Maiden Voyage: Bruce Dickinson embarks on his first spoken word tour

The legendary Iron Maiden singer brings his one-man show to the Jo Ann Davidson Theatre on Thursday

Kevin J. Elliott
Bruce Dickinson

It would be cheap to compare Bruce Dickinson to a character in a Mexican beer commercial, but the 63-year-old, self-described “polymath” from Worksop, England, is one of the card-carrying “most interesting men in the world.” Beyond being the fiery demon who leads Iron Maiden, the world’s greatest heavy metal band, Dickinson is also a pilot and airline entrepreneur, an internationally competitive fencer, a prominent beer brewer, an author, director, actor and even an honorary Doctor of Philosophy. Perhaps aligning him with Da Vinci, Ben Franklin or Orson Welles is more apt? 

Recently, Dickinson added spoken-word artist to his resume, and his current one-man show, “A Night with Bruce Dickinson,” will make a stop at the Jo Ann Davidson Theatre on Thursday, Jan. 27. Those familiar with his decades in Maiden will no doubt be expecting extended “life on the road” rock ‘n’ roll stories, told with the same bawdy, cheeky and ambitious energy he exerts from the stage. But in speaking with him last week, he’s poised to exhibit his reflective side, as well. 

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Though “pause” is not a word in Dickinson’s vocabulary — after all Maiden just released its 13th studio album in Senjutsu, on par with the band’s great ‘80s epics — Dickinson was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2015, threatening his career as an operatic metal frontman. That down time gave him an even larger appreciation for life, and true to form, Dickinson beat the odds and wrote a memoir instead.

Culled from this autobiography, What Does This Button Do?, the one-man show promises to showcase his evolution from pauper to prince, along with all of the points in between. The second half of the show consists of an off-the-cuff, anything-goes question and answer session, which I got to experience firsthand in a recent interview.

What was the impetus for doing a spoken word tour? Is this something you’ve always wanted to do? 

Bruce Dickinson: When I did the autobiography, obviously they wanted me to go out and do some promo work. I decided to make it more interesting. It started with some Q&A, and then I started telling stories, and eventually I started embellishing those stories. People were being entertained and my agent suggested this could be a one-man show. This isn’t stand-up comedy; I don’t rehearse jokes to see what works. I do, however, tell funny stories, but they are very long stories that take a while to get to a punchline, like situational humor. There’s a sideways, satirical look at how this kid from a town in the middle of nowhere gets to wear the most ridiculous trousers with the biggest heavy metal band in the world. How does that happen? It’s that story, the “Rake’s Progress,” with a few anecdotes along the way. 

I know you’ve done some motivational speaking in the past, so I’m curious to know a particular tenet that you impart as advice.

BD:  The first speech I did was to a bunch of travel agents. I was basically talking to a bunch of endangered species telling them they were all doomed. Most motivational speaking is just seeing the world through somebody else’s lens. Most people spend most of their lives on the same track. They’re stuck. They have blinkers that prevent them from moving left or right. If somebody can take the blinkers down for a second and tell them, “The same thing happened to me, just in a different way,” people will react by saying, “Maybe I can change my life around by doing that.”

You’re not reinventing the wheel. You’re just reminding people that wheels should not be square. Wheels are round because they work really well. Stop trying to reinvent them when you don’t need to. When it comes to the one-man show, it’s pretty light on motivational advice. All I do is talk about the advice I gave myself and how I responded. For example, I talk about having throat cancer and immediately the room reacts with, “Oh, no. It’s the c-word.’ You start from that point and soon everyone is laughing. By the end of it everyone is rolling around and laughing about cancer. Not because cancer is funny, but because you have to look at yourself from the outside and see that most of the situations we are in are quite ridiculous. In the darkness there is humor. Once you come out on the other side of it, that being cancer, you realize that life is better than all the other options. That’s kind of become the motto of the show. 

As someone who makes their living touring in Iron Maiden and also in aviation, living through the last two years has been difficult. What’s something you’ve learned, good or bad, from a global pandemic? 

BD: Well, in Iron Maiden, we kind of already predicted this would happen. We didn’t exactly know what it was going to be. “Writing on the Wall” [and] “Hell on Earth” were both tracks that were predictive of what’s happening now. I curiously found that there were things about lockdown that I enjoyed. Everything was shut down, so everything was slow, and I spent time just sitting around with my partner. It was great. And even though I’ve now got 42 shows and I’m going to be running around all over the place, there’s a little part of my brain that has just been tweaked and says that it’s alright to slow down. Although, having said that, I now have a million things to do. 

You are quite the renaissance man and have seemingly done it all. Is there a pursuit in life that you’ve always wanted to try that you haven’t had the opportunity to do yet?

BD: It would be nice to get a cat. 

One thing that has drawn me to Maiden albums is that the themes you write about are never the same. For Senjutsu, the latest album, you look to feudal Japan and Eddie as a samurai for inspiration. As a student of history, is there a part of the world, or era in history, that is your favorite to study? 

BD: I am a sucker for anything steampunk. You know, late Edwardian, before the first World War. It was a bizarre age of innocence and optimism, when things were happening for the first time. Like the invention of flight. You know, if it wasn’t the Wright brothers, it was going to be someone else. It was just a huge upswell of technology. But the thing about it that I love is that it was all done by amateurs. There were no barriers or obstacles and people believed they could do anything. 

I’m a big fan of pinball and especially the Iron Maiden machine. So, I’d love to know what you think of how it turned out? Do you have a high score? 

BD: I think my high score is about 350 million. I always get stuck trying to get the second Trooper multiball. I’ve got one at home and I play it obsessively. I’m still really trying to get to the bottom of it. I guess I could sit and read all of the instructions, but what would be the fun in that?