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Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Book Review: What Does This Button Do? By Bruce Dickinson (Review By Paul)

Bruce Dickinson: What Does This Button Do? Harper Collins

Sitting in the sun sipping a beer on Faro Marina four days before Christmas, I finished What Does This Button Do? A thoroughly entertaining read, which describes the career and some of the life-defining moments of the Iron Maiden frontman. Is it worth reading? Well, in my view yes. Here’s a few thoughts about why.

Much of Dickinson’s life story is already out there. Just read his Wikipedia page and you get a pretty decent summary. What his autobiography adds is a bit more meat on the bones. 367 pages, all originally hand written on A4 and edited to provide an honest chronology of his life, starting with his Worksop background, his initial upbringing by his grandparents and his nomadic parents who moved around the country with their various employment opportunities. Dickinson writes fluidly, with a gritty clarity which you believe is all his own work; far away from those awful ghost-written books that most stars employ. There is little in here about drink or drugs, few accounts of waking up in someone else’s bedroom with no recollection about how they got there. Instead you are shown an insight into the harrowing time at boarding school, with the endemic bullying and humiliation and Dickinson’s stuttering steps into the world of live music. His departure from school is delightfully captured, and the reader breathes a sigh of relief as he escapes, only to put sufficient effort into his subsequent studies to gain three A Level ‘E’ grades, sufficient to obtain entry for his history degree at Queen Mary College, University of London.

It’s from here on in that we get a window on the early Dickinson drive and determination, his formative years with the band Speed, his move to Samson, complete with Thunderstick and the now legendary approach of Maiden Manager Rod Smallwood at the Reading Festival which resulted in the transformation of Iron Maiden into one of the planet’s biggest bands. I imagine there’s quite a bit left out here, with little mention of Paul Di’anno; in fact, I’m not sure he’s even mentioned. Similarly, there is limited detail about his departure from Maiden in 1992, and nothing about his replacement Blaze Bayley except for a complimentary comment and the acknowledgement that Bayley had an impossible job following Dickinson in the 1990s. The return to Maiden is also sparse in detail, which may disappoint those looking for a bit of dirt. There is, however, some fascinating tales from his solo career which are incredibly entertaining.

Of particular interest to me was the detailed accounts of Dickinson’s conversion to flying, the rigmarole that accompanied his initial qualification as a pilot and the subsequent commercial pilot licences. Whilst it is very interesting, in typical fashion he recounts it as rather routine, despite the fact it was clearly a challenging and complex process. The descriptions of the organisation of Ed Force One for the Maiden tours is similarly perfect, despite the obvious logistics that it entailed. Whilst the humour and challenges are neatly described, at times it all seems a little bit too easy. Maybe that is the Dickinson drive and determination; take things by the horns and come up with solutions, not problems.

His matter-of-fact account of taking the diagnosis of head and neck cancer on head first is both inspiring and slightly glossed over. The unpleasant side effects are recounted with discomfort, but with the understandable decision to leave family and friends out of the book from the start, the human side of the impact is, perhaps reasonably, diluted. I’d have been interested to read more about the support he received from the metal community. His praise of his medical team is emotional although not everyone gets a referral to Harley Street; the perks of the Maiden insurance policy no doubt.

Overall, What Does This Button Do? is a cracking read. Not exactly a history of his time in Maiden; in fact, much of his latter year work with the band is reduced to small segments and his views on current music are noticeable by their absence. It really is a history of the man and his life, with Maiden just happening to play a part and facilitate a financial contribution which enabled him to source other roles in life. I’d recommend it but with the caveat that it may not reveal as much as you might think. 8/10

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