Bruce Dickinson, ‘What Does This Button Do?: An Autobiography’ – Book Review
In his 30 years as leader of Iron Maiden, Bruce Dickinson has been a rock star, pilot, fencer, moviemaker, entrepreneur, radio host, author, cancer survivor and probably a few other vocations I'm missing. His remarkable life is chronicled in his autobiography What Does This Button Do?
Dickinson, now 59, actually wrote the manuscript in longhand, forgoing a ghostwriter. He's a gifted writer, quick with the turn of a phrase and bringing the reader along for the ride. Dickinson is withholding about his personal life, but it's his magic and career that fans want the dirt on, and on that front he generally delivers. He recounts how he got his start, eventually joining Samson and then receiving his big break as the vocalist of Iron Maiden.
He entered a whirlwind filled with riches and rewards, but also a lot of stress and pressure ranging from the strain on his singing voice to battles with Steve Harris on where the microphones and monitors would be on the stage. Humorous tales from the road abound along with more serious moments like a perspective-changing trip to play in war-torn Sarajevo. Dickinson also recounts stories of how albums were created, which also helps to explain some of the tension within the band.
The singer eventually walked away from Maiden and released several successful solo albums before rejoining the band. During some Maiden downtime, we learn that there also could have been a heavy metal take on The Three Tenors including Ronnie James Dio, Rob Halford and Dickinson. Manager Rod Smallwood wanted Queensryche's Geoff Tate instead of Dio, but a meeting where Dickinson and Tate didn't see eye to eye sealed the fate of the project.
Aviation is Dickinson's other great love, and after getting his pilot's license, the singer immersed himself in his love of the skies. There are a lot of entertaining flying stories in the book, from a harrowing solo jaunt to Las Vegas to getting a day job of flying commercial jetliners to piloting planes that took Maiden around the world.
Passion and dedication to a hobby or interest is a recurring theme throughout the book. Dickinson seems unable to casually do something, instead embracing it wholeheartedly and becoming as skilled as possible. That was the case with fencing as well, where he hired world class coaches and spent endless hours practicing.
That same resolve and dedication was also evident when he battled neck and throat cancer a couple of years ago. He was told of someone else who had recovered from the same illness and said he would do it faster, and he did. He pulls no punches in how difficult and painful the disease and treatments are.
What Dickinson chooses to share in the book is illuminating, interesting and very entertaining. What you won't read about is his personal life. While he opens up some about a difficult upbringing -- he didn't live with his parents for the first few years of his life and was then shipped off to boarding school -- there is no mention of wives, relationships or his children. In the afterward, he writes he made a personal executive decision of “no births, marriages or divorces of me or anybody else.”
The book could have been even more interesting if some of those elements were included, but it may have made it considerably longer, and its current length of just under 400 pages is just about right. What Does This Button Do?: An Autobiography is a very compelling read about someone who is much more than just the guy who sings for Iron Maiden. Dickinson is extremely likable, and in addition to being regaled with stories from someone you wish was your friend, you'll glean some life lessons that will last long after you close the book.