Book review: Monsters of River and Rock: My Life as Iron Maiden’s Compulsive Angler, by Adrian Smith
If you are like me—and based on how search algorithms work, you probably are a little bit like me—you may not know Iron Maiden from Megadeath. Let's just assume that 80s metal is an amorphous blob or guitar noises, bright lights, and smoke machines in your brain.
You also may not know anything about fishing. You may know that there are fish in rivers, lakes, and oceans, and you (rightly) assume they aren't caught by hands or spears (which turns out not to be true always—keep reading for more).
Without knowledge or interest in either 80s metal or fishing, what could possibly draw you to famed Iron Maiden guitarist Adrian Smith's memoir about both?
Enter: this book. One day, you find yourself reading Monsters of River and Rock: My Life As Iron Maiden's Compulsive Angler and realize that could be no more charismatic introduction to this bizarre confluence of topics than Adrian Smith. Whether you've been looking for a book about fishing or not, Monsters of River and Rock is a quick, fun read that might convince you to give fishing a try.
To get his readers situated, Smith begins with a brief overview of his childhood and teen years growing up in Hackney, East London, and his introductions to angling (Thames River, early childhood) and music (Deep Purple, age 15).
As one of Iron Maiden's primary songwriters, he offers glimpses into his creative process and the production of specific albums, as well as some details around his departure from Iron Maiden in 1989/90, solo projects, and subsequent return. Although interesting, it's hardly the point: these vignettes serve only to set the scenes for significant fishing trips.
The pattern plays out like this: one paragraph describes the location of a given Iron Maiden concert. It is followed by 25 pages about an interesting river near that place, the type of fish there, whether he had fished it before, and his fishing strategy. Smith repeats this through most of the book as he takes us on fishing adventures, from run-ins with sharks in the Virgin Islands to near-death wipeouts mid-tour in Canada. Many of these adventures happen on tour behind-the-scenes, and often feature cameos from other famous musicians.
I'll admit to skimming the details about the types of bait used for specific catches, although I think I could bullshit—a celebrated past-time of anglers—about Thames barbell and chub fishing strategies, if ever required. I was even inspired to try my own hand at ocean fishing on a recent vacation in Phu Quoc, Vietnam. While there, I met a local who does, in fact, fish in the ocean with a spear. He had found himself a bit too far from shore and hitched a ride in our boat.
Monsters of River and Rock contains some parallels with Ted Turner's memoir, Call Me Ted. In that book, Turner documents his rise as a businessperson and media mogul, alongside his sailing career. The majority of the book is split evenly between business and sailing, and as the tension builds between the two very different lifestyles, the reader expects that Turner will have to make a difficult decision between the two forces.
Smith's memoir leans more heavily on fishing than music, and while there is occasional tension between the two, he's able to strike a balance for the most part. He seeks a hotel near Central Park, for example, so he can fish there while in the dreaded city on tour. Smith is often seeking the biggest fish, but competition for bragging rights isn't as important as the journey—the days spent trying new bait, swapping strategies and stories with other anglers, and finding new fishing spots.
Here's an example of how that balance plays out from a stop in Miami for Iron Maiden's 2019 tour:
"I was free by 5pm. My first thought was, as always, Can I get some fishing in? But remembering that I was supposed to be a professional musician, I decided to go back to the hotel and get some guitar practice in, hit the gym and get an early night. I pretty much followed this routine all week up until Thursday. We decided to take a long weekend to give Bruce Dickinson's voice a bit of a rest. Now was the time to break out the rods."
Passages like this drive home Smith's point: Iron Maiden is his job, but fishing is his love. When we read broadly from the memoir category, we can draw a further conclusion: what celebrities are best known for is not necessarily what is closest to their hearts, even if this self-understanding takes time to develop. This memoir documents Smith coming to this understanding about himself, from his origin story as an angler to how he learned to love and prioritize it.
If you are curious but not ready to dive into the book (pun intended), check out his YouTube channel. My favorite video is this one of Smith fishing for trout in River Bow, Alberta, Canada. You can see the love of these fish in his eyes and his smile.
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