Photo by Dana (Distortion) Yavin
M a i d e n : J o n e s B e a c h 6 | 27 | 12
If you’re over 30 and find yourself at an iron maiden concert, it’s time to take a long hard look in the mirror.
Posted by Anonymous | June 29, 2012 11:50 AM
My disenchantment with Iron Maiden first bloomed two years ago. I was 45, and it had nothing to do with looking in the mirror. The sudden lack of love for my favorite band was fueled instead by two excellent and compelling reasons: 1) Maiden released a really bad album during 2) the period my mother was dying. It was the summer of 2010, and it was a horrible record, just horrible: it was “overdue;” it had a stupid fucking title (The Final Frontier); the songs were flabby and pompous; it was quite possibly the second-worst album the band had ever recorded, unquestionably the weakest album thus far from the current lineup… and my mother was dying. Everything that crossed my path during those months pretty much “sucked,” but Maiden in particular took a lot of heat that summer. The album was horrible. The filthy-rich bums. My mother passed away the same month as The Final Frontier‘s North American release. The album contained a track, “El Dorado,” a decidedly less-than-stellar effort that would nevertheless go on to win an actual goddamn Grammy Award, oh yes it did. Oh, Maiden. Oh my god. It was so over.
Well, maybe not over. Not over-over. But the decades-long love affair had taken a serious hit. The declarations of “favorite band” were no longer 100% irony-free and were in fact a little weary, forced. The most-loved tracks would always give pleasure, and there were lots of good memories—yadda yadda yadda—but for fuck’s sake, enough was enough. I was 45 years old. It was time to look in the mirror. And take off the damn TROOPER shirt.
I stopped paying attention to the regular email updates from the Maiden camp. Like I gave two shits that they were releasing a double Blu-Ray/DVD concert disc from the inevitable and unending tour…. or whatever crap they were selling that month… or that, in the last year there was news (which I saw/read but did not compute, and this would be important, later) concerning Maiden embarking on “recreating tours/sets from specific albums and periods…” Bah. I unsubscribed from the damn newsletter. I was busy. I was 45 years old, for Christ’s sake. Then 46!
Then, around the time I turned 47(!), my friend emailed me. “Want to go see Maiden?!”
Huh! Part of me reasoned that, though I would enjoy a Maiden concert no matter what umbrage I might harbor in my chest, I really had no burning desire to see them perform again. Not really. Not now. I had last seen them in 2006, and though that gig had been an exhilarating and cathartic experience, my life had changed pretty drastically since that time—no more drinking and a whole lot less $$$ to waste. Plus, there were the new “hurt feelings,” see opening paragraph. I was pretty far-removed from throwing my fist in the air and horsely screaming lyrics into the maw of an arena, or even muttering “Up the Irons” to friends and allies in times of crisis or triumph.
But my friend had reached out to me, offering something that (he thought, perhaps) could not possibly be refused, and I interpreted this as my friend wanting to spend time in my company. I was touched. I said yah, sure! We would go see Maiden. It would be fun.
Fun costs money.
Especially for ultra-obscure writers who pay the bills via far-too-infrequent freelance graphic design jobs. The tab for the Maiden ticket w/ processing fees weighed-in at a whopping XXX XXXXXXX and XXXXX Dollars. Ho! That was a chunk of change in the current draxian economy, especially for something so selfish, something only I would enjoy. It was weeks before I was able to repay the individual who had footed the price of the tix upfront. Then I found out the exact date of the gig, previously identified as occurring “some time in June.”
Fun costs time.
The date of the concert was June 27, the day before my daughter’s birthday. This was rapidly approaching the logistically unworkable. I nearly excused myself from the operation, came very close to opting out and taking the chance that my friend would be able to resell my ticket—which was not a likely scenario. At all. Hmm. If I was out XXXXXXX bucks—well then, I would be out XXXXXXX bucks. But I talked w/ my daughter about it and she decided she would not hate me forever if I attended a concert “far from home” the night before her birthday… as long as I was back the next day at the crack of dawn. Boy oh boy, she told me, I had better be there. And not be late.
I promised. I could do it. Drive the drive, rock the rock, get little or no sleep, and be back in time for my baby’s birthday. And as it happened, I would, and did. I would make it home just past 8 the morning of her birthday, and she wasn’t even awake yet. My baby girl. Real mission accomplished. But I “leap ahead.”
As the date of the show approached I continually had to remind myself, Hey, Maiden next week… Maiden in a few days… I was anything but wild w/ anticipation. Once or twice I spun some discs and cranked ’em, but the fire never caught. I was too busy, too distracted. Too 47. The approaching concert was an obligation to be honored, a semi-herculean task to accomplish, not a big event to be looked forward to, let alone enjoyed. I am a blast at parties. Invite me.
The last 24 hours before the big event was total crash-madness. After turning in a final chunk of freelance and seeing the kids off, I was pretty fucking fried by the time I hit the road, my little blue mean Matchbox machine a bullet aimed for my friend’s corner of the planet, open highway! My car’s steering column shakes at 81 mph but not 80. Burn, baby. Driving too fast, I swore at myself for not writing down even a sloppy list of the songs I thought Maiden might play that night. Driving too fast, I was confident I would dazzle my friend (and his friends, too) with my haphazard yet amazingly accurate prediction of the setlist to come—how hard could it be? They would doubtlessly spin some nonsense from Final Frontier and the usual standards. Driving too fast, I tried to remember who was the opening act. Frank Zappa? Alice Cooper? One of them. Wasn’t one of them dead? Didn’t one of their shows involve death on-stage? I didn’t care, I was driving too fast, I wanted to get there and hang w/ my bud, see the damn show, crash for a few hours, then hit the road and be back in time for my baby girl’s Birthday, I was driving too—YAAAUUUGHGHGHHAGGH!!
Traffic. Lots of it, a big nasty snarl of construction and jackhammers and machines and four lanes of travel reduced to one, oh fuck me, the GPS robo-lady informed me that this shit extended for miles and the smug evil clock betrayed the glaring fact that my once-comfortable lead had evaporated to nearly nothing, “Zero-Hour-Or-Else” was now very few minutes away. If I were late, it would fuck-up the whole operation, not just for me but for my friend and his friends. Oh my fucking god, I told the robo-lady: “I am not going to fuck this up.”
“Severe. Traffic. Congestion. Ahead,” the robo-lady replied. “Traffic. Congestion. For the. Next. EIGHT. Miles.”
“Not going to fuck it up,” I told her. “Not this Doompooper.”
I didn’t fuck it up. I did, however, manage to go up my friend’s one-way street the wrong way, because, “The robo-lady told me to.”
“Drax, you spaz! Heh heh heh!” My friend loves me—I think—but at times he can be merciless. He cackled, winced, shook his head and sighed at all the Maiden crap I’d grabbed at the last minute: great discs to spin, the Maiden FLASK, the Maiden BIO, the Maiden Members TIMELINE and TREE, yeah yeah yeah, I’d brought this shit because it would be handy to share and discuss when I was braindead and distracted and the spontaneous verbal wordplay was not forthcoming, I mean, fuck, it was only 4 in the afternoon, we had hours to go, and I was already braindead.
“Man! Whew!” I fell back on my friend’s couch as the afternoon sun shot diagonal shafts of amber light that captured the slow curling smoke in beautiful prisms, oh the smoke was gorgeous that way, captured by the light, oh, “Whew,” I breathed again, and turned to my friend, asked him, “Ready for Frank?” To which my friend replied,
“What about him?”
“Are you ready to endure his set?”
“His set tonight.”
“WHAT. Frank Zappa’s not opening tonight.”
“Oh, Alice Cooper, that’s right.”
“Jesus Christ, Drax, Zappa’s DEAD. He died in the 90s! Heh heh heh.”
“I knew that!”
“Heh heh heh!”
“No really, I knew that!” I did! But I was walking and talking and saying out loud, “Frank Zappa.” Oh boy. Braindead.
My friend went “Wheeeeeh!” and it looked like it was curtains, like I was about to be dragged through a mountain range of humiliation, when I was saved by the arrival of my friend’s friend, the man who held the tickets.
The conversation shifted to other matters. Would we be able to walk in with smokeables? “Not likely.” Cameras? “NOT LIKELY.” I sank back into my friend’s couch and studied the curls of smoke in the prisms of light, very braindead, just going with the flow, relieved to be there but really, I wasn’t there—when the matter of what Maiden would be playing that night surfaced. And before I could open my mouth, the friend with the tickets said, “Seventh Son.”
I said, “What.”
I sat up. “I’m sorry, WHAT.”
“They’re going to play Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. The whole album, I think.”
And in a flash our hero was on his feet. “Really?! Really?!” And yea, the others gaped at him as if he were a demoniac, a fiend from Hell, a spastic taken leave of his senses. “REALLY?!” Fuck me, I couldn’t believe it. Favorite album, favorite period of the band, containing my favorite track, the goddamn über epic itself, “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.” To see Maiden play fucking “7th Son” fucking live—? Oh, this was beyond “bucket-list.” This was something else. This was—
“—on their website,” the friend w/ the tickets told me. “They’re recreating their various periods and tours.”
And boom, a not-so-old memory: those updates from the Maiden site I’d unsubscribed from, over a year ago. I had seen them but not seen them, and now I remembered: “Beast Over Hammersmith.” Eddie and the Union Jack. Imagery from the early 80s. “Recreating every album, every tour!” That’s right. But I hadn’t given a shit. The band must have been up to Piece of Mind by the time I’d clicked-out. “Now” it was “1988” or so, and they were recreating the 7th Son tour. I will be damned.
The braindeath vanished. I was awake, I was happy. And a little pissed. Angry that I was fucking sleepwalking through half the shit in which I was supposedly engaged. I am constantly telling my two young children to pay attention to whatever it is that they are doing, yet here I was walking and talking and saying out loud “Frank Zappa” and not only did I not know what my favorite band would be playing in a few hours, I hadn’t a frigging clue that they’d be blasting my favorite fucking song, an event and circumstance that I had long ago dismissed as “impossible.”
Wake up, I told myself. This is the easy shit.
“All demons on deck!” my friend cried. “We’re rolling!” IRL, he said only the second one. Anyway, “Rolling!” and we were on our way to the concert, an event in time and space which we will now hurtle toward at breakneck speed. Through the quick grey blur of the Long Island Expressway and past the baby-faced brats with the cool Maiden shirts (a few of whom I snapped on my shitty BlackBerry) and the slow motion crush of the early crowd waddling past vendor booths swollen with endless Maiden shit for sale, we took our seats while the sky was still bright over the metallic half-shell of the stage, the lazy modest strip of the ocean beyond a dull glaring mirror in the lowering sun that made me squint and— it was all right man, it was all beautiful, it was all good. I knew I would write about this experience, but even then I was well aware: when it came time for the actual writing, man, it would seem faintly ridiculous to hang an epiphanic event on the unwitting luck of hitting just the right spot of an aging metal band’s nostalgic rewind of their vast catalogue of songs and material, spun for suckers like me… but I will take my wake-up slaps wherever I find them. I would worry about the writing later. I was living it now and now was good. Everything was good. I cannot honestly say that I enjoyed Alice Cooper’s brief and hokey show which badly needed 1) non-daylight and 2) high-quality drugs, though I did very much appreciate a not-so-young woman swaying where she stood a few rows below and pumping her spectacular bare arms to Cooper’s crazy little set, raising her fist for “School’s Out” because she was into it, and that was great, and then Cooper was over, and the dark was coming.
All demons on deck I whisper now, writing this, and soon it was dark enough for “Doctor Doctor,” the UFO track that announces “Maiden is coming,” and everyone not already standing now stood in a great shuffling stomp and the full screams began as the stage went black-black amid tiny rapid pops of camera flashes and the blue glow of handheld devices in an ocean of fifty million human heads, and then a lone voice sang,
Seven deadly sins, Seven ways to win…
“Oh, MAN. They are really going to fucking do this!!!”
“Really?” my companions mocked. “REALLY?“
Really. My friends: shit like this for me is akin to having a book published in ink by a publisher other than myself: I will never believe it again until I hold it in my goddamn hands, never again, man! I had to hear the opening strains of “Moonchild” before I could really freakin’ believe it, and here it was, exploding now with the floods and pyrotechnics as the guys ripped out, and Bruce really, really screamed,
I AM HE! THE BORNLESS ONE!
THE FALLEN ANGEL! WATCHING YOU!
BABYLON! THE SCARLET WHORE!
I’LL INFILTRATE! YOUR GRA-TI-TUDE!
DON’T YOU DARE! TO SAVE YOUR SON!
KILL HIM NOW, AND SAVE THE YOUNG ONES!
BE THE MOTHER OF A BIRTH-STRANGLED BABE!
BE THE DEVIL’S OWN, LUCIFER’S MY NAME —
“Hear the man-draaake screEEEEEam!!”
Few experiences can top the all-consuming and galvanizing effect of truly beloved music performed live, and the few that do include Great Sex, Finishing a Novel, Car Crashes, Combat, and The Birth of One’s Children. You might think me a sensate-driven dolt and you’d be right. But the essence of live music is similar to the nature of time and life itself: it is there, and then it is not. (Ephemeral as a word has a bad rap in modern parlance.) Music is the simplest and was probably the first conduit between artist and audience, performed and perceived almost simultaneously, a bone banged against a rock, a finger across an electric string amplified enough times to shake the sky, ZAAAH! It is a Holy Thing. It is A Thing you can choose to wholly believe in, for a few minutes, anyway, a few hours if you’re lucky, to lose yourself in the beat, the bigness. And I did. Happily and with relief and gratitude. This is your religion and Maiden is your god, enjoy it, dreamer. I was not the father of a beautiful and beloved 11 year old girl. I was not the sad son of a dead old lady. I would never forgive Maiden for Final Frontier—oh, fuck no. None of that. None of those things mattered, because when you’re screaming “CAN I PLAY WITH MADNESS?!” at the top of your lungs you’re not really asking for permission, you’re already running the asylum, you’ve written yourself a scrip that reads No Guilt, No Fear. “You will now feel invulnerable. At least for a few minutes, maybe a few hours, you will feel as if you will never die.”
And for a few hours, I did.
I was a free man. Not a Prisoner!
And that was the third song in the correct order that I managed to work into this part of the narrative, so here is the setlist. As each song rang out I tweeted its title like a maniac, as it was the easiest and surest way to make a record of the set in my state of ecstatic bliss.
Can I Play With Madness
2 Minutes to Midnight
Afraid to Shoot Strangers
The Number of the Beast
Phantom of the Opera
Run to the Hills
Seventh Son of a Seventh Son
Fear of the Dark
The Evil That Men Do
I thought it was a good set. Was very surprised that “Hallowed be thy Name” didn’t conclude the festivities, while I would be very happy to never hear “Run to the Hills” ever again, ever. “Fear of the Dark” is always welcome and always sounds good, as it is easy to play. More on that in a second. “Afraid to Shoot Strangers,” from the same period as “Fear” was a little less welcome, as two songs from 1992 really helped destroy the illusion that it’s “1988.” In addition to most of the 7th Son songs, it was the first time I had ever heard “Aces,” “Prisoner,” and “Phantom,” performed live, and they sounded great. It was a relief that Bruce’s costume changes never went out of control, and I must admit I was rendered an awestruck toddler by the wicked cool sets, figures, effects, and backdrops; all that shit was tremendous, and I loved it. Behold, the awesome spectacle for the big song itself, “Seventh Son.”
click to enlarge this last one
But while everything looked great and it was a setlist I was grateful to experience, with 7th Son strongly represented with five of the album’s eight songs—ah, now those songs are not easy to play, and it showed. Glaringly. Loudly. The word “rusty” floated from more than a few lips, as would later, meaner criticisms: “Sloppy, unprepared,” etc.
I didn’t care.
Oh sure, I cared. I certainly noticed. In fact, I winced more than once. Quite a bit, actually. But none of the fuck-ups on stage really affected my enjoyment of the sacred, transitory, ephemeral moment of experiencing the music. In fact, it added to it. Not because I had slipped on my Polly glasses and was mistaking piss for wine, far from it: my body ached, but I would live forever. Boy was I tired, but I would never die. Not yet. There was sweat on my face as I looked up at a summer sky full of stars while my favorite music in the world pounded through me. Tired? Look at those six fucking guys on stage. I was pissing and moaning about about being too distracted, too tired, too 47; some of those guys up there were ten years (or more) my senior, consummate artists and dazzling at what they do, and here they were, fucking up, yet soldiering on. Even as time and the tug of gravity pulled them into pits that no amount of prep or practice could have saved them from, even towards the end when there just wasn’t enough breath left for the required roar…
…they soldiered on. Yes, “like troopers, wearing colors that didn’t run.” The mistakes Maiden committed onstage did not impede their spirit or intent one jot, they fucking soldiered on. And witnessing this in the flesh and sweat I realized again that this raised fist of defiance against an indifferent and overwhelming universe was what I loved most about this band, and in a lot of ways my love for Iron Maiden was reborn that night. And it was all thanks to my friend.
My friend’s casual invitation had delivered not only beloved songs I never expected to hear live, but the greatest, most unexpected gift of all: he gave me back my favorite band, man. I never saw this coming. Really. So this narrative must to be dedicated to Him, the man with no name in this rambling little tale. Thank you, my friend, thank you for helping me find fire, again.
Up The Irons.
Text © Simon Drax | Photos by Dana (Distortion) Yavin, Imaginary88, ironmaiden.com