Iron Maiden’s music is loved by generations of headbangers. In 2010, don’t be surprised if you find yourself sitting between a 17-year-old kid and a 47-year-old vet at one of their shows. But if you ask fans how they first came to the band, chances are pretty good that most of them will tell you something about spotting an awesome album cover in the racks and thinking, I’ve gotta hear what that band sounds like!
Without a doubt, Iron Maiden have one of the best-looking discographies in music history, all centered on their snarling, demonic mascot Eddie. From the band’s 1980 debut through the upcoming The Final Frontier, Eddie has been on every single Iron Maiden album cover, single sleeve, and T-shirt, sporting dozens of different costumes and guises. He’s been an Egyptian pharaoh (1985’s Powerslave), a military-tank commander (2005’s A Matter of Life and Death), and an alien warrior butchering helpless astronauts (The Final Frontier). But he’s always been distinctly himself too. The band’s relentless touring schedule this summer prevented any members from sitting down for an interview before tonight's Blossom Music Center show, but Eddie was more than happy to be engaged.
A lot of metal bands have had mascots, but very few have achieved your kind of longevity. How did you first come to be associated with Iron Maiden?
It’s surprising, really. That Motörhead dog/pig thing’s been around forever, I’ll give ’em that. They keep it in a cage backstage. And you want to keep your hands and feet away from the bars, let me tell you. You think coming between Lemmy and his Jack Daniel’s is risky? Try approaching that beast. And Megadeth has that skull-faced fella. We met a time or two. Didn’t get on. He’s got Mustaine’s personality, that one. I don’t know what happened to the robot animals Judas Priest used to have, the eagle and that lion/tank thing. I miss those guys. But I really am sort of the king of the ring. To answer your question, I was in London, trying to make it as a male model, but it wasn’t really working out. The whole “heroin chic” thing was years away, so a bloke with my physique was destined for a life of doors slammed in the face, you know? Even the punks and goths didn’t want nothing to do with me. But then these guys spotted me on the street and said, “We’re desperate for an image, and you’re perfect! Be on our album cover!” So I said yeah, figuring it’d be like a steppingstone to something bigger, you know? Well, 30 years later, here I am.
You did look sort of punk on that first album cover.
Yeah, they caught me at one of my really desperate moments. I’d been awake for days, and my hair really wasn’t looking its best. But they loved the image, so there you go.
What’s your favorite of all the costumes they’ve put you in?
Well, I suppose I should say I like the new one — that’s what an artist is always supposed to say, don’t you know? But honestly, I think my favorite was Powerslave. The idea of being worshipped really appeals to me. That one, and Live After Death, where I’m bursting out of the grave. They really buried me, you know! And I might not look it, but I’ve got fears and insecurities like anyone else, and being buried alive, well, that’s bloody high on the list, innit? So my positive memories of that one are mostly down to just getting out from under the bloody dirt! I tell you, we had some discussions after that, the band members and me.
What’s your take on the next album cover?
Oh, I like it. I’m a big sci-fi fan. It was another tough one, though. That alien makeup took forever to put on, and you could barely see me underneath it all. I guess now I know what the guy who plays the Predator in those movies feels like.
And speaking of the band members, has there ever been any tension between them and you, given how much more recognizable you are than most of them?
Yeah, they know who the face of the band is. I mean, if you see a picture of them and I’m not somewhere in it, you’d wonder, “Who the hell are these guys?” They’re just five middle-aged Englishmen, straight out of any pub.
Six, actually. You’re forgetting guitarist Janick Gers. He’s been in the band since 1990.
Oh, yeah, that fella. You know, I don’t even think his guitar’s plugged in. Always bounding about the stage, twirling in circles. The first couple of tours with him on board, I thought he was some kind of hired acrobat, frankly. Well, to answer your question — no, no, we get along great. I really missed Bruce and Adrian when they were gone and was glad when they came back.
Do you have a favorite Maiden song?
Oh, mate, I don’t pay attention to the music. I just hang out in the backstage waiting for my cue. I tried listening a few times, but bloody hell, some of those songs are long. “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” — Christ, I could put that on, go out on a date, and get home just in time for the final chorus! No, no, I do my bit and earn my check just like the rest of the crew. I’m no different than the guys who load the amps in and out, I’m just more recognizable is all.
What do you think you’ll do if the band breaks up or retires?
You know, I’ve given that quite a bit of thought, actually. I’m planning to open up an artisanal bakery with the woman from the first Black Sabbath album cover. We’ve known each other for years. She’s very quiet, private, you know, but a lovely personality. —Phil Freeman