Fear not, Iron Maiden fans. The band isn’t done, and neither is Dickinson.
In the documentary Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey, Bruce Dickinson explains that his goal as a frontman is “to try and find the guy who’s right at the back of the 30,000-capacity festival and go, ‘You. Yeah, you!’” In other words, Dickinson wants to bring everyone who hears his voice into his world and make them a part of it. It’s something he refers to in his memoir, What Does This Button Do?, as “theatre of the mind.”
And it’s clear throughout his book that Dickinson wants to bring readers his world. The difference is, as a singer he brings fans to fantasy realms and other dimensions, whereas as a writer he brings fans into his world as a normal guy. It just so happens that this “normal guy” is in one the biggest (metal) bands on Earth. His sense of wonderment at the situation of being a revered, larger-than-life personality all over the world, likely parallel to his fans’ perspective, is reflected in his writing.
Indeed, it’s where the book’s title originates. The meaning is sort of akin to the of-the-moment idiom “hold my beer,” only with far less overt stupidity. More accurately, the title refers to being confronted with a choice of action, either yes or no. You “push” the button by agreeing to an action and see what results. As an example, while on tour behind Iron Maiden’s 1986 record Somewhere In Time, he decides to pass the time by writing a “saucy comic novel because, well, I could – and there was plenty of hotel stationery to do it on.” The result was a finished novel, The Adventures of Lord Iffy Boatrace, which eventually sold 30,000 copies and was followed by a sequel, The Missionary Position.
WDTBD? reveals Dickinson to be a surprisingly talented writer. He writes with fanciful descriptions, complete with dry, British wit. Observations are often colorful (Peterborough is described as being “nestled in a bend of the sleepy but often disobedient River Nene”) and laugh-out-loud funny (a bookshelf he built while in school was so bad that “even M.C. Escher would have been confused as to where to position his books”), and carry the book forward as much as the narrative itself. In fact, they fittingly make the memoir feel more like a light-hearted novel.
But as you come to find out, writing is only one of Dickinson’s many interests outside of music. He’s also a ranked fencer, a beer brewer and a licensed pilot, all of which he devotes ample space for discussion. As he aptly puts it, “It’s the small, hidden worlds that keep you on the straight and narrow on tour.” The book seems to argue that while Dickinson is known to the world as the singer of Iron Maiden, he refuses to define himself so narrowly. He’s a man of a considerable hobbies and music is just his day job.
By the time you get to his recent battle with cancer – the chapter is aptly titled “Fuck Cancer” – you realize that Dickinson might be the most laid back person to ever front a metal band. Discussing whether or not to feel hatred towards it, he concludes, “I would say life is too short to hate cancer; I would treat my cancer as an uninvited guest and politely but firmly dismiss it from my house.”
But fear not, Iron Maiden fans. The band isn’t done, and neither is Dickinson. In a recent interview he states that, “I haven’t written this book ‘cause I’m planning on stopping singing or any nonsense like that.” Instead, he states in the acknowledgements that he “just wanted to tell a good story.” That might be a tad modest. This is a fascinating and immensely entertaining journey through the life of one of metal’s most iconic performers. When you read What Does This Button Do?, you get the feeling that Bruce Dickinson is talking directly to you, whether you’re in your living room or in the back of the festival.