The Heavy-Metal Image Doesn't Fit Iron Maiden Vocalist Bruce Dickinson Challenges the Stereotypes with His First Solo Album MUSIC INTERVIEW

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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. …