Christine “The Writer From Hell” Natanael skateboards down the backstreets of New York with those jam mongers, Anthrax…
THE PERENNIAL masters of most, those insaniacs from the Empire State, are on the road now with everyone’s favorite “Madman.” They are creating another page in the diary their way and taking their crunch across the country. With the latest Megaforce/Island release, State of Euphoria, climbing the charts, I had a chance to quiz Frank Bello and Scott Ian about the things in life that turn them on and piss them off.
Everyone knows what the peripherals and the orchestrated press releases say, but I tried to get inside their heads and find out how they tick. What I learned is that Anthrax is a passionate group – passionate in their music and in their diverse lifestyles. They are opinionated and outspoken, honest and demanding. Their current tour with Ozzy will be continuing through the month of February before jumping off to a headlining tour of Europe. Next come a two and a half month jaunt running head-on into a summer U.S. headlining tour. The “Not-man” would have it no other way.
“Our whole purpose of being in a band is the touring aspect,” says the lunatic stringman, Scott Ian. “I mean, I get tired, especially if I’m on the road for ten months. Sometimes it can be a grind, but the show is what keeps me going. I’m in a new city usually every day or every other day, and I’m playing a show to a new crowd who hasn’t seen it yet. They’re ready for it, and they’re ready to go nuts, and that’s what keeps me going. When you know you’ve got a show to play, that’s what it’s all about.”
Their touring schedule is a thing that would grind most people into the ground. Many hours on vans and buses, in hotels, sleazy motels, greasy cold food, and hardly enough sleep, photos and interviews in each city, and the never-ending presence of the fans – they keep from bugging out by getting into their own fun.
“We do surprise attacks on each other,” laughs Frank Bello. “Whoever falls asleep first in the bunks, we pull them out and start stompin’ on their ass to kid around. We pull the covers off and stuff. We have a great time.”
“But,” adds Scott, “a lot of the things that happen on the tour that we think are hysterical other people wouldn’t think are too funny. My whole life on tour, every city I go in, I go into comic book stores. I go around and search for them.”
Comic books? Ah yes, I remember hearing that comics are something that are a part of the core of Anthrax. The guys themselves can be seen as fun-loving comic characters (Saturday morning cartoon show, anybody?), but it goes much deeper than that – deep, deep into the world of underground comics.
Here is a world that is inhabited by those special children, a breed that have refused to grow up and cast aside the paperback friends and super-heroes that kept them company on many a lonely day. Characters such as Charles Burns’ El Borba, Bill Sienkiewicz’s Elektra, and Brian Borland’s The Killing Joke and Judge Dred have molded and shaped the malleable grey matter of Ian and Co. These great friends are collectible artworks now, much to the surprise and horror of the “artistes” of the snobbish art-fart society. They are kept encased in plastic and stored with the utmost care. Some are worth more than just a little chump change.
“I helped Scott move into his new apartment,” sighs a suddenly tired Frank Bello. “He has boxes and boxes of comic books. Danny has a bunch and Charlie does too, but Scott has the most.”
“I started collecting them when I was five,” exclaims Ian. “At first it was all Marvel and DC stuff because there wasn’t anything else. But for the last year I have been spending most of my money on back issues and limited first editions of Steven King stuff.”
Many of the aforementioned “boxes and boxes” are stored back at Mom Ian’s crib as well as taking up some serious closet space over at the new apartment. If he had his way, he’d be spending all his money on limited King first editions and comics, but the new Mrs. Ian would surely kill him. Guess it was a hard decision, but he opted to spring for the new couch instead of sleeping on the streets. Steven King is one of the passions of Anthrax, and Scott hopes to meet his idol on this year’s tour.
“Our manager spoke to Steven King on the phone during the making of the last album because the song ‘Among the Living’ was about The Stand and ‘Skeleton In The Closet’ was about another one of his stories. The lawyers at Atlantic got paranoid about the lyrics and said we had to get permission. It turned out that he is a fan of the band. We’re hoping to go up to Maine when we’re on tour and meet him.”
They may not have been to Maine yet, but they have taken their brand of New York flavored thrash from one end of the world to the other. They have crossed barriers and mixed cultures blurring the lines of division twixt the genres of underground music. This has been a source of admiration from the commercial legions, yet evoking a call of “sell-out” rising steadily from the hardcore crowd. (Believe me, I’ve seen effigies of Scott Ian destroyed onstage at CBGB’s hardcore matinees.) All of this leaves Ian non-plussed.
“People have to nitpick and find something to bring you down if you have some kind of success,” he states emphatically. “We do what we want. We do what’s comfortable for us. It wasn’t a big fucking business decision. We didn’t start this six years ago because it is a business. I play guitar and I wanted to be in a band. This is what I care about. I’m always looking for stuff that is just moving – stuff that’s got a lot of energy in it. That’s what initially got me into rap music in ’83. It’s something that is fresh with a lot of energy.”
Says bandmate Frank Bello, “I think it’s good to have an open mind. It reflects in your music. You keep the heaviness but it’s something different. It all comes into one. I like having different tastes. I think it’s good. I still listen to the old stuff like Sabbath, Rush, Maiden and Priest, but I also like Living Colour.”
The new State of Euphoria album is selling out of the bins about as fast as the stores can stock it in. Of course they will be filming videos for it, but the guys weren’t giving up any info as to what songs were going to be used or where it was planning to be done. He reminisces about the last release and the making of the ‘Indians’ video.
“When we did our ‘Indians’ video we did a small amount of advertising. Even the advertising said, ‘Please don’t show up until 6:00p.m.’ and by 1:00 in the afternoon there was almost a thousand kids on line. It was crazy, and the video company didn’t even want to let everybody in. It was in this theatre in New Jersey and they said, ‘Well, we only want and need the floor filled up.’ And we said, ‘Well, you can’t tell 500 kids that they can’t come in.’ As it was, the kids were about ready to break the door down because they were running late.”
The Anthrax sense of fairness extends particularly far when it comes to their fans. This is another one of their passions that they will fight for, literally. Not only have they gone to terms with the video company over the kids in the video, but they have come to blows with various security at shows over the kids’ right to mosh and dive. In a time when there is increasingly more and more lawsuits stemming from injuries incurred at thrash shows, Ian stands up as a spokesperson against the Gestapo tactics used by some security groups at their shows. When I touched on this topic with Scott during the interview, there was just no fucking way for me to get a word in edgewise. I had struck the vein to get him started and he responded be venting his spleen on the topic.
“As far as the kids dancing,” he begins mildly, “some clubs are stricter than others. We have the best of both worlds now – the best is the arena that have no seats on the floor because those are the craziest shows. There were shows in Seattle and Frisco where there was general admission on the floor and four or five thousand kids on the floor with ten pits. In the arena, they don’t give a fuck what happens. They’re not gonna put security in there. They only care if a kid tries to get on stage. And no one is gonna stage dive in an arena anyway because the stage is eight feet high and there’s a big photo barrier there. I see kids dive off the P.A. in arena shows.”
As he sits back to take a breath, I ask him what he thinks about the unnecessary use of force used against the kids at the various shows. The man’s dark brown eyes get cold and hard as stone, and the next thing I know he’s giving me a graphically animated run-down of one of the worst incidents he’s even see or been involved in.
‘There is nothing worse than a security guard pounding on a kid,” claims Ian. “There is no sense – the guys are usually three times the size of the kids. The security guy has no business hitting anybody. They should just do their job and either take the kid and throw him out or take the kid and put him back in the crowd, but there is no reason for any violence. That’s where I think a band has to intervene. We’ve done it so many times.”
“I don’t know how many fights I’ve had with the security on the last tour,” he continues. “The worst one was in Miami at the Cameo Theatre. It was a crazy, crazy show and kids were just trying to get up. The stage is really high and they had this pit where the security guys were about three feet off the ground. They were over the kids, and the kids were still trying to get up. Some guy was just constantly hitting kids all night. I mean kids that weren’t doing anything. There were kids in the front getting crushed, and he was just smacking them like this, [demonstrates with a heavy hand], and I finally got fed up. I came off after a song and just kicked him in the back of the head and told him to cut it out. He gets up on stage and pushes me – a bug bruiser guy – and he pushes me. So, that was it, my first reaction was to grab my guitar and let him have it, but they ran out and grabbed me and pulled me back. If I hit this guy in the head with a guitar then I go to jail. So, one of our road crew pulls me away and gets right in this guy’s face. All the security guys come up and all the roadies come up and there’s all this pushing and the crowd is yelling ‘Kill! Kill!’ The first thing I did is grab the fucking microphone and start yelling, ‘He fuckin’ pushed me! You don’t push a fuckin’ band! This fuckin’ Nazi scumbag is hitting the kids!’ and all the kids start spitting on him. I lost my mind. We just walked off the stage and said, ‘Fuck this! Unless this security guy gets thrown out, the show doesn’t go on.’ So, the promoter is flipping out and they fired the guy right on the spot. The place went nuts. I mean, my heart was pounding, and I was ready. We’ll probably go down to Miami this winter and some guy will be fuckin’ shooting at me from the audience.”
“I’m not a violent person,” continues Ian, “and that’s the one thing we, as a band, cannot deal with. When we see that kind of shit going on, we will not play. We tell promoters in advance so the promoters know that the kids will be going crazy. Even since we’ve started playing in the arenas, the promoters are aware. We let them be aware that this is nothing like they’re ever seen. It’s gonna be crazy, the kids get out of hand and it’s nothing that we haven’t seen. We’re used to it, let it happen, and don’t have the security guards beating kids. On the floor you let them do whatever they want. It’s not your business.”
I guess that was the definitive answer to my question with a vivid personal experience example to back it up. But as if to read my mind he also gave me an example of when the security should get involved and why they are there. This time it involves another fellow mosher from his S.O.D. days.
“From shows that I”ve been to, from CBGB’s to anywhere, there’s always one idiot coming in and throwing punches in the pit, and there’s kids that will have him out in two seconds. I remember Billy Milano one time in Danceteria. I think Agnostic Front was playing. We were going around and there was some idiot – I mean, this guy had obviously never been at a show like this before, some disco guy, and he’s swinging this big chain. He’s going around the circle and this chain is hitting people left and right. The chain caught me across my arm and cut me. So Billy was on the stage doing security and comes flying off the stage. He grabs the chain and yells, ‘Drop the fucking chain you idiot!’ and the guy is like ‘Fuck you! Fuck you!’ and so Billy pulled the chain and jerked him toward him, and at the same time he punched him in the face. This guy was fuckin’ out cold on the floor. Billy just wrapped the chain up and threw it away.”
Well, talk about having fun and games with Anthrax. I think I’m glad I missed both of those incidents. There’s nothing like finding yourself right in the middle of a full-scale riot when you thought you were just going out to have a few brews and a good time. Amazingly, there have been no such incidents on this tour, and hopefully there won’t be any in the future, either.
With that out of his system, Ian picked up his comic book finds for the day and politely excused himself saying something about talking to his publicist and having to get something before he took the train back to Queens to see his wife. Frank was on his way back to the Bronx, and I was left to figure it out from there. But something tells me that I still only scratched the surface of the passions of Anthrax.
© Christine Natanael, Powerline, March 1989