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Anthrax’s Scott Ian Talks About Being Jewish and Playing Heavy Metal

Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Anthrax will take the stage at the Big 4 show at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx later today, and guitarist Scott Ian recently participated in a chat with Tablet about his Judaism and his metallic-ness.

Ian pontificated on his New York upbringing and how growing up Jewish did not factor into his life much because his family was non-practicing. He still labeled Jews as “tough” and equates it to why it makes sense for a lot of Jewish dudes to play metal.

On growing up in Bayside, Queens: “I didn’t know anything else. That’s where I lived. I loved it. It was great growing up there. Looking back on it now, even though we were growing up in Queens, it was very Americana, growing up with a pack of kids, Jewish, Italian, and Irish. We all played baseball. We all read comics. We all liked music. I thought it was a great place to grow up.” A cultural and spiritual melting pot, it seems.

On what being Jewish meant to his family (he was born Scott Rosenfeld):

“Nothing,” Ian declared. He clarified, admitting that “My parents at that point in time weren’t religious at all. We had a Christmas tree every year. We had a Seder. We had Rosh Hashanah. We’d go to Florida every Passover, to my grandparents’. My grandfather was Orthodox, and he was religious, but neither of my parents were. Of course, as they got older, it seems like they get more religious the older they get, even though they’re still not practicing Jews.”

His view of Jewish rockers other than Lou Reed: “The Dictators. People forget about them. Amazing band from the ’70s and early ’80s. They had Dick Manitoba, Ross ‘The Boss’-a bunch of good old Jewish boys.”

Watch Anthrax Talk About Their Upcoming Yankee Stadium Big 4 Performance

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On being a Jewish heavy metal musician: “I’m certainly not a practicing Jew. I would never claim, ‘I’m Jewish.’ That’s not the first and foremost thing in my mind, as far as who I am as a person. But I know a lot of Jewish history, of course. And if you take the Jewish history up to the Jewish immigrants coming to New York in the late 1800s and early 1900s, think about just how tough those people had to be, I can relate it to my own history.”

On his “tough” heritage and how it relates to metal playing Jews: Ian related his statement about Jewish folk being “tough” when recounting the story of his grandfather. He said, “My grandfather, in 1916 I think it was, his parents had to smuggle him out of his village in Poland because the Germans had occupied it and they were killing all the men in the village. So, they paid people to smuggle him to Amsterdam, where he stowed away on a boat and got to Ellis Island with no papers, so they put him back on a boat. Lucky they didn’t send him back to Poland. They sent him back to Amsterdam, where he worked for six months, eight months, until he had enough money to get proper papers. Some family took him in, gave him a place to sleep. Came back to Ellis Island, this time with papers, went to the Lower East Side, got a job at a grocery store, and within a couple of years, he had his own store on Rockaway.

When I think about how tough that was, anytime I complain about anything, it’s easy to think, ‘You know, I don’t have things so bad.’ But to answer your question: Jews are tough people. People think of Jews as the Woody Allen stereotype, the nebbishy kind of thing, but that’s not the kind of Jews I know. I know plenty of Israelis and plenty of tough guys that are Jewish. So, I think it makes sense that Jews play metal.”

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