Go figure that one of the leading heavy-metal icons of the last 30 years is actually a nice Jewish boy from Queens.
Meet Scott Ian, the menacing-looking, shaved-head, billy-goatee-wearing, outspoken rhythm guitarist for Anthrax – one of the “big four” of metal, along with Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer.
Or make that Scott Ian Rosenfeld as he’s known to his family.
“I didn’t really have much of a Jewish upbringing; it didn’t play a prominent role in our house,” said the gregarious 49-year-old last month from Oshkosh, Wisconsin, where Anthrax was headlining the Rock USA metal fest.
“My grandparents were quite Orthodox, but my parents and I weren’t. I learned Hebrew phonetically for my bar mitzva, read my seven minutes, and then we had a party. I think I did it more to please my grandfather than anything else,” he explained.
Ian’s grandfather was smuggled out of his village in Poland in 1916 and made his way from Amsterdam to Ellis Island in New York, where within a few years he had opened a small grocery store in Rockaway.
Ian was raised in nearby Bayside and, like fellow Jewish Long Islanders like Kiss’s Gene Simmons and Joey Ramone, was bitten by the rock ’n’ roll bug as a teenager in the 1970s. Informed by the tough, working-class background and hardships his grandfather had risen from, Ian was drawn to the aggressive metal he heard. After seeing Kiss live, he picked up the guitar and, by age 18, had formed Anthrax.
Cutting off his last name in favor of his middle name had less to do with sounding less Jewish than it had to do with its length, said Ian.
“Scott Ian Rosenfeld was just too long – it didn’t look good on posters when I started playing professionally, and Scott Ian did, so I just used that,” he said. “It had nothing to do with it sounding too Jewish. I still used Rosenfeld for the songwriting credits, and for years people would come up to me and ask me who that other guy was that writes songs for you.”
Riding the wave of high-energy, lightning-speed thrash metal that swept the metal world in the 1980s, Anthrax rose to meteoric heights, and the band’s 10 albums have sold millions of copies around the world. Ian has remained the constant in the revolving-door personnel of the band, but for the last three years a classic line-up from the early 1980s featuring drummer Charlie Benante, bassist Frank Bello and vocalist Joey Belladonna has been in place.
“I guess the biggest change for us is just maturity,” he said.
“We’ve been able to talk to each other. I guess it’s like a family...
sometimes you fight. But the hardest thing for a long time was to pick up a phone and talk. Once we were able to do that, everything else worked itself out.”
That includes the music, which Ian feels is as incendiary as it was three decades ago. Their name may no longer be the star attraction it once was in some places – their upcoming show in Israel on August 13 has been downsized from the Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv to the Barby Club – but that doesn’t mean they don’t bring the same enthusiasm and attitude to the music they always did.
“We still pretty much do it the same way as when we started out.
We haven’t changed very much,” said Ian. “We love playing, and I think we’ve gotten quite good at it. And it’s still as thrilling as it’s always been. That’s what keeps up going.”
Anthrax will perform at the Barby Club in Tel Aviv on August 13.
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