Iron Maiden’s Can I Play With Madness (1988)

HCH-12-MAIMONIDES HCH 12 / September 2016

Iron Maiden’s Can I Play With Madness (1988), by David Cerdá

Maybe you liked their electrifying music, but never connected to their lyrics, those lyrics you found somewhat stupidly demoniac, too naïve in their supposed praise of the devil, or even gore. Consider again. Despite Eddie the Head and all its paraphernalia surrounding, The Maiden (who in a way initiated this trend in heavy metal and thus invented it), used to bury under all that bloody stuff good lyrics that can really stimulate your brain.

Maybe the best and briefest example is Can I Play With Madness, the first released single from Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. The song brings us the story of a young man who’s afraid of going mad because he’s having nightmares and visions, and therefore decides to visit a prophet to find out if those are true.

Can I play with madness?

The prophet stared at his crystal ball

The interesting part is that for once the prophet refuses to play his role, thus becoming a philosopher. Namely, the augur can’t see anything in his crystal ball, and moreover, he laughs at the youngster, probably astonished at his mental sluggishness. So blossoming and yet asking for magical advices, dude? Are you kidding us, are you kidding yourself?

Can I play with madness?

The prophet looked at me and laughed at me (ha ha). He said:

Can I play with madness?

He said you’re blind, too blind to see

People tend to think we live in an era of definitive enlightenment, but it is just not true, and prophets are still around. They do not wear weird clothing anymore, no strange manners, not astrological wording. But we are not short of crystal balls. TV is still there, propaganda is everywhere, and a new brave magician, the Internet, is skyrocketing as an adviser at levels TV dudes never dreamed of. Try to refute something your child has heard several times from his/her favourite youtuber and you’ll know what I mean.

Philosophy is precisely about killing the prophet —or, if you hate this expression and find it too creepy, discarding him. It’s about endlessly questioning and constantly living the madness of understanding that no final answer exists. The human tolerance to enquiry and doubt isn’t too high, unless it’s consistently trained. To wonder is very natural at our first stages of development: afterwards it declines, especially if philosophy doesn’t stand up for itself. Adrian Smith, Bruce Dickinson and Steve Harris knew it damn well:

Give me the sense to wonder

To wonder if I’m free

Give me a sense of wonder

To know I can be me

This is a particularly lucid use of the term «wonder»: you have the process (questioning oneself) and the cognitive and emotional attitude, the wonder that sets the fire of reflecting in Aristotle, Descartes, Rousseau or Wittgenstein. The last one said that what was magical (religious) was not that the world was this way or another, but that the world is. That is wonder: suddenly unlearning what we use to take for granted, opening a whole new universe of possibilities. Re-thinking everything.

Unfortunately, this isn’t always happening, definitely not at the frequency we’d hoped for in the 21st century. Credulity is as successful as ever. And not only because traditional and intolerant religious choices still rock, but because everywhere you look you find exchange offers: your personal-free-and-genuine thinking for our packed-and-marketed options, easiest, ready to consume. Oh: it’s not a conspiracy. Forget about an axe of evil meeting at some fancy place in Switzerland, the richest of the richest plotting to take your soul away. No man. It’s pure interest, from a lot of places, uncoordinated, and plain shoddiness, here, there and everywhere.

The protagonist of the song doesn’t elegantly accept the wise laughing of the prophet:

I screamed aloud to the old man

I said don’t lie, don’t say you don’t know

I say you’ll pay for this mischief

In this world or the next

The prophet, of course, isn’t impressed. He knows that the more you complain about not receiving a revealed truth, the more steps you’re heading towards Hell.

He said you wanna know the truth son?

Lord, I’ll tell you the truth

Your soul’s gonna burn in a lake of fire

If you think these are just those typical crazy words like in Eddie the Head, I repeat: consider again. This pal isn’t stupid. Remember Eddie made his debut as a character symbolizing the stabbing of Margaret Thatcher; a pretty promising debut, I guess.

david-cerda-y-daniel David Cerdá, Seville, August the 12th, 2016