Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson is usually calm, cool and collected, but when talking to The Guardian earlier this week with punk/folk singer Frank Turner, he went off on a bit of a rant about punk music, calling it ‘rubbish.’ Was Dickinson’s rant just, or has his resentment toward punk something that’s been building up for a long time? That’s what we’re debating on this week’s ‘Headbangers Brawl.’ We’re joined this week by Steven DiLodovico, co-author of No Slam Dancing, No Stage Diving, No Spikes: An Oral History of the Legendary City Gardens, who is a fan of punk, hardcore and metal, but is not a fan of Iron Maiden. And yes, we chose to make the artwork for this article the cover of the first Maiden album, because Eddie looks punk as fuck.
Steven: So my old friend Bram, after witnessing several of my social-media rants against the revered Iron Maiden, asked me to weigh in on a recent interview Maiden lead singer and super jet pilot Bruce Dickinson gave to The Guardian. The context of the comments are such that they are not the point of Mr. Dickinson’s answer to the question he was asked; rather they are used to illuminate a point he was making about the prejudices and general snobbery of music critics and fans alike.
I, personally, didn’t take his comments as an attack on punk rock, per se. That being said, I still think Dickinson is a fucking bozo. I was all ready to launch into a vitriolic, contempt-filled and heavily, heavily detailed diatribe that would pinpoint each and every aspect of the band Iron Maiden that makes them so horrible. Then I realized that almost every point I wrote down was a scene straight out of the movie Spinal Tap. Yes, yes, I know Steve Harris invented the bass guitar and yes, yes I know Nicko is just the best thing since pants with pockets, yes NWOBHM, yes, Trooper Beer is bitchin’…yeah, yeah, I get it, they are all brilliant Mozarts melded with Brahms, Bach, Beethoven and rolled into the second coming of Jesus H. Christ and blah blah fucking blah…
For all the multitudinous abundance of musical talent every member of Maiden possesses they don’t really get it. Nor do their most ardent supporters. Yes, they write these amazing, soaring anthems of battlefield conquests that get your balls all pumped up, but, the thing is… they still suck. No, really, they do. It’s OK. I like a lot of bands that suck. We’ll all get through this. Punk rock (and here it gets a little slippery, because no one is setting any clear cut definitions and margins regarding the semantics of division. “Metal,” “punk,” “hardcore.” It’s defined differently by whomever is having the argument) was never about sonic perfection, that’s fairly common knowledge. Punk rock is more of an irritant than a sound. And it seems like all these years later it is still pretty effective.
See, punk’s sole existence is to fuck with these walking hard-ons with overblown egos; to make the spandex-clad, melodramatic, operatic metal singers just a tad uncomfortable. That, in a nutshell is why punk wins this one. If I had more leeway in word count I’d go into much deeper detail, but this is an internet world, after all. And, like any fluff piece you read on your phone while riding the train home from work: if you need more than 80 seconds to get your point across in a song then that point is probably as uninteresting and bland as your cornball devil and dragons lyrics. There’s nothing rebellious about metal or its clichéd demographic. Mr. Dickinson, you may be a master fencer, but John Lydon survived being razored in the streets of London for being a punk. Your corny-ass Eddie ain’t scaring anyone. Oh, and fuck Frank Turner, too. “Punk troubadour” my ass…
Bram: Damn Steve, sorry I asked! How do you really feel? Moving on to Dickinson’s statement, it’s taking things a bit out of context to just have him say “punk is rubbish,” since it’s wrapped in a deeper discussion about “snobbish cultural gatekeeping” and Turner is kind of goading on Dickinson by saying that some people consider metal a lesser art form. But Dickinson is saying that punk bands were laughing at the art establishment that was embracing them. I’m not sure frankly what his argument is, really. He’s kind of arguing that the establishment can’t control metal because it’s not rubbish? What’s that even mean? And Maiden is one of my favorite bands, but I’d rather hear a punk band than Dance of Death. It doesn’t take more than three chords and an attitude to make punk music, but that’s not far from the first few Maiden albums either. I also would argue that Dickinson’s thoughts on punk are a bit old fashioned, which I went into more detail on earlier this week.
Chris: If you had asked me this question seven or eight years ago, I probably would have instantly agreed with Bruce Dickinson and started naming off metal bands that you should like instead. Now, though, I’ve come to realize that the spirit of punk is integral to the metal world, and it deserves to be recognized as such. How many metal bands cite Black Flag as one of their influences? How many metal musicians do you see wearing Ramones shirts on stage? How many metal fans do you know that have a Misfits tattoo somewhere on their body? Look everywhere in metal culture, and you’ll find that punk has worked its way into the system and can’t ever be extricated.
For Bruce to say that lots of punk musicians “can’t play their instruments” is completely unfair, given that he comes from a band that has been considered one of the most technical bands in the world during their career. When it comes to musicianship and intricacy, there’s not a single punk song in the universe that can hold up to a Steve Harris composition. Bruce is missing the bigger point here – musicianship and technicality are not what punk music is about, and punk fans don’t want those things when they turn on their music. They want the kinship, camaraderie, defiance, and revolution that punk has to offer. Punk has a lot to offer, and it means a lot to its fans, just like metal music means the world to metal fans. Even if I’m not a fan of punk all the time, I still think that Bruce was wrong to be so judgmental and presumptuous on this subject.
Anthony: That’s a pretty tricky question, to me. An opinion on whether punk music is rubbish or not depends on what you look for in your music. For someone who enjoys lyrics, passion, energy and the feeling of being able to take on your problems in life, than no. I think there’s a lot in punk music that people can connect to. At the same time, however, if you’re the type of person that likes musicianship, and people who can really play their instruments in a complex way, than yes, I believe someone like that normally wouldn’t find much interesting about punk.
There’s a lot I agree with Bruce about in his rant, and a lot I disagree with. While I think saying that no one in punk could play their instruments is going a bit overboard, I do believe that most punk musicians write with simplicity in mind instrumentally. And that’s not to say that metal bands, Maiden included, never have simple moments. They do. It seems to me that Bruce had some valid points in this rant, but expressed them out of anger, rather than breaking them down so he was actually making logical points.
I grew up with relatives who loved The Ramones, for example. I appreciate what punk is going for, even if I don’t love it personally. The bottom line in my mind is that punk is about the feeling, the energy and the passion rather than what is being played. Modern punk bands took all of that, and stepped it up another level, too. For me, it CAN be rubbish if music that relies on feeling, and empowering lyrical things aren’t what you look for in a band. However, there are just as many reasons why someone might find it to be the best genre of all, too.
Zach: Of course there are many exceptions to the rule, but overall metal tends to be more technical than punk music. It may be a stereotype, but metal players tend to be better musicians than punks. But in the same vein, some would argue that punk songs feel more “genuine” then metal songs that come off as a ten minute shred-a-thon than a song. Some more even argue that punk produces more melodic or simply better written than some metal songs (or at least more accessible sounding). It really comes down to whatever type of music you prefer.
However, I find it interesting that despite punk and metal’s differences, a love for both genres essentially lead to the birth of thrash metal. It’s a subgenre that in the ’80s appealed to those who want the technicality of metal as well as the straight forward aggressiveness of punk (those who wanted more than Deep Purple’s spaciness and The Ramones’ simplicity despite admiration for both groups). It’s also a subgenre that boasts some of the most influential metal acts of all time (such Metallica and Slayer just to name a few). So while I completely see what Dickinson is trying to say, it’s also important to note how influential some punks who “can’t play their instrument” actually are to metal.