handled with the kind of humor, sang-froid and practicality that speaks to his temperament. Dickinson is the type of person who follows his curiosities, and when faced with an obstacle, methodically overcomes it until he achieves his desired end. Whether that's conquering head and neck cancer in six months (specifically, two large tumors inside his tongue and throat), or learning how to fly heavy commercial airplanes, or, in definitely one of the strangest stories in the book, switching from right-handedness to left-handedness in order to improve his fencing abilities, Dickinson's life is a testament to his single-mindedness.

It is on that particular note that the book finds both its strength, and its cardinal weakness. There is a giant gaping silence throughout the book, which pertains mainly to Dickinson's most personal life. Addressed only in the afterword, with “I made a personal executive decision when I started to write. No births, marriages or divorces, of me or anybody else,” and by stating that “[h]ad I chosen to include airships, wives, divorces, children and entrepreneurial activities this would have been approaching 800 pages long,” he gives himself the autobiographer's get-out-of-jail-free card. People choose autobiographies in order to pry open the secrets of a stranger's examined life, and to see how their relationships have shaped the person they've become. Perhaps in avoiding that entire aspect of his life, Dickinson has inadvertently shared more about his character than he had intended.

Strangely, or perhaps not so, his longest running relationship, with the juggernaut that is Iron Maiden, receives much of the same treatment. Dickinson's trajectory with the band, from joining on their third album, to his six-year departure and subsequent return, is covered here, but there aren't too many personal anecdotes. There are many more details about his early bands and his solo and side projects offered instead, and one can't help but infer that Steve Harris (Maiden's primary songwriter and de facto band leader) looms silently in the shadows of what's unsaid. That is to say, there isn't much of any dirt to be read here, so readers looking for that might want to pick up an unauthorized biography instead.

I greatly enjoyed the book, though in some ways the answers it gave me only opened up more questions, but this is a must-read for all hardcore Maiden fans and people who, like me, have always been fascinated by the idea that, one day, the captain on my flight might be one of the most celebrated heavy metal singers of all time!

Want to win a hardcover copy of this book? I’ll be giving away copies of Bruce Dickinson’s autobiography live on BVST, this coming March 14th at 7 PM ET! Tune in for your chance to win!

Angelica hosts BVST every Wednesday at 7 - 9 PM on CJLO. Tune in for the best (& worst) rock'n'roll, country, punk & metal