Book Review: ‘What Does This Button Do’ by Bruce Dickinson

Things We Don’t Learn About In Bruce Dickinson’s Autobiography

Bruce Dickinson is the singer with one of the world’s most popular bands: Iron Maiden. Iron Maiden has sold a staggering 90 million albums. In 2017 he published his autobiography, ‘What Does This Button Do’, (HarperCollins) having written it out longhand on notepaper filling seven A4 notebooks.

1. Details about his relationship with the rest of the band

Steve Harris is the bassist and founding member of Iron Maiden and pursues his creative vision relentlessly and stubbornly. Both Bruce and guitarist Adrian Smith left and re-joined the band in a turbulent period for Iron Maiden in the 1990’s and Steve Harris’ creative control was one of the issues.

In the book Bruce describes nearly coming to blows with Steve early on in his career with Iron Maiden over Steve’s habit of standing in front of him on stage.

The only other places in the book that Bruce even hints at openly disagreeing with Steve is when he describes being ‘cross and frustrated at the melodies and lyric’s produced by him, and when describing the cover of ‘Dance Of Death’ (2003), suggesting Harris pushed for something that Bruce describes as ‘embarrassing’. We would have liked more about his evolving relationship with Harris but Maiden’s management probably vetoed that particular notebook. Perhaps Dickinson still has a picture of Steve on his dart-board? In interviews he hints at a better relationship and that may well be the case.  However, we don’t learn about it in this book.

The rest of the band are conspicuous in their absence.  They are all mentioned, but only briefly. Perhaps this is down to the fact that the book is relatively short and is not supposed to be a history of Iron Maiden, rather than it being a deliberate Stalinesque erasure of their existence.

2. Anything about his private life

In his ‘Afterword’ Bruce admits that he ‘made a personal executive decision…no births, marriages or divorces, of me or anybody else’. He claims that it is because the book would have been too big, the type that ‘people use to commit murder, or help change tyres on London buses’. So we learn much less about the man and about Iron Maiden in the context of his life.

3. The full story behind his departure from and return to Iron Maiden

In ‘What Does This Button Do’ Bruce chooses to give only a brief explanation for his departure, citing questions over the band’s relevance and interest in his own solo projects.

Bruce’s departure, his solo career, and his return to Iron Maiden seem to be presented in little more than a sketchy fashion. Bruce gives us more detail about flying (which, when you read the book, is what seems to interest him more than Iron Maiden).

Why did Bruce even consider returning to Iron Maiden (a band he describes as having a ‘dwindling audience, particularly in the USA’) when he was producing arguably the best work of his career, possibly better music than Iron Maiden at the time, with his album ‘The Chemical Wedding’ (1998) showing that he was at the peak of his creative powers? He describes it as showing him that he ‘really did have a purpose, a meaning and a real career as a solo artist‘.

Was the real reason, then, the size of the deal that he made with the band’s management, which must have been very tempting considering the drop in income he must have felt following his departure from the band (even though he had earned a relative fortune by this time) and his potential cut in future earnings?

4. Anything about his multi-million pound fortune

Dickinson is worth 75 million pounds according to ‘The Nottingham Post’ and 115 million dollars according to ‘Celebrity Net Worth’. We learn nothing about his houses, cars, or lifestyle.

5. How he writes songs

Following winning an electric piano signed by Jamie Cullum at a charity auction hosted by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver Dickinson wrote ‘Empire Of The Clouds’ (the eighteen minute epic on ‘The Book Of Souls’ 2015) on it in a ‘two-fingered’ style. He wrote ‘If Eternity Should Fail’ as a solo work but gave it to Maiden. He doesn’t say how he wrote that or any of the other great songs he wrote in the Iron Maiden catalogue. Fans would have liked an insight into how he went about writing ‘Revelations’ or ‘Powerslave’ for instance. It’s disappointing that the whole writing process receives little attention in the book.

6. When he plans to retire from Iron Maiden

Dickinson turns sixty in 2018. At sixty-five drummer Nicko McBrain is the oldest member of the band. In recent interviews he has confessed to having arthritis in his hands and sees Iron Maiden’s future as being less than ten years. In interviews Dickinson tends to be non-committal and vague on the subject, which suggests that there genuinely isn’t a definite plan yet. Steve Harris suggested that they might record an album after quitting touring. Undoubtedly Bruce will remain busy!

If you want an insight into Iron Maiden (and Iron Maiden fans will be the main audience for this book) you will be disappointed.  His early years are covered in some detail but the creative process and relationships within the band are glossed over.  We learn more about the recording studio and where he lived during recording. If you want to read about flying you will be happy.  Surely there is another, larger, more candid book bursting to come out, and crying out to be read – even if it might be used to commit murder with or to assist in tyre related problems around London.