Re-post: Why Iron Maiden Didn’t play the song ‘Transylvania’ in Transylvania

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Better late than never– I think I know why Iron Maiden did not play the song “Transylvania” in Cluj,Transylvania on their most recent world tour, one year ago.

Some fans complained at this supposed omission– first time in the province, and they do not play what might be a local favorite? But if I actually try to put the song, an instrumental of astonishing and elegant simplicity, together with the nation that happens to be the origin of its name, they seem to spring apart from each other like the opposing poles of two magnets. They are nothing alike, despite being completely logical fits for the label, more homonyms than homologues. There is too much going on in the actual Transylvania, perhaps, to make harmony of it.

So why is it not possible for me to think of these two Transylvanias at once? Let’s take them separately. First came the land, of course, the southern reaches of the Carpathians with millenia of history layered with wave after wave of human infestation, frosted over in our perceptions with a veneer of 19th century vampire lore.  From that lore, built with stereotypical polarization of good and evil, dark and light, human versus monster, grew a mushroom of popular horror culture. That monstrous mash has thrived as a counterbalance to the mainstream and flourishes even now. It is typified by today’s trendy love of all things ‘black’, ‘satanic’ or ‘goth’, reactions to perceived social shortcomings of the ‘normal’.

By 1980, when Steve Harris and his bandmates first perfected his song, calling it “Transylvania” was merely a way of referencing this world of harmless matinee horror, typified as well by the band’s mascot, a rubber-faced zombie.  Your average pub-crawling yob then would likely not think of the modern nation and its province. And Maiden had no way of knowing that thirty years later they would be still playing together and regularly traveling around the world with their show, playing for fans of all ages waving banners that read ‘Iron Maiden is my religion!’

Maiden’s fifteen albums contain a spectrum of paeans to social consciousness, though they seem to never advocate a side, only recognize the suffering our species invariably unleashes upon itself. “Brave New World”, for example, does not describe a utopia, but rather a post-apocalyptic graveyard littered with the dying. Suicidal impulses are contained and channeled in songs such as “Remember Tomorrow” and “Another Life”. The glorious warrior’s life is often celebrated too, short as it often is; for some of the most popular numbers the lead singer dons antique uniform and waves a Union Jack.

In the actual region of Romania that bears the name Transylvania there are very real and endemic miseries. The British band may wave their own flag in a song based upon the past, but they are not going to advocate for some other land by appearing to advocate it in its present state.  They supported Romanian heavy metal music by including a local band in their Cluj lineup. But Transylvanian emigres to the UK have been in recent news as ethnic minority Roma, some of them human traffickers in the business of importing children to beg on foreign street corners, or worse.

The reasons they are forced into poverty that spawns such heinous practices that foster more misery cannot be bandaged or eliminated by a mere song. The roots of the social illness are centuries deep.  It is not fear of an undead plague that keeps Transylvania an exporter of its poor, but humanity’s own capacity for inhumanity and fear of one another.

In far too many parts of our world there still exist starvation, slavery, and witch burnings.  In the world of Iron Maiden’s music, we are all Eddie the Head, wrestling with our inner monsters and “The Evil That Men Do”.  But it is a message meant for those who can afford recorded music, and concert tickets in lands that can afford to build large stadiums.  Transylvania now has a venue like that. But of the tens of thousands who filled it, how many of them had to worry about their next meal, or where they could raise their children in safety? How many of them could not read, much less understand lyrics in a foreign tongue, English?

The music of Maiden may be the product of a working class ethic, but in far too many parts of the world, only the educated middle classes can afford it. That does not mean it’s not good music, and good for its listeners to hear. Maiden inspires its fans to educate themselves by basing many of its songs on literary and historical themes. It addresses philosophical issues and encourages its listeners to think, with multiple interpretations to many of its songs, at least in my mind. However, multiple interpretations can only be played out in a very limited fashion with an instrumental piece, whose only nod toward significance is its title.

“Transylvania” is in a minor key, like virtually all of Maiden’s songs. It showcases Harris’ bass line, from which the twin guitar overlay seems to spring naturally like spray from the crest of a wave. It was written for two guitars, and in recent times, the Maiden line-up has featured triple guitars– Gers has been the constant companion of Murray and Smith for more than a decade. That alone is reason enough to exclude the number from a 2010 performance.

But if they wanted to, the guitarists of Maiden are all such consummate practitioners of their craft that they could easily devise a third guitar line to “Transylvania” and offer us fans a whole new iteration of the number to enjoy. The point is, they didn’t want to.  Maiden evidently feels that the song “Transylvania” is part of their history and should remain so.  The land, Transylvania, did not need to hear that song live in 2010. Whatever spiritual fodder it would offer to perform it in that land might nourish monsters with human faces. There are plenty of those already.

Actually, I am speculating about these deeper possible reasons for Iron Maiden’s refusal to satisfy the expectations of the literal-minded, that they would play an eponymous favorite at their concert in Cluj-Napoca.  I can’t know; I don’t have any insider information. More likely it was a matter of convenience; they’d probably admit that they are too set in their ways to depart from their touring custom, which is to play an identical set list at every stop in a tour. It’s value for money; that way fans know exactly what they are getting. You don’t alienate the potential audience, and you do not disturb the digestion of a band whose members are all now in their fifties.

I would never dream of doing such a thing! I find Maiden has only gotten better with the years, not being one of those who laments when they don’t play my favorite ‘oldie’. Even though I was part of their potential market when first they formed, back when I was a collegiate teen, back then they were not my cup of tea. Maiden and I have grown to fit one another, you could say.  I’m sorry it took me so very long. But then it took me an entire year to think the thoughts behind this sermon.

But I am sincerely glad they chose not to play “Transylvania” in Transylvania.  Peace, Peace, Peace.



One Response to “Re-post: Why Iron Maiden Didn’t play the song ‘Transylvania’ in Transylvania”

  1. Lisa online Says:

    Peace, Peace, Peace: Personally, my very soul remembers the persecution (past life memories, I feel them), and I see how evil is still alive and well, which makes my heart cry out for people to wake up and evolve. I suppose it is the beast of free will and choices that leads to much of the devastation and suffering? I do what I can do and am inspiring my life to live within my truth and cherish this gifted life in the land of the so-called free. I have lots of room for expansion within my own life to free myself to strive for the Utopia I dream. Love will find a way.

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