Bruce Dickinson has had what one — OK, everyone — might call an extraordinary life. The 59-year-old has steered jets through Soviet skies and crossed swords with Olympian fencers. He's written novels, drafted screenplays and brewed craft beer; he's faced off against schoolyard bullies, industry snobs, bandits — even the Grim Reaper himself (in the guise of throat cancer) — and lived to tell the tale. And of course, he's amassed a reputation as one of rock's most legendary vocalists, thanks to an ungodly set of vocal chords, unparalleled ambition and a little band called Iron Maiden.
Dickinson's life is prime memoir material, and he obviously knows it. Weighing in at 371 pages, the musician's new autobiography What Does This Button Do? traces his journey from English country bumpkin to heavy-metal renaissance man, with numerous revelations along the way. Here are 10 things we learned from the Iron Maiden figurehead's new book, out now.
1. Dickinson Got Expelled From School for Urinating in the Housemaster's Beans
When Dickinson turned 13, his parents enrolled him in Oundle School, a stuffy boarding school in Northhampton, England. There, he fell in love with hard rock, fencing and wargames. But his education was cut short due to the now-infamous "baked beans incident." After being flogged by his housemaster, Dickinson and a classmate snuck into the kitchen to add a "special ingredient" to the administrator's dinner.
"Through careful coordination and impressive bladder control, we relieved ourselves into an empty bottle," he writes, going on to compare their tomfoolery to Shakespeare's Macbeth: "As I poured out our mixed consommé into the bubbling pan, I found myself recalling 'Eye of newt and toe of frog, wool of bat and tongue of dog ... add thereto, a quarter bottle of piss." Dickinson was ultimately kicked out of school for the stunt.
2. Dickinson's Father Declared Rock & Roll Artwork "Degenerate"
Dickinson was introduced to heavy music through a senior classmate at Oundle, who happened to be blasting Deep Purple from his room just as the future Iron Maiden singer was strolling the halls. After scoring two gatefold editions of the Van der Graaf Generator albums H to He, Who Am the Only One and Pawn Hearts on a family vacation, he showed his wares to his father, an amateur oil painter, curious for his opinions on the album art. Dad deemed the LPs "degenerate," thereby forming a schism between father and son. "I decided that given a choice between being beaten at waterboarding school or being looked at as if I had two heads, I would take my chances back at school," Dickinson writes. "I was determined to spend as much time as possible away from home, and set about signing up for school trips, army placements and whatever I could lay my hands on."
3. Before Iron Maiden, Dickinson Sung in a Cover Band Called Styx
The summer before he attended university, Dickinson enlisted as the lead singer for a Sheffield covers band called Paradox. The group was forced to change its name to Styx after a notorious performance at a local park, which saw their frontman punishing a curmudgeonly "ne'er-do-well gentleman" who'd pushed one of the other bands offstage because they'd disturbed his afternoon nap. When someone else in the group pointed out that there was already a Styx in existence, Dickinson replied, simply: "Oh, they won't notice." The band broke up due to "commercial pressures" (read: summer jobs) a short while later, with just one song to their name, titled "Samurai." (That we'll probably never hear this forgotten tune is probably for the better; the lyrics, written by Dickinson's classmate, contain an unfortunate "flesh"/ "creche" rhyme.)
4. During The Number of the Beast Tour, Most of Iron Maiden Were Low on Funds — and Some of Them Were High on Drugs
"The biggest factor that changes 'Saturday night out with the lads in a band' to 'every Saturday spent in rehab or therapy' is money and drugs," Dickinson writes of Iron Maiden's debauched dalliances during The Number of the Beast tour. He notes that, what the band lacked in funds ("I don't think any of us has a credit card between us"), they made up for in free contraband, especially coke and hash. "Everyone wanted to give us drugs, lots of them, and all for free," reveals Dickinson, who kept the hard partying to a minimum; drummer Clive Burr, on the other hand, maintained an ever-expanding set of "luggage" as the tour went on.
5. Dickinson and Steve Harris Nearly Came to Blows on Iron Maiden's 1982 World Tour
Every band's prone to infighting, and Iron Maiden's no different. During his first world tour with the group, following 1982's breakout album, The Number of the Beast, Dickinson repeatedly butted heads with Steve Harris — the group's founding bassist, keyboardist and principal songwriter — over their drastically different approaches to stagecraft. "When I was singing, half a bass guitar was being stuck up my nose, because clearly there was some demarcation zone I had infringed," he writes. "I countered by putting ludicrously long legs on my mic stand ... in my peripheral vision, I could see Steve careening towards me, so I positioned it as a sort of anti-bass-player tank trap."
It all came to a head after Iron Maiden's show in Newcastle, England. "We went on stage, quite a small stage, and Steve and I spent a bad-tempered evening like two rutting stags locking antlers," Dickinson writes. "Rod [Smallwood, Iron Maiden's manager] needed to separate us backstage. We were both busy rolling up our sleeves to go outside and sort each other out. Steve was yelling at Rod as he separated us, 'He's got to fucking go!'" But Dickinson didn't fucking go; instead, he and Harris worked out a compromise, concluding that, "in the case of who stands in front of whom, good manners trumps boundless enthusiasm."
6. Iron Maiden's Mascot, Eddie, Has Suffered Some Hilarious Technical Mishaps
Part zombie, part ghoul and all-together terrifying, Iron Maiden's ghastly, instantly recognizable mascot, Eddie, has evolved continuously throughout the band's career. Up until their The Number of the Beast tour, he'd assumed a human form — "a rubber mask on a human wearing leather jacket and jeans," to borrow Dickinson's terms. The group's lighting engineer, Dave Light, had the genius idea to put him on stilts, and Eddie's lineage has only gotten crazier from there.
The goofiest was 'Cyborg' Eddie (seen above), who made his debut on Iron Maiden's trek behind Somewhere in Time in 1986. He boasted inflatable claws prone to deflation ("often it looked like the great clawed hand was giving the finger to the audience until the other digits managed to pump up the volume," Dickinson recalls) and a head plagued with similar problems ("sometimes it just looked like a baggy bin liner"). Their stage setup originally called for inflatable spaceships, too, but the dirigibles were later nixed due to safety and space restrictions.
7. Dickinson Wrote Several Treatments for an Eddie-Inspired Movie
In the late Eighties, Dickinson formed a cinematic partnership with director Julian Doyle, whom he met on the set of Iron Maiden's "Can I Play with Madness" video. (The frontman later wrote the screenplay for their most famous collaboration, 2008's supernatural thriller Chemical Wedding, which bears the same title as his 1998 solo album.) Among their projects was an Eddie-inspired movie, which sadly, never made it past the formative stages. "I thought about it, and wrote several treatments," Dickinson writes of the would-be film, "but it was obvious to me that it was neither the time nor the place for an Eddie movie, even if it could have been smuggled past the Maiden gatekeeper Rod Smallwood. It was just not a possibility."
8. Iron Maiden's Biggest Gig Was a Bloody Mess — Literally
On January 11th, 1985, Iron Maiden played their biggest show to date: a sub-headlining set at Brazil's Rock in Rio festival, before a crowd of roughly 300,000 fans, plus millions of Latin American fans tuning in at home. The sound was, in a word, awful; to make matters worse, the monitor engineer didn't speak English. By the time "Revelations" rolled around, Dickinson had reached his tether.
"Hot and bothered, I wrenched the guitar off, over my head, and split my forehead open on its wooden edge," Dickinson writes. The sound engineer was horrified, but the sound didn't improve, so naturally, Dickinson broke his guitar, and then hurled all of the wedge monitors off the stage, blood running down his face all the while. At least the band got some publicity out of the performance: "Next day, the picture was front-page news: sweaty, blood-stained me, and 300,000 new Iron Maiden fans," Dickinson writes.
9. Dickinson Once Helped Talk Bosnian Bandits Out of an Extortion Attempt
It's not every day that a rock star plays a warzone; then again, Dickinson isn't your average rock star. In 1994, the Iron Maiden bandleader pushed through the frontlines of war-torn Sarajevo, Bosnia – a city under siege, cut off from the West, and plagued by terrorism to boot – for a solo show at the Bosnian Cultural Center. A few hours before the concert, a group of bandits held the PA at ransom, demanding Dickinson's team pay $500, lest they break the opening musicians' legs. Bruce stepped in to negotiate with the thieves and buy some time, telling them through a translator: "Trevor [the band's personal security guard] is concerned that the building will be damaged if we don't go on stage soon, and someone might get hurt." After a considerable back-and-forth, the gig went off without a hitch.
10. He Contemplated an Extremely Horrifying Form of Relief for His Post-Chemo Constipation
We've saved Dickinson's weirdest story for last — the tale of the time he almost stuck a corkscrew up his ass. Obviously, context matters, so here's a bit of background for the ontologically unfamiliar. In 2014, Dickinson began radiology and chemotherapy to treat a cancerous tumor found on his tongue. (The treatments were ultimately successful, and he was given an "all clear" by doctors in 2015.) One of the most common, loathsome side-effects of chemotherapy is severe constipation, which, if left untreated, can cause fecal impaction (that's when your "poo turns to concrete," per Dickinson). And it's not very fun.
Enter Dickinson, in a state of profound gastrointestinal distress, searching for any form of relief. We'll spare you most of the nasty details, but let's just say he considered some medically dubious remedies. "I wandered around the kitchen looking for implements that might work better [for treatment] ... a corkscrew, for example," he reveals. As if to anticipate our winces, he adds: "but I thought it best not to."