Iron Maiden and Me. Part I: The Discovery

Iron Maiden is my favorite metal band. This is very difficult to admit because I am in love with other metal bands and to them, I apologize.

To honor Iron Maiden, I will be posting an as-yet-undetermined number of articles about every album, every concert, and about every time their music made me feel like a million bucks.

And without further ado, Part I begins:

The Discovery

This story begins a little over 25 years ago. One of the most iconic and influential metal bands in the world, the mighty Iron Maiden, did not get radio or video airplay in my native land of Venezuela. I had read about them in metal magazines where I found that the band didn’t get radio airplay in most countries. Despite this fact, their fan base kept growing steadily becoming one of the biggest metal acts in history.

So how was I to get my hands on some Iron Maiden? When I began the ninth grade, I met kids that had their albums. The fact that classmates liked the same music as I did gave a huge boost to my social life. I finally had buddies with whom to share albums and songs and tapes and the passion of loving heavy metal music. Finally, I was surrounded by kids that “got it.”

If you’ve ever heard music that makes your ears perk like a dog’s when it hears a fire truck siren and your hairs raise like when the boy you like locks eyes with you, then you understand the impact Iron Maiden had in my metal life.

The band went through several lineup changes, most noticeably the change of vocalist Paul Di’Anno to Bruce Dickinson in 1981 and drummer Clive Burr to Nicko McBrain in 1982. The lineup of the last 5 albums at the time was: Steve Harris, bass; Adrian Smith and Dave Murray, rhythm and lead guitars; Bruce Dickinson, vocals; and Nicko McBrain, drums.

To the best of my memory, the first LPs I devoured on a Wednesday afternoon were Killers, The Number of the Beast and Piece of Mind. My dad’s turntable was in the corner of the small dining room, with the speakers located at either side of a china cabinet. Neither mom or dad were home so I cranked it up! Each of the cups and plates and other china figurines vibrated with every guitar howl, drum beat and ear-piercing screams. It was love at first listen.

I sat at the dining table carefully studying the album sleeves while eating a fruit-at-the-bottom yogurt. The covers were fascinating. Several details were there for the curious eyes to find: people hiding in alleys, Egyptian totems, funny stick figures, and drawings that appeared in several albums. The band’s mascot Eddie, created and drawn by Derek Riggs, appeared on most of the album covers. Eddie was pure bone covered by muscles, his eyes afire, his mouth open in a silent scream. In one of the album covers he was the puppet master of the Devil and his minions on a land covered by fire, presumably hell.

I eventually got my hands on every album released up to that point. Additionally to the albums mentioned above they were: Iron Maiden, Powerslave, Live After Death and Somewhere In Time.

I spent many days writing the lyrics to every song on a special spiral notebook. I preferred penning them instead of typing them in the computer as I felt more in touch with the words that way. I learned about Alexander the Great and about the loneliness of long distance runners, about Indians running to hills and battles fought in the air. My goal was to memorize every word of every album like I had done a few years before with The Police (yeah, I knew every word to every Police song!)

Instead of studying boring, tiresome and lame school crap, I spent my time away from school listening to the albums, learning the lyrics. New words entered my vocabulary and I practiced the English language by singing in my room at the top of my lungs. The school assignments fell short from the vivid, descriptive, fantastic and thrilling stories portrayed in the Maiden songs, so my grades suffered. A passing grade was all I cared about. I didn’t give a rat’s ass about school. School could suck it.

About two years later, Iron Maiden released a new album: Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son. Getting my hands on it was going to be a challenge: the internet was a thing of science fiction, the band was still not played on the radio or TV, very few record stores carried imports and it would take a while to be released locally. Luckily my father was traveling abroad on business that month and was able to bring me a copy.

It was the first time I’ve listened to a Maiden album almost at the same time the world did. I was not listening to a five-year-old album. It was fresh, right off the presses.

At first listen I had mixed feelings. I did not love the song Can I Play With Madness. Honestly, I hated it. However, the rest of album was incredible. But allowing this one commercial song in the album scared me. Would the follow up to Seventh Son have more rock songs? Would they become an extension of Bruce Dickinson’s solo work? I wasn’t sure but I would find out a few years later.

Iron Maiden gave me a platform on which to view the world from a totally different angle. They introduced new sounds, new stories, new imagery, and gave me a peek at events I’d never heard of. I learned more from their songs than from school.

Catcha at the next installment…

Up The Irons!

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W.A.S.P. Concert Review 3/19/10 Orlando, FL

3/19/10 Club Firestone, Orlando.

W.A.S.P. Live. I witnessed their fury for the first time 25 years ago in the small screen, thousands of miles away in my native land of Venezuela. Their song “I Wanna Be Somebody” captivated my teenage mind and I immediately became an admirer. But today I was going to see them in concert up close and personal at a venue so small that I could touch them. The anticipation was exciting! 

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I arrived early enough to catch the first few bands. Of them, I remember the last of the opening bands, “Rain”. They were phenomenal. This Italian metal band rocked. With a style that combines old-school metal and rock ‘n’ roll, a strong stage presence, and excellent musicianship, their set went down like a fresh glass of lemonade on a summer day. 

After the curtain closed, I headed to the outside area to check out the CDs and other goodies for sale by each band. While chatting with the manager of Rain about their tour through America, we heard screeching guitars and bombastic drums blasting in the venue, so I headed back inside to find out if that was a sign that the W.A.S.P. set had begun. Not surprisingly it was the sound check, at a volume from hell, indicative of what we were going to be subjected to very soon. The all-ages crowd began chanting “W.A.S.P.! W.A.S.P.!, W.A.S.P.!” and by doing so they unknowingly gave the go-ahead to be blown to pieces. Surely enough, the curtains opened to a foggy, dimly lit, empty stage. A large screen hung behind the drum set, which was reminiscent of other bands that enhance their show with really cool imagery. I imagined we might be in for a treat, that we were going to witness an additional creative outlet of the band’s translated onto moving pictures, or perhaps a live projection of the crowd in between the videos. But we had to wait another many long moments before the mystery of the screen was to be unleashed.

I secretly wished chairs would magically appear so I could finish my beer sitting comfortably down. But not in this joint. I was in the pit of a heavy metal show, standing up high and totally prepared to rock. But if I could sit down just one more minute… 

And as I stood there watching the stage, curiously trying to figure out if there was a rack of guitars sitting in the back so I could guess the make, an intro began playing and a tall, prominent figure’s profile emerged onto the smoky stage. Its long, black hair, black pants and half-moon saws sticking out from the top of its forearms gave away that we were indeed graced by presence of the one and only: Blackie Lawless. The remaining members of the band joined him immediately after: Doug Blair on guitar, Mike Duda sporting the bass and Mike Dupke on the skins. Quickly they began storming through “On Your Knees”. With the start of the song the screen came alive with a video shot in concert around 1984. In it, I recognized Chris Holmes and Randy Piper on guitars. I was confused, and wondered if Chris and Randy were going to come out from the side of the stage and join them or if it was a prank pulled by Blackie at the current band members. But no, this was no prank. Original videos were played throughout every song of the concert, some of them extremely cheesy, or to put it mildly, passé by today’s standards. The band played in perfect synchronization with the videos, mimicking them in some parts. It felt awkward. I am not sure how Blackie sold this idea to the rest of the band, which borders on the tacky and the embarrassing. But he did. And it did not work. Not for me anyway. After all, this concert was not promoted as “The Commemoration of 27 Years of W.A.S.P.” 

So I decided to ignore the screen. What a good decision that turned out to be. The show was clearly about these four men rocking their hearts out right then and there. Blackie’s voice was in perfect form, the band was tight, and the volume was obnoxiously loud. I could feel the sonic book from the bass drum traveling through my body, and the guitars piercing my brain like tiny shocks of lightning. A terrific metal show experience indeed.

Without missing a beat, they plunged into “Doctor Rocter”, and the crowd went wild as they did with every song. Duda showed us why he was chosen to be part of W.A.S.P. He had incredible precision and technical ability (he plays with his fingers instead of the usual pick in metal bands) and a great stage presence. He performed a very cool Robert-Trujillo-esque move, twirling around and around until the bass was as the same level as his shoulders. Blair used a varied array of LED-lit guitars. Certain frets lit up when pressed. The body of one of the guitars, in the area where the pickups sit, looked like a bright nebula that somehow got sucked into that tiny space. His guitar solo during the song The Idol was peppered in awesomeness. To make it even better, the screen was turned off as soon as he began the solo, and he had the stage and the attention of the audience all to himself. His fingers flew up and down the neck with a feeling worthy of any spectacular blues player, and the metal edge merged itself in these notes in a way evocative of pure beauty.

Dupke had his moment to wow us as well, with a really fast, precise, and excellent little solo. Bang bang, boom boom, crash crash. I wish I could verbalize it for you!

Blackie, with white boots contrasting his otherwise black outfit, and a football jersey with his name on it, was on fire. His voice, impeccable. His presence, excellent as always. His playing, terrific. He is either a vampire or he found the fountain of youth because he rocked without a hitch.

Predictably, the crowd went totally ballistic during “I Wanna Be Somebody” which was sung in its entirety by the audience. Blackie did not sing the pre-chorus or chorus until the last word of the song: “Somebody! Somebody!” and I felt goose bumps from head to toe. The fourteen year old girl in me cried like the girls in the black and white videos of a Beatles concert. 

Cheers to the little girl, cheers to the rockness of W.A.S.P. and cheers to you the reader for experiencing this event with this humble writer. It was a great show worthy of seeing again and again. 

Set List:

  1. On Your Knees
  2. Doctor Rocter
  3. Love Machine
  4. Babylon’s Burning
  5. Wild Child
  6. I Don’t Need No Doctor
  7. Arena of Pleasure
  8. The Idol (crimson idol title track)
  9. I Wanna Be Somebody
  10. Heaven’s Hung in Black
  11. Blind in Texas