Backstage in South Florida: Iron Maiden Chauffeur Fail

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Strike while the Iron is hot-headed
Music vet and New Times scribe Lee Zimmerman shares stories of memorable rock 'n' roll encounters that took place in our local environs. This week, an uncomfortable encounter with Iron Maiden and a mad dash to get their singer to the show on time.

Long before the arrival of Hard Rock, Bank Atlantic Center and the network of clubs and night spots that provide South Florida its various havens for live music, the area's main venue of note was a hulking, oversized iron and steel hanger known as the Sportatorium. As a promotion rep for Capitol Records in the late '70s and early '80s, I hated the place. It was a hassle simple to get there -- the then-undeveloped pasture land of West Broward -- and knowing that nine times out of ten my backstage passes wouldn't be waiting at the box office as I was promised, I dreaded having to wade through an unruly mob just to get situated.

In the fall of 1983, one of Capitol's major acts, Iron Maiden, was booked into the Sportatorium. In order to maximize the promotional possibilities, I duly arranged to take the band's vocalist, Bruce Dickinson, to local radio stations and record stores for some glad-handing and meet and greets on the afternoon prior to the concert. Dickinson agreed and so I went to their hotel - the Newport on Miami Beach - the night before to introduce myself and welcome them to town.
 
Knowing them only from their albums, I was surprised to find these British blokes astonishingly shy and soft-spoken. After all, the Maiden persona spewed a particularly expressive form of metal mayhem, complete with apocalyptic imagery and a ten-foot-tall ghoulish mascot affectionately dubbed Eddie. I figured they must have expended all their energy on their music, because in real life, these guys appeared almost wholly devoid of personality.

At least I'd been warned, because the next day as I drove Dickinson around, there was a distinct lack of chatting transpiring between us. He was polite, but cursory in conversation, making no attempt at small talk unless someone else initiated the discussion. Needless to say, I found him a far cry from his role as a wailing, rambunctious frontman.

Nevertheless, the day's activities went well. But as we were leaving the final stop I looked at my watch and noticed we were running late. Very late, in fact. It was 6:30 p.m. and the show was supposed to start at 8 p.m. Unfortunately, the Sportatorium was a good hour away.

With Dickinson in the backseat, I gunned my company car down the single stretch of roadway leading to the concert site. By that time the highway was already crowded with concertgoers, and I was now confronting the reality that I might not be able to deliver the headliner ahead of the audience, a curious competition if ever there was one. As I approached the first intersection, I pulled into the right turn lane, intending to maneuver around the cars in front of me and zoom straight ahead as the light turned green.

That's when disaster struck. A cop spotted my move and pulled me over. My heart sank. Dickinson waited in the car as I meekly walked up to the officer. I tried to explain the predicament -- the fact that MY GOD, I HAVE THE LEAD SINGER OF IRON MAIDEN IN MY BACKSEAT -- but the cop wouldn't have any of it. Taking his time, he wrote out a ticket, oblivious to my desperation.

Compounding my humiliation, the people passing by managed to spot this big name Brit in my backseat and began pointing and laughing as they drove by. When I finally got back to the car, Dickinson looked none too pleased. He didn't say a word - but the scowl on his face spoke volumes.

It was a deadly silence that transpired during the rest of the ride to the Sportatorium. Somehow though, we made it to the backstage area with 15 minutes to spare. Maiden's road manager looked like he wanted to kill me. As far as Dickinson was concerned, he couldn't get out the car fast enough. Without saying a word, he raced to rejoin his mates, leaving me flush with embarrassment but relieved that I hadn't been cause for canceling the show.


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