Commentary

Ian steps up to plate at Yankee Stadium

Anthrax guitarist, a Queens native, shares his excitement before the 'Big 4' show

Updated: September 12, 2011, 2:13 PM ET
By Roger Lotring | Special to ESPN.com

Lately, Scott Ian has had plenty of reason to celebrate. Revel, born in June to wife Pearl Aday, is the couple's first child. The following month marked the 30th anniversary of his other baby, Anthrax. And this week, following the release of their 10th studio album, Anthrax will play Yankee Stadium, part of the Big 4 with Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth.

[+] EnlargeScott Ian
Frank Micelotta/Getty ImagesLike his newborn son, Scott Ian has a few Yankees duds in his closet.

But it hasn't been easy getting to this point. After trailblazing the metal landscape through the 1980s, Anthrax has weathered a more tumultuous course over the past decade, from their name becoming synonymous with post-9/11 paranoia to a revolving door of singers that left some fans wondering whether the band had run out of gas.

They haven't, as it turns out. "Worship Music," with revered frontman Joey Belladonna back on the mike, is unanimously being praised as a triumphant return to form, arguably the best Anthrax album ever.

Family and band aside, Scott's other love is the New York Yankees. Despite growing up in a Mets-friendly neighborhood, the Queens native is die-hard pinstripes. Ian, 47, recently blogged about being at Game 6 of the 1977 World Series, where he watched Reggie Jackson hit a record three home runs. That same year, seeing Kiss at Madison Square Garden would change him forever.

Scott talked to The Life about parenthood, the development of "Worship Music" (iTunes | Amazon), and the nervousness of fulfilling his childhood dream in the outfield at Yankee Stadium.

The Life: Who's profiting more from sales of kids' apparel for your son, Kiss or the New York Yankees?

Ian: We haven't bought any of either, but from the gifts we've gotten, definitely Yankees. I think we've gotten maybe one Kiss thing, and that was sent from the merch company, but tons of Yankee stuff.

The Life: He's not yet three months old, but have you already exposed Revel to baseball and music?

Ian: Not baseball, no. But he listens to music every day -- well, it's on every day. Whether or not he's listening … it's around him, let's put it that way.

The Life: What excites you most about someday taking him to concerts and games? Those experiences can make such a big impact on the course of someone's life.

Ian: Of course! I can't wait to do that. Obviously, he's going to get to go to a lot of concerts with us over the next few years. If it's something that he enjoys, I assume he'll get to do a lot more than that.

But, you know, we're not gonna shove anything down his throat. Just because I play in a band, and Pearl sings, doesn't mean that's what he's going to do. If he's into it, then he's into it.

The Life: How prevalent was baseball, as far as the parent-son relationship in your household, growing up?

Ian: You know, it was something that my dad would talk about. I can remember [my brother and I] being kids, and my dad would talk about going to see the Dodgers in Brooklyn when he was a kid. And we would go to games once in a while. We would go to both, Met games and Yankee games.

I just gravitated to being a Yankees fan. I can't even tell you why, other than I think it just comes down to the fact that my dad was a Dodger fan, and the Yankees were like their arch-enemies for all those years in the '40s and '50s. And it's not because I didn't like my dad. It's just, for some reason, I guess I figured they would be my thing, whereas I just didn't really give a s--- about the Mets at all. [Laughs]

We were in Queens and Long Island. Most people in those areas were Met fans. In New York, the lines are drawn pretty boldly, as far as where you grew up and what team you support. All my friends were Met fans, so it was kind of weird that I was a Yankee fan.

But yeah, I loved it, from the first time we ever went to the ballpark. That might even be why [I'm a fan], because I'm pretty sure the first baseball game I ever saw was a Yankee game. I remember going to Yankee Stadium before it was even renovated, before the Yankees [temporarily] played at Shea [Stadium]. And then we went to a lot of the Yankee games at Shea when they were playing there.

I still get the same feeling now, 40 years later let's say, when you get into the ballpark and walk through the halls where all the food stands are. Then you walk out into the seating area and the field opens up in front of you. It still gives me that same kind of amazing vibe, that you're about to witness something really cool.

The Life: Do you feel serenity? A lot of fans describe a serenity, that once you get inside a stadium or park, all problems evaporate and everything is perfect.

Ian: Yes, that feeling lasts until the game starts, then it just turns into two-and-a-half to three hours of stress. [Laughs] But I do agree with that serenity feeling because I love walking into the ballpark. I love getting there early. I love hanging out, especially at Yankee Stadium -- even the new Yankee Stadium -- it's a great feeling. But once the game starts, it's all business.

The Life: What commonality did you find in loving baseball and music when you were a kid?

Ian: None, really. There was really no crossover to me, especially in my neighborhood. We used to play baseball in the field behind where we grew up. Most of those kids, they didn't care about music at all. It was like two different things. The kids I hung out with that were into music and the kids that were into sports were two completely different crowds. Somehow I bridged both of 'em because I really was so into baseball. I mean, I played baseball in high school up until my junior year.

The Life: 1977 was a huge year for you: Being at Game 6 of the World Series when Reggie Jackson hit the record three home runs, then Kiss at their '70s peak at Madison Square Garden. What does hindsight allow you to recognize about how those events affected your life?

Ian: Well, it was actually three things that year. If I could pinpoint one year in my youth, that would definitely be my golden year, like the most important year growing up. The third thing was spending the whole summer in California.

My brother and I flew out -- I actually used my bar mitzvah money to buy us airline tickets -- and we spent the whole summer in Laguna Beach with my mom's best friend. Just to be out there and ride a skateboard the whole summer, because that was when skateboarding exploded and there were all these skate parks in California. Nothing like that existed in New York City.

So we got to spend the whole summer out of the city, basically in dreamland compared to where we lived, literally at the beach and riding skateboards all day. Between that, going to the World Series that year, then the Kiss shows, it was three things that had crazy impact on my life.

The Life: Obviously, you could not foresee how all of it would unfold.

Ian: I can actually say I do remember, after those Kiss shows in '77, it was literally like a lightning bolt for me. Leaving the Garden -- Dec. 14, I think it was, actually -- taking the train home, just in my brain knowing, well, this is it. I'm on the path. This is what I'm going to do. There's nothing else I could do with my life other than be in a band.

The Life: Prior to that, were your aspirations more geared toward becoming a professional baseball player?

Ian: Maybe for three minutes. Granted, back in the '70s, you actually did have guys like Freddie Patek playing shortstop for the Royals, and he was 5-foot-6. But that was definitely not the [norm]. [Laughs] Even though baseball players weren't as big then, the odds of a 5-6 -- 5-7 in cleats -- 150-pound kid making it in the big leagues to play second base for the Yankees was a bit of a pipe dream.

The Life: As a kid, who was your favorite Yankees player?

Ian: Thurman Munson.

The Life: What was it about Munson that drew you to him?

Ian: To me, he just embodied the Yankees. He just had this toughness, this grittiness, beside the fact that he was such a great player, such a great offensive catcher. There was only him and Johnny Bench, at the time, who were really great catchers that could hit -- well, [Carlton] Fisk, too, you could put in that category, as well. That was a rare commodity back then.

Munson, he was just such a hard-nosed ballplayer. He was like a superhero to me. He just looked scruffy, just tough and kind of ornery. I just loved that about him. As a kid, he was just the coolest.

The Life: Those are great moments of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, Munson and Fisk. As a fan, what's the most fun aspect about that rivalry for you? Do you enjoy the intensity between those teams?

Ian: Yeah, of course. Maybe here's one thing I could say that crosses over between my attitudes, whether it's music or anything in life: You want to do your best against the best. If you're gonna compete, then your competition should be the best competition. That's how I've always felt.

[+] EnlargeThurman Munson
Archive Photos/Getty ImagesThurman Munson's grittiness had great appeal to budding young heavy metal star Scott Ian.

I love the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. I love the Yankees-Dodgers rivalry, even though it really doesn't mean anything anymore. But there's still something there when they play each other in interleague [play]. Sadly, the Dodgers will never make it to October any time soon, [laughs] so the odds are we're not going to see a Yankees-Dodgers World Series.

The Yankees-Mets rivalry is awesome. To me, in a sense, that's even deeper than the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, because they're both New York teams. When you're in the middle of it, living in New York as a kid, then getting to boast '77, '78, when the Yankees won it -- of course, then in '86 the Mets won it. I remember sitting there with all my friends, watching it and not knowing how to feel, hating the fact that the Mets were winning or loving the fact that the Sox were losing.

Yeah, those rivalries are the greatest. To me, that's what competition is all about. What's the fun if there's no competition? Granted, I love seeing blowouts. I'd rather watch an 11-0 game, truthfully, than a 1-0 game. I just hope that comes against the Sox. [Laughs]

The Life: Who do you call or text immediately after the Yankees beat the Red Sox or the Mets?

Ian: I'm not so much that guy because I'm not a s--- talker when it comes to sports. I'm one of those people that [thinks] there are just too many ways to jinx my team, and I actually believe that my actions have an outcome on the game. [Laughs] I'm one of those maniacs. Literally, when it comes to the postseason, my position on the couch can affect the outcome of the game.

Yeah, I don't s--- talk other teams because I feel like that's beneath what the Yankees are about, even me as a fan. Here's another thing I can relate to music: Unless I have something positive to say about something, there's no need for me to waste my time talking. Like, I absolutely respect the Red Sox as a team, and I'm not going to s--- talk them. There's no reason. They're good, they're not crap.

On the other hand, to answer your question, I have a couple of friends who are Met fans, namely ["That Metal Show" co-host] Eddie Trunk. [Laughs] Every once in a while I will bust his [chops]. Recently, [bassist] Frankie [Bello] and I were on the radio with him, and I made mention of how the Big 4 were originally talking about [playing] Citi Field, but the bands decided we couldn't play at a losing team's stadium. [Laughs]

Eddie's like, "Come on, they're only like two games under .500!" I'm like, no Ed, four games under. [Laughs] I actually looked at the standings to make sure I knew exactly how far I could dig the thumb. But you can't even bust a Met fan's [chops], because they know their team sucks. What fun is it ragging on a team that's terrible? It's almost like you've just got to pity them.

The Life: The tone of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry seems to have changed since Boston won the World Series in '04. There's still a rivalry between fans, but it's more good-natured rather than absolute hatred on the part of the Boston fans.

Ian: I think real fans -- you know, not drunk idiots who want to start fights -- real baseball fans will grudgingly respect the rival team. Our tour manager, Jason Engle, who's strangely enough born and bred in Los Angeles, is a Red Sox fan. We spend a lot of time together, [laughs] and there's a grudging respect between both of us. We watch a lot of baseball, we follow it online, keeping up with everything going on. We're both the first ones to admit when our team blows it.

The Life: The love of the game goes beyond love of the team.

Ian: I think if you're a true sports fan, you have to respect your rival. You have to respect talent, and you have to respect a great organization. I mean, look at the Braves through the '90s and even into the 2000s. All those great teams they had in all those years, to me it was so shocking in '96 when the Yankees handled them the way they did in the World Series. Truthfully, I expected the Yankees to lose, and it was kind of like, what happened to the Braves?

The Life: You mentioned following baseball online. Are you the sort of fan who needs constant updates, wanting to know the score, who got traded, who's on the disabled list?

Ian: I sometimes am. Sometimes, it's just hard to keep up depending on how busy I am. But I go to Yankees.com at least once if not twice a day. I probably spend five to 10 minutes on the website, just catching up to see what's what, who's injured, when so-and-so is coming back. I try and keep my head in the game, so to speak, so I can at least make an educated argument when I'm complaining how much I think they suck and need to make a move. [Laughs] Like I said, going to the stadium, it's a pleasure until the game starts, then it's all business.

The Life: "In The End," a centerpiece of the new album, is a tribute to Dimebag Darrell and Ronnie James Dio. Blogging about that song, you mentioned feeding Ronnie Yankees scores while he was onstage. Often, somebody stepping offstage is really just getting the score from their tech's laptop on the roadcase.

Ian: Yeah, exactly. I can't tell you how many times we've been on tour in the fall, and we've been getting updates mid-song. I mean, that's just the way it is.

The Life: Anyone following the tumultuous progression of "Worship Music" couldn't help regarding it with a certain amount of skepticism. Is it vindicating that some people are already regarding it as the band's best album to date?

Ian: You know, I take all of that the same way, good and bad. Look, of course I'm not going to sit here and say I don't like it when people say they think our record's great. Of course I do. I feel great about that, and I feel privileged that people take the time to listen. I'm just really happy that people hear it the way I hear it.

[+] EnlargeJoey Belladonna
AP Photo/Jason RedmondJoey Belladonna's return helped bring the Anthrax team back with "Worship Music."

But I think since we made "Fistful of Metal" [in 1983], basically we've just learned to take the good and the bad, really, the same way. One way or another it's not going to affect what we do as a band. It's not going to affect our songwriting, it's not going to affect what we do onstage. That's still just going to come from us.

It's great when people respect you and like the work you've created. Of course, it makes us feel good. But, in the end, [laughs] no pun intended, it's not going to change how we operate.

The Life: Looking at a band like a sports team, if you're a fan, you take the same feeling of ownership. When your band hits one out of the park, as a fan, you're excited. That's the feeling a lot of people might get with this record.

Ian: Sure. No, I agree because I feel that way about the bands I love. They put out a new record and it just crushes you, yeah, it's super exciting.

I was just going to make a sports analogy, too: They say a team is only as good as its ninth-place hitter. I kind of feel that way about making records, that the last track on the record has to be as strong as your No. 3 slot, which is usually the so-called hit or something like that. I feel like our record, our 10th track is as strong as our first track.

The Life: Making the album was something that started several years ago, literally. What point in that time frame was the most discouraging? Also, within that time frame, when did you realize what you had, in terms of how good it is?

Ian: As far as how good it is, we realized immediately once we had three or four things together. It just felt great, and it felt … I don't know any other way to explain it, but it was the music that kept us moving forward and kept us focused up until [this] June, when the record finally got finished. It really was the power of the music.

When [drummer] Charlie [Benante] and I literally first started writing, and had a couple of things together, we couldn't wait to get Frankie and [guitarist] Rob [Caggiano] in the mix because we were just like, this stuff is killing. It just felt awesome, all the way through, even when we walked away from it for a year.

We knew we had this amazing thing sitting up on the shelf. It just wasn't time to take it down yet. And once Joey was back in the mix, that's when we knew, OK, it's time to open up this rad box of songs and now make it even better. Truthfully, we've never had the luxury of hindsight before, or actually living with a record for a year then going back and making sure you're still in love with everything, then being able to fix stuff and change stuff and re-record stuff.

It's not something we're going to do with every album, obviously, finish then put it away for a year, then go back to it. It would be awesome to have that luxury, but this one was a happy accident that it just worked out like that. We were able to go back in and really hone it down from the 13 or 14 songs in some state of being done, to these 10 that just really nail it.

The Life: Because of the scenario where the music sat for that period of time, did that make the band determined that the finished album had to be perfect?

Ian: Yeah, you could say that. We had spent so much time that we certainly weren't going to rush anything. And being in the situation where we were able to basically go back and open the books on the record again, that was all done last fall when we were out on tour with Slayer and Megadeth.

It was on that tour when we would pretty much spend almost every day in the dressing room with a bunch of amps set up. We'd just pick a song, and we would all sit around for a couple of hours and listen to it, play it. Some songs: great, awesome, we don't need to touch this. Then, other songs: OK, this one needs a ton of work; this one needs to go in the garbage; this one, maybe the chorus just needs to be better.

There was stuff that was "finished" back in 2009, but we didn't even know what was going to make the record. We didn't get to the point where everything was mixed, then sequenced, and we actually knew what the record was going to be. "In The End," which was a different song back then, might not even have made the record because the chorus at that point still was never there. It took that year away [from it], I think, when Charlie had this idea for it, where things started to move forward on that song again and it became what it is.

The Life: Your drive for it to be as good as possible is not only a sense of professionalism, but also an emotional quotient that you want to get it right.

Ian: Well, yeah. And once musically it was right, we knew. We never would have finished it or written that song if we didn't think it was going to become what it became. Like, I wouldn't have put something out there half-assed as a tribute to Darrell and Ronnie.

The Life: How much of this album are you planning on adding to the live set? You realistically won't go out and play a whole brand-new album, although the songs are good enough that, in terms of quality, you could.

Ian: I mean, I know we could. [Iron] Maiden has kind of set the bar for that because they're like, "Hey, this is what we're doing. Like it or not, we're going to play our new album." I can look at it from both sides, from the guy in the band who would love to go out and play the whole record. And then I look at it from a fan [perspective], who maybe he wants to hear all the songs, but he also wants to hear 15 or 20 other songs from our catalog.

One of the problems we have is, Anthrax can't play a three-hour show. Nothing against any other band out there in our genre, but we're a very, very physical band onstage. Certainly, Frankie, Joey and I up front, the physicality is pretty intense. A 90-minute or two-hour Anthrax show is like a four-hour show for anyone else. [Laughs] So it would be great to think we could go play three hours, do the whole album and an hour-and-a-half of hits, but we'd be sitting in chairs by the end. [Laughs]

We're going to know every song on the record, and we're going to do multiple legs, I'm sure, through the states over the next year. So, at some point, we'll have played everything on the record.

The Life: Most people probably thought an East Coast Big 4 show would happen at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford. Behind the scenes, when did you know there was a chance that Anthrax might actually be playing Yankee Stadium?

Ian: Well, we didn't [know] until they told us it was happening. [Laughs]

The Life: Really, your management didn't know at all that it was trying to be coordinated?

Ian: No, no, just like most of the other shows, we got the call saying -- initially, I think it was a different day, and then the Yankees' schedule changed because of a rainout or something, so there was a makeup game. But, yeah, the call basically just came in: Yankee Stadium, Sept 14. Oh. [Laughs] We're like, OK, put that, like, top three phone calls of all time. [Laughter]

The Life: How did you react to that call, being a Yankees fan? Did you jump up and down, or just stand in disbelief?

Ian: I was more just kind of like … yeah, a lot of disbelief, I think. A lot of sheer euphoria, you know, just like, "Oh my God! Can you believe this? Can you believe we're going to get to do this?" It's literally a dream come true.

We also thought that if there was going to be an East Coast show, it would probably be at Giants Stadium -- whatever they call it now -- because that's generally where those size shows are done in the tri-state area. But at some point I did say to [Metallica drummer] Lars [Ulrich], somewhere when we were in Europe, that if we did get to do an East Coast show, we should do Yankee Stadium: "Giants Stadium would be great, but you guys have already done it, and everyone plays Giants Stadium. But nobody plays Yankee Stadium."

I'm not taking any credit at all. That was strictly my own selfish, "Why not float it out there for the universe?" because you never know what may happen.

The Life: You're very active with social networking. You were very descriptive about your opportunity to play a zombie on "Walking Dead," posting photos and such. What sort of volume of posting can people expect during or after you play Yankee Stadium?

Ian: I'm sure a lot. I mean, I would hope so, unless for some reason it's a total bummer. But it's hard for me to imagine that. Literally, when we're onstage for line check at one o'clock in the afternoon that day, I know this sounds crazy, if we're just playing to the empty stadium, if that was the show, it would still be insane to me.

The fact that I get to walk out there with my guitar -- like, my tool -- like so many others before me on the Yankees have walked out with their gloves, it's hard for me to put into some kind of context, just knowing how this band started and where we come from. As a kid growing up in Queens, I'm literally going to be standing out in center field doing what I do. It's hard to put into words.

I'm sure maybe months afterward, I will be able to. I'm sure there will be a lot of initial posting and photos and stuff around the actual event. But I think for me to actually process it and put into words that are better than these fractured sentences I'm expressing now, it'll take a few months. And it'll obviously make a good chapter in the book, eventually.

The Life: What normally goes through your head when you're taking the stage? It's speculative, but how do you suspect it might be different when you're actually walking up the ramp at Yankee Stadium?

Ian: I will have had at least three beers, probably, before [playing] Yankee Stadium. Generally, if I have one, that's a lot before going onstage. But I just feel like I'm gonna need that just to not be stressing and not be out of my mind. Like, I can't imagine myself being any other way at this point.

I get nervous only rarely, like New York, L.A., London, those places will generally generate some nerves, just because it's the cities where everybody sees everything all the time. You just want to make sure you do your best. You just have to work that much harder to play those cities. This, to me, is just that, but amplified times a thousand. It's Yankee Stadium, like, what are we doing here? Who let us in there? That's literally my attitude toward it, so I know the nerves are going to be there.

So, a couple of beers -- and we're going to do it right. We're going to go to a [concession] stand and buy beers. [Laughs] We're going to do it right, and I'm sure that will set me at ease.

But still, those two, three minutes when you're standing at the back of the stage and the intro is rolling, I have no idea really how to know where my brain's going to be at. I just hope I'm not too tight because then it's going to make it hard to play.

Roger Lotring is an author, freelance writer and radio show host based in Connecticut.