“Can I play with matches?!” Yes, I honestly thought those were the actual words to Iron Maiden’s incredible “Can I Play With Madness” the first time I ever heard the song. I was in my mother’s car returning from (or heading to) somewhere when the song first graced my ears. Our local rock radio station, WDHA, was playing the brand new Iron Maiden song, and my body perked up immediately upon hearing the first note. Unfortunately, my young mind didn’t process the lyrics as astutely as it should have. Thus, I heard “Can I play with matches?” and thought that Iron Maiden was the coolest freaking band in the entire world. I had never heard a band sing about playing with matches. This was superb! I had to have this record.
It was the end of my freshman year in high school and just after Appetite For Destruction had taken over my life, I was starting to listen to harder and heavier bands. I was pulling myself away from the bubble gum pop of junior high school and navigating toward darker, heavier music. Billy Joel was put on the shelf for Motley Crue. The Stray Cats were retired for AC/DC. And Iron Maiden grabbed my attention with their earlier catalog, specifically Number Of The Beast.
Thus, when a brand new Iron Maiden album was announced, and the first single was played on the radio, I was all ears. Unfortunately my ears heard the wrong lyrics. Matches or madness aside, I had to have this entire album. Alas, as was usually the case, I had no money. How on Earth was 15 year old, no money having, Ryo Vie going to scrape together $8 to buy this cassette? I put the issue in the back of my mind and promised myself that I would figure out a way.
The summer before my sophomore year of high school, I was going to get an actual job. It would be my first real job. I was going to live with my grandparents for the summer and work at the local McDonalds. I was excited about the prospect of working for the summer and having spending money in my pocket.
Part of the reason I was being shipped off to Grandma’s house was due to the fact that my mother and stepfather were going through a rough patch and were in the precursor to a divorce. In retrospect, I think my mom felt it would be best for me to not be around during this trying period of life. None of that mattered to me. I had just turned fifteen years old and I was given the opportunity to live with my grandparents (very not strict vs. my strict parents) and I would be able to work my first job, thus having spending money. Sign me up!
However, I had to work a couple of weeks before I would even see my first paycheck. Thus, I was still in the same boat when I arrived at my grandparent’s house --- young and poor. Thankfully I had friends nearby. One of those friends was Jason, a very good friend who lived near my Grandparents. He also happened to be a huge Iron Maiden fan. Jason was kind enough to dub a copy of Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son for me. So as my summer got off to a grand start, I had some excellent music to enjoy along with it.
The night I received my copy of Seventh Son of a Seventh Son I went into my room and fired up the cassette player. The opening acoustic strum filled the room quickly followed by Bruce Dickinson’s surreal voice singing: “Seven deadly sins, seven ways to win…” I was immediately mesmerized. The acoustic intro led to the opening riffs of “Moonchild” and I became an instant fan of the album. Once the acoustic intro kicked into the hard blazing riffs I was grinning. This was powerful music! This was what all music should sound like. Iron Maiden was incredible!
Working at McDonald’s provided an intriguing shift in my life. In addition to making money, there were other perks to working at McDonalds---girls. There seemed to be a never ending supply of attractive females working with me. At 15, Ryo loved the ladies. And the ladies were plentiful at his new job. Forget the money I would work there just to be able to date some of the girls!
And when I wasn’t working, eyeing up the cute females, or hanging out with my buddies, I was absorbing Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. “Can I Play With Madness” may have been the song that created my desire to own the album, but it quickly became my least favorite song on the record. I believe that it still is. That’s how great of an album Seventh Son is. The hit single is the weakest song.
Once I got over my addiction to “Moonchild,” “The Clairvoyant” quickly became my new favorite song. I believe it was the opening bass line that really hooked me. I had never heard bass guitar played quite that way before and I was mesmerized. And once the galloping bass line crashed into the guitar riffs, it was pure love for the ears. Such an amazing sound! Such an amazing song! Such an amazing band!
That summer moved too fast as many do. I found myself involved in a quick 3 week relationship with one co-worker, Charlene. She was older than me (17 to my 15), but that was par for the Ryo Vie course; I always dug the older ladies. However, it was short lived as Charlene and I were not overly compatible and in the end, it turns out I was used to make her ex boyfriend jealous. That was all right by me. And a couple of weeks later, I would start dating the first real love of my life, Stephanie (but that is a Reflections On… for another day).
When I wasn’t working I spent a lot of days and nights that summer just hanging out with my friends; Both new friends that I made at my job and old friends that I had since I started visiting my Grandparents when I was 7 or 8. There was even a lot of discussion about staying there for good and going to their high school. Of course, most of that talk was amongst us, without ever actually discussing it with my parents or grandparents. But the idea was a wonderful one. I really liked the group of friends I made and it was going to be hard to leave them when the summer ended.
And as summer marched on, my love for Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son only intensified. The gem of the record is the titular track. “Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son” is a near ten minute beauty. It is a captivating tune that flows flawlessly and sounds incredible. It was also one of the first heavy metal songs I heard that lasted that long. At that time in my life, I didn’t really know what progressive rock was. And I had no idea that songs could go on and on like that. Up until then the longest “rock” song I had ever heard was “Paradise By The Dashboard Lights” and that was really three songs in one. “Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son” was definitely no “Paradise By The Dashboard Lights.” It was much more magnificent!
After picking apart the nuances of “Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son” I soon found myself listening to “Infinite Dreams” over and over again. This was Iron Maiden’s version of a ballad and it was absolutely incredible. It wasn’t all wussy and whiny about a girl who cheated or some love lost. There was power in this song – a power I had not witnessed in most of the hair metal and pop rock I enjoyed up until that point. “Infinite Dreams” was a song that made me think---what exactly was this song about? What was the exact message the band was trying to convey with their lyrics and music? It was a question that I spent many nights that summer pondering and enjoying.
And as all summers do, mine eventually came to an end. My time at McDonald’s came to pass and the summer was over. Leaving was painful. I had made wonderful friends and I had a girlfriend that had to be left behind. That just sucked! Even into the fall of that year I played Seventh Son a lot. It reminded me of the great summer I had just experienced and it still sounded brilliant. Unfortunately I didn’t have any hometown friends to share the joy with. None of them were into Iron Maiden. So I celebrated by myself.
It would be years before I would own an actual copy of Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. I carried that dubbed copy around for a long time and listened to it often. I may even still have it. Sometime in the early 2000s Iron Maiden remastered their catalog and I finally purchased a copy. It was a smart decision on my part as the music sounded better than ever.
Even to this day, when I play a song from that album, I can still smell the French fries cooking, feel the nauseating excitement of reporting to my first day of work, and remember the great friends that I made that summer. It is a nostalgic blast that I will always enjoy.