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Q&A: Scott Ian

Before the “Big 4” heavy metal show at Yankee Stadium, the Anthrax guitarist and lyricist talks Queens, Jews, and Louis Farrakhan

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Scott Ian of Anthrax at a “Big 4″ show in Indio, Calif., April 23, 2011. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

I’m here enough to not miss it. Let’s put it that way. I wouldn’t want to live here anymore. I like the lifestyle much better in California. It’s a lot quieter. I live up in the mountains, out by the ocean. I don’t want to say where. Obviously I love New York. I’m here, I don’t know, six times a year usually. At least.

I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s, and New York was a hardcore place then, and now it’s a very, very different city.

Oh, it’s changed. It was the Giuliani years that changed the city for me. It was when he came in that, for better or worse, he cleaned up the city. And then Bloomberg has obviously just kind of kept on that path of making this the playground of the rich. Which I’m not saying is a bad thing, because the city is certainly safer than it was when I was a kid. And it’s an amazing place to come to. Part of me does miss the grit that used to exist here. You know, you can go as far as you want in the East Village these days and not worry about it. When I was a kid, the thought of going to Avenue A meant you were going to get stabbed.

It was fucking scary!

Yeah. Avenue A meant stabbed. Avenue B meant shot. Avenue C was decapitated. That’s how we used to think. And it was true. You only went there if you were looking to buy heroin. Or get killed. Now you can go to Avenue B and spend $2 million on an apartment, so things certainly have changed.

It’s easy to imagine your music coming from a city where I grew up and it’s hard to imagine it coming from here.

Well, that’s the difference between us and the Strokes. Our music sounds the way it does for a reason and their music sounds the way it does for a reason. It’s when you came from New York. And that’s not a diss on the Strokes. I’m just saying, they come from a New York City that was able to create that band. That band wouldn’t have come out of New York City when we came out of New York City.

There was an early Stormtroopers of Death song—

Strokes are a bunch of Jewish guys too, aren’t they?

Yeah, some of them, I think. There was an early Stormtroopers of Death song, “Fuck the Middle East.”

Pro-Israel song.

A pro-Israel song.

Pro-Israel and -Egypt.

It sounded like my Uncle Myron being mad at the dinner table. Tell me about that song.

I can’t tell you specifically about what was going on at that time politically—’84, ’85. I know that there was a lot of crap going on. If I think about the lyrics, Syria, Iran, Iraq—we’re talking about all those countries that, what, 26 years later are even worse. Nothing got better in any of those places. So, maybe if they would’ve listened to S.O.D. in 1985 and like we said, “flushed the bastards down the can,” the world would’ve been a better place. But 26 years later, it’s even worse. Nothing’s gotten better in Syria. Well, maybe Lebanon’s gotten better.

They were really killing each other there.

Yeah, the political climate in Lebanon has gotten much better. But obviously Syria, Iran, Iraq, it’s all still a fucking mess. They should’ve listened to us. We had all the answers.

Now is there going to be a joint KISS-Anthrax show in Israel? You guys should do that.

I wish. We’ve tried to play Israel. It’s been on the schedule a couple of times, I think it was twice. But both times we haven’t been able to go because something was going on politically or whatever and we were told, “It’s not a good time to bring you over. We’ll figure it out another time.” And Metallica’s been there, Megadeth’s been there. So many of my friends’ bands have been there. We’re like the only one that hasn’t been there. So, I’m jealous, and really eager to get to play there.

Now tell me about this show on Wednesday night. You’ve got four of the biggest metal bands in the world in one place. The Bronx is going to disintegrate.

I hope so. I hope this show makes front-page news all around the world. Not necessarily for anything bad happening.

Not necessarily. But.

Well, I don’t want anyone to get hurt. I just hope it’s crazy.

That’s a lot of energy to have in one place.

But look, it wouldn’t be any worse than a rowdy Yankees crowd coming after a big post-season game and going nuts to celebrate. But Yankee Stadium is different now, let’s just say.

It’s not the Yankee Stadium of our youth where they threw D batteries at the opposing players.

I remember that day where they gave out proper, full-on, Louisville Sluggers. The real baseball bats that dudes were using. I still have the Thurmon Munson bat, which was his actual weight and size bat, that I got in the ’70s at Bat Day. Then they went from real full-size, real baseball bats to those little miniature bats, and from that to no more Bat Day because people were just beating the shit out of each other with these bats in the stands.

Yankee Stadium today is full of investment bankers. They’re not going to hurt anybody.

Except for the bleachers. The bleacher creatures. It’s still pretty fun out there. Anywhere else in the stadium you could probably get away with wearing Red Sox colors, except for the bleachers you’ll get doused and thrown out, as you should.

Absolutely. And tell me stuff that you’re going to do in the city, anything that you look forward to.

This trip we’re just doing promotion all week. You know, I’m here to work. I get it. I’d rather be out with my wife and kid walking around the city all day, but I’m working. But at night, it’s mostly about eating. Just going out to places that I love to eat. Seeing friends. My dad’s coming tonight after work. He hasn’t really met my son yet. I have an 11-week-old.

Your dad, what does he do? He still works?

He’s in the jewelry business. What else would he be doing?

In Manhattan? He’s got one of those little offices with the security doors?

Well, the office does. He actually found a really good niche for himself. He’s in the pearl business, and he basically goes out on these cruises from Hawaii to Tahiti to New Zealand like four times a year and works on the boat, selling pearls for this company. So, it’s better than sitting in a cubicle on 47th Street.

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Not not not not not not. I really enjoyed this interview. One of the reasons that I’ve always enjoyed Sott “Not” Ian and Anthrax is that they never took themselves as seriously as the rest of the metal scene. They made sure that everyone was in on the joke.
Glad you brought up SOD – a really kooky album if there ever was one. Also, on the hip hop meets metal tip, there was an early single with Anthrax and UTFO.

His last name is Rosenfeld, not Rosenberg.

I had dinner with Chuck D 18 years ago and he said that touring with Anthrax was one of the best times he’s ever had.

Matthew Fishbane says:

Mike, you are correct, as is the piece now that we’ve made the change.

A guy who says he doesn’t claim to be Jewish and who doesn’t mind singing about Louis Farrakhan — great subject for an interview in a Jewish magazine. Tablet should rename itself A New Read on the Lives Of People Who Had at Least One Jewish Grandparent but who no longer care to be associated with being Jewish.

Verificationist says:

I love David Samuels for this. Any chance that Bobby Blitz from Overkill was a little Jewish?

Verificationist says:

But David, David: There’s only one “a” in Megadeth.

To Hell with Ian for saying, “My attitude with it is I never judge anyone until I meet them. And obviously I already knew Chuck, and I never felt for one second that this guy had an evil bone in his body, so what he felt about Farrakhan wasn’t my business. My business was my relationship with Chuck D. I never cared. If that was their belief at the time, and they backed Farrakhan, and obviously he had problems with Jewish people—you know, I never spoke to the man myself.”

If someone is a public figure and has made public comments, then you don’t have to “meet them” to know that they are trash. To say that Farrakhan “had problems with Jewish people” is a lame cop-out. It shows how you can be in a heavy metal band and still be a wussy.

Ian says, “I can’t tell you how many interviews I did back then, in 1991, when people said, “How could you work with Public Enemy? They hate Jews, they hate whites.” And I said, “Well, if they hate Jews and they hate white people, they’re all really great actors because I just spent two months on tour with those guys and we had the best time ever.” Especially Professor Griff, who got the most heat back in the day. He was my best friend on that tour, and even now when I see Griff it’s all hugs and kisses. I’m like, if these guys hate me, they’ve got a good way of not showing it, you know?”

Sounds like a great barometer. So, if they like you, then they can’t hate Jewish people, in general. You must be really f’n special, Ian.

The bottom line is that Ian was unwilling to converse – let alone confront – Chuck D and even Griff – about their praise for a filthy anti-Semite like Louis. Clearly, he knows how to perform like one who has guts, but in a simple situation that calls for courage, he does nothing.

david samuels says:

I can’t spell to begin with. So how am I supposed to spell their mis-spelled metal words correctly?

Great interview. Loved his line on Woody Allen. If you think of what our people did to make it in this country, “nebbish” would be the last description. And loved Scott’s take on Public Enemy. That’s the Jewish spirit I identify with… not legalistic and quibbling. Kinetic and human and about first hand experience. Not confined by life and tension but liberated by it. Really refreshing read. Thanks.

Jonathan Field: I wouldn’t call it “quibbling” to call someone out on praising an anti-Semite.

And who told you that the Jewish spirit is “legalistic?” Paul from the New Testament? That the Jewish spirit expresses itself – not exclusively – through law doesn’t make it legalistic.

God bless him for mentioning the Dictators, the greatest band in the history of rock and roll. Richard “Handsome Dick Manitoba” Blume, Andy “Adny” Shernoff, Scott “Top Ten” Kempner, Ross “The Boss Funicello” Friedman, and for a time Mark “The Animal” Mendoza, members of the tribe all. With lyrics like “We knocked ‘em dead in Dallas, didn’t know we were Jews” and “Have you ever made it with a Hebrew boy?”, they knew where their roots were. So howzabout an article?? Dictators forever, forever Dictators (DFFD)!

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Q&A: Scott Ian

Before the “Big 4” heavy metal show at Yankee Stadium, the Anthrax guitarist and lyricist talks Queens, Jews, and Louis Farrakhan

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