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Music heals

Sarthak Kaushik | Updated on May 23, 2021

Invincible: In 2016, Bruce Dickinson triumphantly returned to stage after battling cancer   -  REUTERS

How two heavy metal wizards kicked cancer in the face

* Bruce Dickinson, lead singer of the iconic English heavy metal band Iron Maiden, is a cancer survivor

* Dave Scott Mustaine, the sonic powerhouse from US, who has driven the decibel defying sound of the legendary Megadeth, was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2019

***

As stories of hope float on the choppy waters of uncertain times, it’s worth looking for inspiration towards the world of music, where discordant notes of tragedy have been trumped by the strident music of life.

Bruce Dickinson, lead singer of the iconic English heavy metal band Iron Maiden, has worn many hats. Among them are qualified commercial pilot, fencing enthusiast, teacher and poet. Recently, the “human air raid siren”, as he was popularly known, added one more to that list — cancer survivor. In 2015, he felt something wrong with his mouth, and self-diagnosed cancer of the tongue and lymph nodes. A lump “the size of a golf ball” was found on the back of his tongue. “You can imagine to get rid of that with radiation… the inside of my head has been cooked pretty effectively,” he told the BBC. Treatment lasted more than six months and it wasn’t the easiest in the world, he wrote in his wonderfully titled autobiography, What Does This Button Do. At risk of losing the function of his tongue, he fought back valiantly, and within a year, got back on stage. The 2016 Book of Souls Tour was not only a triumphant return to stage of one of the world’s premier rock bands, it was also a testament to one man’s burning desire to see the strident rhythm of life triumph over bleak times.

Dickinson is not the only heavy metal voice to have faced the threat of being silenced by the malignant tumour. He was also there to help with some sane words of advice when another heavy metal legend reached out to him after having been diagnosed with cancer.

Dave Scott Mustaine, the sonic powerhouse from US, who has driven the decibel defying sound of the legendary Megadeth, was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2019. The news made him reach out to Dickinson to learn how to cope with it. He got some useful bits of life advice. “He basically told me… surround yourself with good, upbeat, positive people, places and things and try not to cause any unnecessary stress on yourself,” Mustaine had shared with the Forbes magazine recalling his conversation with Dickinson.

In the same interview, Mustaine also lucidly expressed himself about getting back on his feet — and on the live stage — after his treatment was a success. “I listened to the doctors, prayed a lot, took care of myself and had a great support group. As soon as it was time for us to rehearse, let alone record, I was pretty much scared to death because I didn’t know what it was going to be like… me going into rehearsals, no singing. We had tour just a couple days away; I hadn’t done any rehearsal, anything at all,” he said. He also claimed to feel a “terrible confidence” and unpacked it by saying, “A lot of people think it’s arrogance; I’m not sure, whatever, if that’s what you want to call it, but I had this confidence in myself and I knew — save your gas ‘til the very end. Then when it’s time, get up on stage and sing, and before you know it you’ll be back in your dressing room. The first show will be over. That’s kinda how it happened. Once the tour was over, we were back home; we just picked up where we left off and started doing album 16.”

Two legends who hit the high notes of hope, being helped by the desire to make the music ring out. In the face of the possibility of defeat, both fought back with focus, emerged victorious, and got straight back to the business of ensuring that the sounds of the human spirit triumphing over tragedy give hope to multitudes.

Sarthak Kaushik   -  BUSINESS LINE

 

(Mad About Music is a monthly column on contemporary music)

Sarthak Kaushik is a broadcaster and music programmer

Instagram: @sarthakfromradio

Published on May 23, 2021

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