A sequel to Record Store Tales Part 1: Run to the Hills!
GETTING MORE TALE #789: Run 2 the Hills
I still remember the first time I heard Iron Maiden. I actually remember many childhood listening sessions involving Iron Maiden. Some were solo, some were in groups. We could talk as the day is long about how amazing Iron Maiden were in 1985. Are they actually the greatest heavy metal band of all time? Sure, but we don’t need to get into that here.
The two albums with the greatest personal impact in the early days were Piece of Mind and Live After Death. It was those two albums that I owned on vinyl, and therefore had the lyric sheets to examine. Playing them today enables me to use a sort of spiritual time machine. I can transport my consciousness into the body of my 12 year old self and feel what it was like listening to Maiden when it was all new to me.
Iron Maiden had a forbidden quality, unspoken but undeniable. They seemed far, far more dangerous than anything I’d been interested in before. Styx? Michael Jackson? Kids’ stuff. Iron Maiden had historical lyrics, good for educational value, sure. For a young Catholic in the mid-80s, they were definitely adult entertainment. Suddenly, the lyrics I was hearing were dominated by death, something that teachers and parents tried to steer kids away from. Early Maiden is thick with death, like a metal mortuary.
“Fly to live, do or die.”
“To ashes his grave.”
“If you’re gonna die, die with your boots on.”
“You’ll die as you lived in the flash of the blade.”
“Iron Maiden wants you for dead.”
“For the love of living death.”
“Death in life is your ideal.”
“He killed our tribes, he killed our creed.”
“Fought for the splendor, fought to the death.”
“They dropped down dead, 200 men.”
Heavy stuff. Adult frowns could be felt through the walls as we listened to our Iron Maiden albums. At that age, every time I listened to Maiden, or Priest, or Sabbath, a little bit of the Catholic guilt always lurked behind me. “This is bad stuff,” whispered the voice in my head. “Not wholesome. Very dangerous. You’re playing with fire.”
I spent a lot of time with my best friend Bob pouring over the lyrics. He didn’t have Live After Death on LP like I did, only cassette, so my lyric sheet was indispensable. By no measure did we understand all that we were reading, but we picked up enough. We all knew the legend of Icarus, so “Flight of Icarus” was cut and dried. We picked up on a lot of it, even if we didn’t understand every line and verse. It was clear their songs were stories, like mini-movies. And entertaining they were! We had actual discussions about this stuff, in between sessions of arguing about which Maiden member was coolest. (I liked Adrian best. Nobody picked Dave Murray. George Balasz used to say that Dave looked like he was always thinking “I got something dirty on my mind”. The rest of us disagreed.)
I was always mentally prepared for any confrontation with any Catholic teacher who took issue with my choice of listening to Iron Maiden. I gathered some of their more educational lyrics, like “The Trooper”, which I could dissect on a dime. It even taught me a new word — “acrid”. I noted that even in some of the most negative sounding songs, like “Die With Your Boots On”, there was a positive twist. “The truth of all predictions is always in your hands.” We didn’t know what “Die With Your Boots On” was really about (Nostradamus); that one really eluded us. The message that we honed in on was “the future is not set” and nobody is doomed to a particular fate.
One track that I thought the teachers would have objected to the most was “Powerslave”. Lines like “I’m a god, why can’t I live on?” would be considered blasphemous. Later on, after learning some Egyptian history in highschool, the lyrics suddenly made complete sense. The pharoah was considered by his people to be a living god. That’s it! Now the lyrics made sense. The pharoah, in first-person storytelling, approaches death and realizes too late that he will not live forever. Their faith is a lie. He fears death, and after succumbing, he feels pity for his successor. “For he is a man and a god, and he will die too.” It’s quite a poignant tale when taken apart. It would make a fantastic short story (as I tuck the idea away for future expansion).
And “Aces High”? That song was so significant that I wrote an entire chapter about it. When school finally got around to covering the Battle of Britain in the highschool, I already knew the story. I knew it because Iron Maiden were the launching point. My dad took over my World War II education from there. If I was going to be learning history from long-haired-hooligan music, he was going to make sure I knew the whole story. They showed the ensemble film Battle of Britain in class, but for me it was a re-run of “movie night with Dad”.
Maiden passed the lyrical integrity test for a 12 year old. The didn’t sing lovey-dovey nonsense that I couldn’t relate to. Not all the songs could be brilliant, of course. Even then, I knew “Quest for Fire” wasn’t good. “In a time, when dinosaurs walked the Earth…” What!? No! I knew that humans and dinosaurs weren’t contemporary to each other; how come Steve Harris didn’t? One minor misstep. Most importantly, Maiden passed the feel test. The power of the music combined with Bruce Dickinson’s confident, defiant air-raid siren voice. It stirred a boy’s sense of personal strength. You could feel it. The effect was almost like a drug. Almost, but far more nourishing for the soul.
It doesn’t take much to regain those old feelings. The right setting and the right Maiden albums are all it takes. Then I’m running free. Yeah!