A Very Special Special
VH1 gathers musical has-beens for a Seder that rocks (sort of)
Unwittingly assuming the role of simple son, Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider takes a stab at pronouncing charoset in VH1 Classic’s Matzo & Metal. He mimics Scott Ian, the Anthrax guitarist, whose equanimity and beard confer what passes here for rabbinical authority. Ian may not know what charoset signifies, but in an unadorned room outfitted with candles, Haggadahs, and a wall of mounted guitars, he offers a surprisingly erudite account—to Snider and all of America—of the events that led to the Exodus.
His reference point for the legendary story? Metallica, who wrote “Creeping Death” while watching the rain of hail, vermin, and frogs befall Yul Brynner and his posse in The Ten Commandments. Later, Ian, whose collaboration on “Bring the Noise” with Chuck D. was seen in the metal community as “sacrilege,” shares the moment of his own personal liberation: He saw Kiss perform at Madison Square Garden when he was a teenager and realized any path other than rock would be nothing short of enslavement.
I paraphrase. But the spirit of the metaphor is applied throughout this kaffeeklatsch of mostly endearing musical has-beens, which includes too JJ French, also of Twisted, as they knowingly call it, and Leslie West, a Hebrew school dropout from Forest Hills who wears a shirt embroidered with guitars and insists, as if challenged, that his band, Mountain, had more than one hit (“Mississippi Queen,” if you must know). But it is Snider who is the ceremony’s driving force, noting the imperative to invite those who have, like him, nowhere to go to join in the proceedings. Addled like a fifth grader at recess, he plays somewhat guileless as the least identified participant, prodding, Why matzo? Wherefore parsley? What is it you cherish about Pantera?
The answers may not be wholly satisfying, and the Seder, rife with Manischewitz product placement (macaroon tins, wine bottles), is far from complete; except for West’s bluesy guitar interpretation of the blessing over the wine, not a single song is sung. Still, the queries provoke somewhat entertaining discussion about rocking and rolling with a few educative elements thrown in: Saltwater equals tears of bitterness. Egg means rebirth.
But the recitation of the Ten Plagues is not followed by iteration of Rabbi Yehuda’s mnemonic—it would assuredly detract from the Behind the Music vibe that yields such nuggets as Snider boasting improbably that he’s a trained countertenor. We learn that Ian used his bar mitzvah money to go skateboarding, that West dropped acid the first time he saw Eric Clapton, and that French’s tattooist spoke Yiddish—from which he infers that there’s no prohibition against getting a tattoo, only against being buried in a Jewish cemetery if you have one.
I had the misguided hope that Snider, who reveals himself to be the grandson of a Russian Jew, would cheer the semantic parsing by suddenly yelling, “Rashi, eat your heart out. Then, let’s get the lead out!” Instead, the gang of four reflected on what it was like to play Germany where metal is much more menacing, sent Ian to search for the afikomen, and rigorously protested misconceptions that metalheads are just hard-partying dummies. Moses too had his Waterloo.