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Rime of the Ancient Firebird

Powerslave_cover

My dad was a master of the weird surprise. Not a prankster, per se, just someone who would keep you on your toes.

Example:

When I was 11, he called me a few days before a Sunday visitation and said, “I got a new stereo. Bring along your favorite tape.” That decision was easy for me.

Sunday rolled around; he came to pick me up in his old, reliable Chevette hatchback, and I got in with my Iron Maiden – “Powerslave” cassette. We drove to his office, and there in the parking lot, was the coolest thing in the entire universe: a brand-new 1985 red-orange Pontiac Firebird. “There’s my new tape deck,” he said.

We switched vehicles and hit the road, just driving around with no destination. I popped in the “Powerslave” tape, already wound to Side B. The Firebird’s sound quality was remarkable; even better than my boombox at home.

Firebird

Now bear in mind, my dad was born in the 1940s; he was the least musical of his brothers, and had zero interest in Heavy Metal. He hated my long-haired days. Very few people in his life ever referred to him as “open-minded.” He mostly had no comment through “Back in the Village” and the title track, but his vibe and interest changed completely when “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” came on. He mentioned that he’d read the Coleridge poem in high school, and was clearly impressed that this band had shown the audacity to play a 14-minute song, something that no radio DJ would ever touch.

The tape then ended, flipped automatically to play Side A (high tech!), and Dad declared that “Aces High” – – one of my favorite Metal songs of all time, then and now – – was a bunch of noise. “This guy hollers a lot,” he observed of Bruce Dickinson. . . and. . . well OK. . . I’ll concede him that point.

We later went into Record Town and he bought a cassette of Rock instrumentals from the 50s and 60s. That was my first time hearing “Rumble,” by Link Wray and his Wray Men, which by the way, is one of the most badass songs ever recorded.

I didn’t convert the old man to Maiden or Metal fandom on that day, but as he pulled up to drop me off at my mom’s house, he told me he’d liked “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and that one instrumental from my tape (“Losfer Words (Big ‘Orra)”). That was almost as surprising as seeing the Firebird in his office parking lot. I replied, “I like that ‘Rumble’ song.”

Link Wray

I’d only discovered “Powerslave” from a cool schoolmate a year or two before that Firebird ride, so Iron Maiden was all still relatively new to me – – but it had taken no time at all to slot them into “favorite band” status. By late Summer 1985, I had already devoured and studied every other cassette in their existing catalog, including “Live After Death” and the ones with Paul Di’Anno.

Iron Maiden’s degree of power, musicianship, and erudition felt like levelling up, like a kind of graduation from the Hard Rock and radio-friendly Metal I’d been listening to before. These guys were making incredible music, and they were singing about war and fighter planes and awesome stuff from books and movies, which was far cooler than the bullshit about chicks and love and “Rock n’ Rollllllll!!!” that I’d been accustomed to hearing (11 years old). “Powerslave” and AC/DC’s “Back in Black” both appeared on my radar at just about the same time, and nothing would ever, could ever be the same again. Both are on my short list of the greatest Metal albums of all time.

Aces High

My dad and I would be on-and-off with communication and closeness for the ensuing decades. We had a good relationship for his final twenty years, but there was also the matter of the physical distance; me in Arizona, him in New Jersey.

I was with him in Jersey when he died in his hospice room, at the age of 74. The pain had gotten extreme in the week before my arrival, he’d declined rapidly – – from jovial and joking to struggling and unfocused during our phone calls. He was almost entirely out-of-it when I got there, medicated heavily against the relentless agony of the cancer, in his final days while I stayed with him.

Though Dad was mostly asleep and unresponsive, I did cut off the piped-in Lawrence Welk-ish Big Band music that the well-meaning staff had going in his room, knowing that Easy Listening was just about as unappealing to him as Ratt or Run-DMC. On the laptop I’d brought with me, I hastily assembled an iTunes playlist of Rock n’ Roll oldies – – mostly instrumentals that I knew he liked: “Walk Don’t Run” by the Ventures, “Sleepwalk” by Santo and Johnny, “Wham” by Lonnie Mack, and of course, “Rumble.”

But you’re damn right, “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” was on that playlist too. I hope that while it played out of those tinny computer speakers, somewhere through his fog of pain and morphine, my dad was transported right back with me to that 1985 ride in his brand-new Firebird, driving the coolest car in the universe, listening with an open mind to the “Powerslave” cassette.

 
 

Jack Mangan is best known in the Metal world as the co-host of the popular Metal Hall of Fame and MetalAsylum.net livestreams with Rich Catino, but in this space, he’s also the lead author/project runner for the “Am I Evil?” graphic novel and a journalist with MetalAsylum.net and the official Metal Hall of Fame. In an adjacent life, he was a podcast pioneer, with numerous appearances on Dragon Page, Escape Pod/Pseudopod, and many others, including his own productions: Jack Mangan’s Deadpan, and the Podcast novel, “Spherical Tomi.” Friend him on Facebook if you can find him, but be warned: he’s not great about checking Facebook Messenger.

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