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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Notes From the Old School: Iron Maiden's Piece of Mind

I'd been christened into heavy metal courtesy of a cousin I no longer see anymore, which is a shame, since it was he who'd sat me down at a shaky time of my life in late 1982 and exposed me to Iron Maiden's Killers and Number of the Beast then Dio's Holy Diver and Ozzy's Diary of a Madman.  That same day, his brother passed me a spare turntable and an extra copy of AC/DC's Back in Black and thus my indoctrination was complete.  Music held an entirely new meaning for me.

At the same time, MTV was getting its footing and quickly becoming the mass-marketed junk cereal for the eyes of my generation.  Nothing else seemed to matter when MTV launched, which is how I suppose the term "vidiots" came into being.  It was during this crucial period of my lifelong obsession with music where I saw, amongst Greg Kihn Band's "Jeopardy," Rush's "Limelight," Duran Duran's "Hungry Life the Wolf" and Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" the jaw-dropping promotional video for "Flight of Icarus" by Iron Maiden.

At first I didn't recognize them since I'd been in the kitchen trolling for some Dr. Pepper and bacon flavored Cheetos.  Insane as it may sound, I mistook Maiden for, of all groups, Three Dog Night.  My father was a big TDN fan and we'd spent many Saturday nights at his bachelor pad spinning Cyan and Hard Labor, sure as we were sittin' there.  Hey, I was 12 and my ears weren't as keen and tested as they are now.  I remember bolting for the living room the first time I was exposed to "Flight of Icarus" since I thought Three Dog Night had inexplicably amped up to that loud vibe which had thrilled me in my cousin's bedroom only months prior.

I remember dropping my bacon Cheetos bag on the way back when I saw a long-haired young king shrieking his guts out into a dangling microphone inside what I assume now was Compass Point studio in Nassau.  It was the near acapella gang choruses of Iron Maiden chanting "Fly...on your an as high as the sun..." that had fooled me into thinking them to be Three Dog Night.  Obviously that's about all the two bands have in common, but as the "Flight of Icarus" video rolled on and those impressionable orange-hued scenes of an ocean (seemingly wading over Hell instead of the other place) and the mad monk who served all of us astonished kids a freaking brain at the end of the clip...  If you've been around metal long enough, you can understand how much of an impact "Flight of Icarus" left upon me.

I won't get into the neighborhood and the middle school I was a part of during this transitory period of my life.  I was a miserable kid, forced to fight after getting beat up for no reason other than I had no self esteem.  Eventually, "Flight of Icarus," along with Devo's "Whip It" kicked me in the seat of my pants to the point I was able to stand up for myself and the manifest repercussions weren't pretty.  I'm afraid to confront that version of me again, honestly, just as I'm sure those five little pricks who tasted my fists would be as well.  I seldom had any serious trouble amongst my peers thereafter, even when my folks moved us out of that drug zone and into the country.

By the time we moved, I knew all year long what I wanted for Christmas:  Iron Maiden's Piece of Mind album.  My folks are the coolest a kid (and adult man, for that matter) could ever hope to land in this life, but Piece of Mind did not show up under the Christmas tree in '83.  I was raised right, so I didn't pitch a fit since my parents are the generous type anyway.  It so happened they'd stapled a twenty spot to an old Baltimore Colts pennant (yeah, Baltimore Colts, people) with the insinuation I could buy Piece of Mind myself.  They even said they'd drive me to the record store in the mall so I could get it.  Like I said, my parents are the coolest.  They'd ingrained my passion for record shops and I don't think I took pride in buying an album on my own more so than Piece of Mind.

To that point, I'd only seen the videos for "Icarus" and "The Trooper," but I knew I'd be in for something unique.  Just the cover of Iron Eddie shackled in an asylum was enough to bait me if I already hadn't been seduced by the album's two mega singles.  Verily, I sat on my bedroom floor with Piece of Mind disassembled before me, chuckling at the picture of producer Martin Birch and cover artist Derek Riggs encased in armor--obviously too big for the latter.  Being young and daft, I thought it was Bruce Dickinson in Riggs' spot and laughed even harder.  Then there's that ridiculous photo of the band in the castle seated before a platter of cerebellum ala carte.  Adrian Smith and Steve Harris carry those "to hell with that expressions upon their facades while Bruce looks you square in the puss and dares you to comment.  Knights and spectres are omnipresent at Maiden's backs, ready to eviscerate the band if they refuse to chow down on that brain under glass.  Riot.

I can still see myself marveling at the intricacy of "Where Eagles Dare," "Revelations," "Still Life" and of course, the magnificent closing epic, "To Tame a Land," all songs I still look forward to with the same rabid anticipation as when they all greeted me the first time.  I couldn't help but crank "The Trooper" and of course "Flight of Icarus," which was tolerated by my folks for a minute or so before their singular warning knock on the door came.  All part of the game, as we joked amongst ourselves later after I'd grown up and gotten married.

I often wonder how my mom held herself in check hearing the repeated near-mantra of the word "die" spread across "Die With Your Boots On."  When you're young and already addicted to horror films and now suddenly music so freaking heavy it feels like a bestowment of power through the stereo speakers, "Die With Your Boots On" comes off like an ordainment.  Not an ordainment to slaughter your peers, mind you, albeit every teenager known throughout history has that on their immature minds.  Unfortunately, today's youth has been cursed by a score of hedonists who cannot seem to separate fantasy from reality.  No, "Die With Your Boots On," like many metal songs in history, did the slaying for you and you felt instant alleviation, moreover, the riddance of any violent urges.  Whereas I'd found my nerve in middle school in part because of Maiden, they helped cool my jets in the next phase of my teen years.  Thank you for that, lads.

My parents trusted me to process Piece of Mind and all the future heavy metal slabs that came marching through the door from that point forward with intelligence and respect for myself and others.  Did I hate my peers?  Yes, many of them.  It's all so stinking silly to think about now since I've seen many of them at impromptu class reunions in bars or we've befriended one another at Facebook or in the real world.  High school is a proving ground, though I'd been forced into proving myself as far back as fourth grade into sixth, even if I had reprieve in fifth.  Thank God Iron Maiden was there to bolster my anger.  My proverbial flight of Icarus soared instead of crashed.  In the name of God, my father, I flew!

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