Among the thrashing

Anthrax guitarist and lyricist Scott Ian explains why the Jew and the metal-head in him are actually the same person.

Anthrax (photo credit: (Courtesy PR))
(photo credit: (Courtesy PR))
If you get Scott Ian started, it can prove difficult to turn him off. The outspoken, gregarious 49-year-old founder and rhythm guitarist of classic heavy metal rockers Anthrax has some definite opinions on a range of subjects, from the grating quality of Morrissey’s voice to the decision by Rolling Stone magazine last month to place a rock star-style photo of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover.
“Instead of putting a murderer on their cover to sell copies, why not make a better magazine?” said a noticeably agitated Ian during a recent phone call from Oshkosh, Wisconsin, where Anthrax was headlining a Rock USA festival.
“I haven’t bought a Rolling Stone since the ‘80s because it sucks, so it’s not like I’m saying that I’m canceling my subscription.
These terrorists today are looking exactly for that kind of notoriety. But Rolling Stone knew what they were doing: everyone talked about it and went out and bought it.
They should have put a picture of a victim on the cover – but you know what, that wouldn’t have sold as well.”
Ian punctuated his impassioned diatribe with well-placed F-bombs, accentuated his working class roots while not diminishing the intellectual level of his argument.
Maybe that’s why the billy-goated figure with the shaved head and metal trappings has expanded his outlets of expression.
Like punk pioneer Henry Rollins before him, Ian has launched a spoken word career, testing the waters recently in England with an evening of conversation.
“It was really great. If I hadn’t liked it it, I would have cancelled the rest of the dates.
I didn’t really need to do it and I was away from my family,” said Ian, returning to a more sociable tone (and volume). “But I really enjoyed it and was hitting my stride with stories from my past and current events. It was using a different part of my brain, and I’ll certainly do more.”
But despite his burgeoning career as a caustic pundit, Ian won’t let it get in the way of the thriving three-decade career of Anthrax, considered, along with Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth, to be one of the Big Four of metal.
Since forming in 1981, the band has featured a slew of members, and thanks to Ian’s stable influence has sold millions of records that have not deviated much from their pummeling thrash sound.
Many fans of the group might be surprised to discover that Ian’s given name is Rosenfeld and that his grandfather arrived at Ellis Island in 1916 and opened a grocer’s shop in Queens.
“I didn’t really have much of a Jewish upbringing, it didn’t play a prominent role in our house,” said Ian. “My grandparents were quite Orthodox, but my parents and I weren’t. I learned Hebrew phonetically for my bar mitzvah, read my seven minutes and then we had a party. I think I did it more to please my grandfather than anything else.”
Shortening his last name in favor of his middle name had less to do with sounding less Jewish than it did with 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.”
Like fellow Jewish Long Islanders like Kiss’s Gene Simmons and Joey Ramone, Ian was bitten with the rock & roll bug as a teenager in the 1970s. After seeing Kiss live, Ian picked up the guitar and by age 18, had formed Anthrax. Within a few years, the band capitalized on the rising wave of high-energy, lightning-speed rock that swept the metal world in the 1980s.
While band mates have come and gone (some, like vocalist Joey Belladonna, multiple times) the classic version of the band, featuring Ian, Belladonna, drummer Charlie Benante and bassist Frank Bello, has been in place for the past three years. Ian attributed the second-chance success to maturity.
“We’ve been able to talk to each other. I guess it’s like a family – sometimes you fight,” he said. “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 still 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 Barbie Club – but that doesn’t mean they don’t bring the same enthusiasm and attitude to the music as 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.”
But today, it’s at a different pace than it once was. Instead of monster six-month tours, Anthrax goes out on the road for two or three weeks at a time. And instead of the “sex, drugs and rock & roll” ethos they may have subscribed to in the past, it’s now a family affair.
“Three of us have young children – and we don’t like to be away for long chunks of time, so we don’t do [it] any more,” said Ian, who’s married to Pearl Aday, the daughter of ’70s rocker Meatloaf. “There are no [more] two-month tours of Europe – it’s much more manageable and we’re not gone for long.”
One regret for Ian over the brevity of the trip that will bring Anthrax to Israel for the first time will be lack of time to sight-see.
“I’ve always liked to visit countries I’ve never been to, and even though I don’t have any special feeling for Israel, I’ve always wanted to visit because I’ve heard so much about it,” he said. “I don’t know if we’re going to have any time to see anything, but I hope to come back by myself again and spend some time there.”
It will undoubtedly provide him with ample material for his next spoken word tour.