What Bruce Dickinson Sez:
As lead singer of Iron Maiden, millions were introduced to the powerful, driving voice of Bruce Dickinson. Dickinson left Iron Maiden some time ago for a solo career, and recently took time out to speak with hm regarding Maiden, his new record, Skunkworks, and his spiritual beliefs...
Tell me about the
difference between the transition of going from Samson to Iron Maiden, vs. a
couple years ago when you left Maiden to venture out for a permanent solo.
"Well, Samson was like a garage band, doing things like . . . we were kind of professional, but when I joined Maiden, it was like, 'Whoa! This is the big deal,' because there were trucks and roadies and tour managers, and things happened when people said they would happen, you know. It was all pretty hard core, you know. Then I kind of got used to that way of working. In a sense, when I left Maiden, it was a big desire on my part to leave behind a lot of that organizational element of it. I felt that the whole thing was that the creativity had to come first -- the music had to come first. There comes a point, particularly with big bands, the bigger a band gets, you know, somebody will issue some kind of edict, 'The album will be released on this date.' And suddenly, the album is going to be released on that date, no matter what it sounds like. So I wanted to move away from that. And the world, thank goodness, is listening to music a lot more critically now. I think kids are a lot more critical about what they listen to."
You've had some
personnel changes the last, I guess getting your line-up together . . .
"Well no, not really."
"That wasn't a band. That wasn't intended to be a band. I borrowed the whole band off the shelf with the intention that I was going to put a band together after it. The band that I put together after it is the band that I'm still playing with now three years later."
For some, it may seem
like Balls to Picasso, Live in Studio A and Skunkworks were released in rapid
succession. Is there a reason for that?
"Well yeah, Balls to Picasso was there and we put it out. The live album basically because, I mean, I changed record companies. It seemed like a good idea to have a record which almost put a cap on the previous stuff, the previous existing stuff, the band and everything. And now, the next record is gonna be what we do, you know. Although this one says Bruce Dickinson on it, this is very much a Skunkworks record. This is Skunkworks the band that you're hearing on this record. All the songs are co-written by Alex the guitarist and me. I think it represents a really cool new sound. It's very modern, but it retains all the cool classic stuff."
How are you feeling
about the direction of your music and the evolution of what we've seen with metal
and hard rock in ten years?
"I think what we're doing is absolutely, it's right there at the forefront of it now. I don't think Balls to Picasso was. I think Balls to Picasso, in many ways, was a backwards looking kind of record, just kind of treading water, you know. So Skunkworks, I see as being a huge step forward, the record that'll stand up there in ten years' time and still sound great."
I think you also
succeeded in remaining true to form too; not like you went out there and tried
to be Stone Temple Pilots . . .
"No, there's no point in trying to do that. What we've got is great tunes and we've got really cool stuff."
I know with
songwriting, there can be one of a million different interpretations for a
song. You can write a song about your kid, and somebody thinks it's about a
teacher -- the can personalize it, in other words. The song "Tears of a
Dragon," I saw you on Headbangers' Ball years ago, when you debuted a
video. And I remember you kind of ducked the question, and made reference to some
girls would maybe figure it out. My own personal interpretation, whether it was
your or not is it seems to me you painted a beautiful picture of somebody who
they come to a faith in Christ, and they completely surrender to the grace and
forgiveness of God, and just are covered up by His forgiveness like the waves
of the sea. Is that anywhere near the mark?
"Yeah, I mean, it wasn't specifically about Christ, but the idea of water in terms of being a very powerful symbol of spiritual movement. Something, the idea of allowing yourself to be engulfed, and then discovering that nothing bad happens when you let yourself be swept away be a current that's really cool. Nothing bad happens; it'll look after you. That was the idea I had, because that's what I was going through leaving Maiden. It was basically leaving behind twelve years of my life, and something that represents security for the future. And, you know, I was just walking out on the whole thing on the basis of a hunch, a feeling, that some stuff wasn't quite right."
What are your feelings
"Me? Oh, I'm not big on organized religions in general. Although, they do great stuff, and they do good stuff for a lot of people. But the one thing that I can't, that I find impossible is like with Islam and Christianity, if you believe in one religion, then it's mutually exclusive to all other religions. I think that religion and spirituality is something that's much bigger that any one particular religion. People pick religions based on all kinds of different factors. If the character and the personality of Christ appeals to you, then Christianity will be the one for you. If hellfire and brimstone and damnation appeal to you, then it'll be a slightly different kind of Christian religion that appeals to you. So there's all kinds of different shades even within different religions. People pretty much get the religion that they choose."
I've noticed a lot of
your, I mean you've written so many songs and have covered so much material
through the years, and sang a lot of songs, that you've probably become
familiar with the outcast, or the person who's misunderstood, or the person who
becomes a martyr. What do you think of Christ's claims to be "the Way the
Truth and the Life -- no one comes to the Father but by Me?"
"Well, I'm a little bit cynical about some of the New Testament, you know, given the historical context, and also given the editing of a lot of the books several hundred years later by people who were basically involved in marketing the Christian religion to the Romans. Religion in those days was a big business. Religion was like the rock & roll of that whole period, and the Romans had loads and loads of religions. If you had a good religion that made people feel good, you could be pretty successful at it. This whole thing about 'the Way, the Truth and the Life; nobody comes to the Father except by Me,' and stuff like that, it is good, it offers redemption and everything else, but in doing so, it's very convenient. You put yourself in the position of, you know, of some Roman guy who's done an awful lot of bad stuff, right? And he's got maybe ten or twelve gods, and he's got 'em all in the bottom of his garden, and somebody comes along and says, 'I've got this great new religion for you. Get this -- you don't have to do anything. All you have to do is confess you did something wrong, and this guy takes it on for you!' The guy's like, 'Wow, that's really cool. What a great religion! What's it called?' So it's a very interesting, that's kind of an interesting paradox, but Christ is one of a whole bunch of -- how can you put it -- not submissive, but . . . the Egyptians has a similar figure, Asyrus, you know, that corresponds to another Christ-like god -- somebody who has basically sacrificed himself for everybody else. So it's a popular version of god. And you've got the other, god the father, which is the fire and brimstone and everything else, you know. And God the Holy Spirit, which is emphasized somewhat less in Christianity."
I find myself, when I
look at Christianity being called "convenient," it's hard for me to
see how somebody would edit out certain portions, but keep in the portions
about, "You have to be crucified with Christ, or die to your self. It's
certainly not a convenient faith to keep. If you're going to clean it up, I'd
certainly take out the tough bits.
"Well, you know, Christianity, historically, if we were to be purist about it, and I agree with you. But Christianity has been notably misused by the Church throughout the centuries. Christianity and organized religion has largely been used to suppress and control largely superstitious populations, particularly in medieval times, church and state were intertwined completely. It was only when people like Henry VIII in England started basically getting, 'I'm fed up with the church. It has far too much power.' It was a political institution. The Jesuits and people like that, these are political institutions that would torture and maim people in order to maintain the status quo, and make sure, basically, that the pope got his money at the end of the day. And you could argue that this doesn't have a great deal to do with religion -- yes, you're right, but it's done in the name of religion."
It's certainly a shame
that some of that stuff has gone on. What kind of sources have you looked at --
you mentioned being a little bit cynical of the new testament -- what kind of
sources have you relied on that capped that on it for you?
"There's a couple of interesting books. One is the Gnostic Gospel. Have you read that?"
No, I know about it.
"It's the one that was excluded. It's the Gospel that was excluded."
I've definitely heard
of other types of gospels, like the Gospel of Bartholomew, and then things like
"Yeah. Gnosticism is very tough. Gnosticism says that there's no way of experiencing God except doing it yourself. Gnostics were mystic Christians. That's not what you want to hear is it? At the back of a church, you're standing at the back of a church, and you sit down, you get on your knees and you say a few prayers, then you go out and do a few things, and you believe in God. And the Gnostics say, 'Yeah, that's fine, but it won't do anything for you in the afterlife.' The Gnostics just say that the only way to move on spiritually, to experience God, is to experience God. It's to actually meditate, and basically it's very close to Eastern mysticism. And that excludes huge numbers of people. That religion suddenly becomes incredibly demanding, and therefore unmarketable. It's an interesting attitude. It may or may not hold water, but it's certainly an intriguing attitude."
I find some people,
they look at the Bible and mistrust it, but I've also seen other folks, they
apply certain standards that you would apply to any historical text. And the
New Testament comes out shining, as far as back up scripture, having dates and
people and places in there that archaeologists seem to confirm, as well as the
rebuttals of a major piece that would've been contemporary to that time don't
"There's little doubt that this guy called Jesus existed, and he was regarded the terrorist by local people, etc. He did things that any self-respecting nonconformist would do. He threw the money changers out of the temple. So, yeah, He obviously existed, yeah."
Some of the themes
you're covering on the album . . . one thing I noticed is a reference to space
quite a bit. Any reasons for that?
"Yeah, it's a great place to visit. It's a great place to live."
Are you gonna be on
the first truckload on the space shuttle when they invite the public?
"If I could afford it, I'd be there."
I've also noticed some
other themes -- I mentioned Tears of a Dragon -- but on this album,
"Falling from grace leaves a cold empty space . . ." and a lot of
imagery that could be spiritually interpreted . . .
"I doubt that song, 'Head Switch,' is about spirituality. It's about the mental torture, which actually happened. This English guy, he was a double murderer. He was sentenced to death, I think it was last year. He was sentenced to death in the electric chair. I forget which state it was in. I think it was a Southern state somewhere, and there was a big cry about it. Anyway, he'd committed a particularly brutal, cold-blooded shooting of two old people -- tied them up to a tree and shot them both in the head after robbing their house. One of them survived, incredibly, identified him, and he was sentenced to die in the chair. There was a big . . . I'm actually basically not in favor of the death penalty, but I'm as emotional about stuff like this as anybody else. And I was really doing a lot of soul searching, trying to figure out . . . I was going, 'Well, I really can't think of a . . . this guy doesn't seem to have any redeeming features at all. I mean, he doesn't regret doing it. If you let him out, he'd probably do the same thing again.' Until I read one or two of the things that have been going on, happening to him during his spell when they were trying to get the execution stayed, and it happened three times, and stuff like that. But he would be taken out of his cell by these guys, have his legs shaved, be sat in the chair, have everything put on him, as if he was going to be executed. There's a guy standing by the switch and everything, and a guy would come up and say whatever they say to 'em, you know, 'Do you renounce your sins before God,' or whatever it was. And this guy didn't believe in God -- he was an atheist. So he would say no, and they'd say, 'Well, it's your last chance. We're gonna pull the switch,' and then he'd say, 'Take a hike!' And they'd go, 'Ah, just joking!' And they'd put him back in his cell. And they did that to him two or three times, until finally it was for real and they put him in there. And the last thing he did was they said, 'You really are gonna fry now, you know. Do you want to take this last chance to renounce your sins before Christ?' And the last thing he did before he died was he spat in their face -- for which I really can't blame him. That's what that song, 'Head Switch,' is about. It's about that guy's experience. And I thought that was pretty sick, regardless of whether you're in favor of the death penalty or not in favor of the death penalty, it's enough to kill somebody. You don't have to make them believe in what you want to believe in. Nobody gave you permission to kill whatever the guy's belief was. If he wants to go and believe in God, I'm sure there are better ways of doing it that strapping him in a chair and winding up that he's about to get fried."
It kind of brings to
light how important or how responsible the messenger can or cannot be with a
message like that.
"Yeah, you could say that! That would be kind of an interesting way of putting it."
There's also a line,
"Whenever demons talk to me, I love them like a friend."
"Yeah, that one's referring to all the little inner hang-ups and demons and all the things."
One other question would be . . . we talked about Christ, and where my
spiritual waters are. What would be your description of where you're swimming
"Me? Oh, I'm just looking for bits of ecstasy in music. That's me. I just go around trying not to attract bad karma, try and do as much good stuff as I can."
Do you prescribe to
karma, as in the classic definition of . . .
"Yeah, in terms of I think it's important to make sure you have the right intentions behind your actions. I think that's important. I'm also a bit of, I tend to fell that if you are doing the right thing for the right reasons, then good stuff will happen. You may or may not become massively rich or massively successful, or any of this kind of stuff. But I look at a lot of people who are incredibly rich, and basically, their lives really suck. I'm kinda like, 'Well, I'm kinda glad I don't so that.'"
Do you ever feel
challenged by the New Testament, which is pretty much dogmatic and intolerant
when it comes to, like you mentioned earlier . . . like some religions
basically say anything goes.
"I'm not a fan of dogma. I don't think dogma is particularly helpful."
Well, I can understand
that. I reached a different conclusion, because I've just been so completely
satisfied intellectually, as well as spiritually and emotionally, that the
scriptures are accurate and I just have to conclude that Christ is who He said
He was. I appreciate being able to dialogue with you about it, and I hope to be
able to see you, maybe when you come through Austin, or our paths ever cross
"Yeah, that would be cool. I love Austin, it's a great place."