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Smell the Coffee: Maiden voyage into heavy metal

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- "We're going where?"

I cringed when I heard my voice raise a few octaves on "where," betraying that budding panic I was hoping to hide upon learning my boyfriend purchased concert tickets for us.

Those tickets -- they weren't to an ordinary concert. Oh, no. This was for heavy metal.

Perhaps the heaviest of metal.

Iron Maiden.

I was aware of Didier's fandom, that he'd previously attended a number of concerts, had a collection of their music and assorted Maiden garb, knew most every word to most every song. Could recite random facts on the band faster than Google.

But me? At a metal concert? Of a band whose name came from a medieval torture device? I mean, my personal music collection includes the likes of Patsy Cline, Sinatra and the Carpenters. The closest I've come to hard rock was ABBA. And the last concert I attended? It involved a bear in a Big Blue House. (That actually sounds kind of trippy, but the bear was a Muppet creator's creation.)

I worried this would be the ultimate fish-out-of-water scenario.

Years ago, the Gazette writer/editor Doug Imbrogno told me I shouldn't be afraid to step outside of my comfort zone every now and then. He said I'd find meatier stories and would feel more alive. Thing is, I'm not an adventurous person. I'm cautious and conservative and quiet, and a heavy metal concert was so far out of my zone there was a time difference involved.

Even though Iron Maiden has been around since the late '70s, I knew little about them, yet had preconceived notions of what they were like. I was judgmental, discounting the group because of their zombielike mascot and long-haired band members and somewhat melodramatic titles and album covers. But the more I learned, the more impressed I became.

Their music is intricate and the lyrics are shockingly intelligent. Instead of the usual love songs or anti-authority themes that stir teen angst like other bands, Maiden's music focuses on history, mythology and religion. One of their most famous songs is a 14-minute piece based on a Samuel T. Coleridge poem, "Rime of the Ancient Mariner." There's a song about Alexander the Great, another that tells a story of a soldier involved in the Battle of the Somme, and one about an elderly couple preparing their house for Armageddon.

This was absolutely not the kind of metal I'd expected.

The detail that won my heart, however, is an odd one. It's that the band's lead singer, Bruce Dickenson, pilots the 757 the band uses to travel from city to city around the world when they tour. This isn't a little dink plane that seats a half dozen or so, but a full-on 757 large enough to carry the band, their crew and all their equipment. Dickenson even wears a standard-issue pilot's uniform when he flies.

These aren't young kids in the band either. Dickenson, like the other members, is in his late 50s. Yet he invested the hundreds of hours necessary to get his commercial airline pilot's license.

By the day of the concert, I was fairly well versed on the band and its members. I'd listened to most of their songs, some multiple times. Had my quirky Maiden outfit ready to go. My earplugs at the ready, just in case.

We arrived in Nashville, where the concert was held and met up with Didier's daughter, Hunter, and her boyfriend, Daniel, and then walked over to the arena. We stood waiting for an hour or so in a sea of people so vastly ranging in age and appearance it didn't seem possible they could all be there for the same entertainment. There was everyone from the wild-haired and heavily tattooed rocker types I'd expected, to office-worker types. Ordinary folks. Grandparents. Teenagers. A few children.

Still, I grew a bit anxious after we went inside and found our spot on the floor, which was astonishingly close to the stage. I worried that once the music started, everyone would push forward and we'd be smashed together, that bodies would be passed overhead, that there'd be screaming and groping and the like.

Not at all. The entire audience seemed captivated from the moment Maiden took the stage. While there was a good bit of dancing and jumping and hand waving, the audience was far better behaved than that last I was in, when I saw the bear.

The performance was phenomenal. I was blown away by the range of Dickenson's voice, how he could race all over the stage with this crazy, boundless energy and yet never sound winded. I loved the skill and charisma of the guitarists. And that adorable drummer, Nicko, who never stopped smiling and seemed to be having more fun than most any performer I'd ever seen.

I had such a great time. Left the arena charged up and grinning like an idiot. And thinking my friend Imbrogno was right about that whole comfort-zone business. Maybe even more than I'd originally thought.

That maybe life begins where the comfort zone ends.

Reach Karin Fuller via email at karinfuller@gmail.com.


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