SOME people hear the words ``heavy metal'' and instantly conjure up aural and visual images of deafening guitars and drums, unbridled voices screeching incomprehensible or reprehensible lyrics (or both). And the perpetrators of this chaos are, of course, undisciplined youths (often nasty little satanists), with no sense of propriety or decency, let alone personal hygiene! Okay, so metal has a bad name; there definitely have been some bands that more or less fit the above description. But the world of heavy-metal music has its good guys, too.
Enter Bruce Dickinson, vocalist for the classic British metal band Iron Maiden. Dickinson recently recorded his first solo album, ``Tattooed Millionaire'' (Columbia) and was on hand to talk a few days after a performance at the Ritz, a massive rock emporium here.
In addition to being a singer and songwriter, Dickinson is also a world-class fencer, a graduate of London University with a degree in history, the writer of a successful first novel, published in Britain, and a collector of time-tables from around the world. Concerning the latter, Dickinson explains, ``Whenever I was on the road with Iron Maiden ... on days off everybody would end up in a Holiday Inn in the middle of shopping-mall wasteland. So I developed this fetish for accumulating travel information from all points of the globe so that wherever I was, when we had a day off, I'd say, `I'm outta here.''' Dickinson would vanish, and turn up in time for the next gig.
With his long, unruly hair and a fiendish twinkle in his eye, Dickinson looks like the stereotypical bad boy - part of the metal image, to be sure. But he's also dead serious about his music and about changing the poor image heavy metal has, especially in the United States.
Remembering a conversation with the members of the band on his new album, he says, ``...Metal music now - isn't it just another bunch of people with big hair and makeup spouting all these empty sentiments, negative stuff? ... When I was listening to bands like Free and Led Zeppelin and Purple at the beginning of the '70s, I felt kind of uplifted and constructive; I thought their music was full of emotion and passion. Where has it gone?''
The harder-edged so-called ``thrash'' metal and punk music aren't among Dickinson's favorites.
``The problem I have with the thrash-metal stuff is the absence of definable songs,'' he says. ``You can only go so far on energy. It's like having a very fast car that won't go around corners. I found that [punk music] was all anger.... It had loads and loads of energy, but it didn't go anywhere, and it kind of strangled itself.''
What is Dickinson trying to get at with his own music?
``Music's a circular thing; I think it's a personality thing. What makes a classic hard-rock record is not that somebody invents a new guitar scale; it's capturing a moment in time on a record ..., capturing a performance by somebody that is so real you feel like the person is with you when you listen to that record. So when I make records, I'm looking for that realism....''
When asked about the controversy in the US over the past several years concerning lyrics of rock and rap songs, Dickinson says, ``It goes against an ingrained common sense that listening to a record could make you go out immediately and become an axe murderer. That doesn't happen; normal people don't do that. That should be the end of it.
``It seems absurd to me that the First Amendment protects so many things which are considerably more noxious than rap music.... What they want to do is turn the clock back to a blissful kind of rural America like the Waltons ..., but America has never been like the Waltons. It's wishful thinking.''
Although he's far from being a supporter of the conservative right, Dickinson feels its proponents do have one valid point: ``When they say there's a spiritual and moral vacuum in America, they are actually dead right, but the moral vacuum has been caused by greed and constant selfishness.
``The thing in the USA, on the TV and everywhere for the whole of the '80s was an `I-want-it-now' `You-can-have-it-all' mentality. That's what's at the root of all the problems. And the same garbage is starting to happen in England.''
In spite of this criticism of the US, Yet Dickinson says he loves America, is married to an American, and has lots of friends in this country. He just finished a month-long US tour last weekAug. 16 in Los Angeles.
``Tattooed Millionaire,'' his first solo album, - came about because of the positive response to a song he wrote for the soundtrack ``Nightmare on Elm Street, Part 5'' soundtrack. For the first time in 10 years, he had a three-year respite from touring with Iron Maiden., so he got together with the musicians who had recorded the song for that latest ``Freddy'' film and made the album.
``We made the record without a record company,'' he says. ``And then we gave it to them and said, `Do you want to buy this?'''
It was a low-pressure situation, where Dickinson was able to work exactly as he prefers to do: ``We just go into hibernation with an acoustic guitar and do things that feel good to us - with a plate of biscuits and lots of tea.''