Headbanging for the Homeless
In August, Anthrax drummer Charlie Benante uttered the words that foot-lunches are made of. A press release issued by his record company had him saying, "Anthrax aren't a band that relies on . . . MTV. We're not going to sell out for them."
For all of this month and half of May, Benante will know where his next meal is coming from. That's because he will be dining on his August proclamation. Eight months after puffing out his chest and issuing his State of the Band speech, Anthrax is a band that relies on MTV. Heavily.
When the speed-metal/white-rap/hard-core group makes its way around the nation during this month and next, it'll be co-headlining, even though the band is by far the biggest of the three on the tour. Who'll be sharing the top of the bill with Anthrax? One of the two other bands, Exodus or
Helloween? Nope. It'll
be MTV. You
know, the MTV that Anthrax drummer Charlie Benante said his band neither relies on nor would sell out for.
To be specific, the channel is using Anthrax to promote its three-hour-long Saturday night Headbangers Ball show. It's a program that caters to the "genre-specific audience"--as MTV calls it--that stays up past its bedtime to watch a somewhat peculiar blend of both puss-metal videos (i.e., clips by Def Leppard and Poison) and crunch-metal videos (Metallica and Anthrax). The channel plans to dump more than $1.5 million in advertising into the tour and cover its going-on at all hours--sometimes even when Headbangers Ball isn't on.
MTV's ad blitz seems to be working. Reports have it that all but two dates on the tour are sold out--one of them being, incidentally, a stop
So, Anthrax isn't
selling out to MTV?
Scott Ian, speaking
from his home in Forest Hills, New York, brags that Anthrax has more important gigs than MTV. "Granted, it's taken us a lot longer to make it big than Guns n' Roses," he says. "But if they turned to us tomorrow and said, `We never want to hear from you again,' it wouldn't make a difference.
"Why all of a sudden did they want us? I guess it's like anything else--they'll make money from it."
But let's give Anthrax the benefit of the doubt. Let's just assume that its latest album, State of Euphoria, did go gold with little or no help from Headbangers Ball. And let's pretend that Anthrax could've gone on tour this spring and gotten enough moshers to each donate $18.50 of their allowance to sell out every date--without MTV's precious assistance.
All well and good, but now Anthrax wants something more. The band is looking to change the way the world thinks about heavy-metal and maybe even about videos in general. And MTV is the only creature in its way.
LAST WEEK, IAN and friends were limbering up to shoot a video for "Who Cares Wins," a devastating song about New York City's homeless. The band plans to feature bleak footage of the city's homeless, intercut with scenes of the group's members lip-synching lyrics like, "Living in the street/Moms and kids with nothing to eat/Welfare hotels/Who says there's no place called hell."
It is the last scene of the video that Ian hopes will get Tipper Gore, Geraldo Rivera and all the other metalphobes the world over off the backs of Anthrax and its brethren. The band wants to pull off an all-time first by plugging a charity organization in a video. It's planning to splice onto the end printed info about the National Coalition for the Homeless, one of two organizations that Anthrax is working with.
Whether anyone sees the video, though, is up to MTV.
As soon as Anthrax is done with it, the video'll be shipped to the channel's censors, who'll decide whether flacking for a good cause is a no-no. MTV publicist Judy Atencio says, "I don't know what the thought would be on that. I don't think it's ever come up."
On the face of it, MTV has everything to gain by squeezing such responsible material into its boobs 'n' bazooka playlist. But Anthrax is up against what Ian calls the "never know" factor.
MTV, he says, "might love the idea. Then we'll shoot the video. Then Standards and Practices [MTV's censorship department] finds a reason they're not gonna put it on. I hope people don't look at this as just another music video. I like to think we have a relationship now that would make things easier for us, but you just never can tell. With the Anthrax experience, you never know what's gonna happen."
In 1985, when Anthrax shot its first video, for a song called "Madhouse," the band thought MTV would dig every frame. "It was filmed in what used to be a mental hospital," Ian gleefully recalls. "We had our friends dressed in medical gowns just slam-dancing and stuff. We wanted to show what was going on at Anthrax shows. They didn't want to hear about it. Back when we did it, they wouldn't play it at all. They decided we were making fun of mental patients."
In January, though, MTV let Headbangers Ball invitees into the "Madhouse" for the first time. "In 1985, it wasn't any good," Ian smirks. "In 1989, with everything else out on television, I suppose the `Madhouse' video is okay."
Even if Anthrax does slip by the censors in '89 with the "Who Cares Wins" clip, though, the band may be in even worse shape with heavy-metal's critics.
MTV's last major socially conscious video, Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror," inspired a nasty backlash. Critics decried Jackson for splicing together images of almost every conceivable cause and effect of world ugliness for no reason other than to create controversy and to sell more records.
Ian is betting that the plug for the homeless coalition will keep critics from accusing Anthrax of exploitation. Ian insists that Anthrax recorded the song without plans for a video. "We wrote the song because that's the way we felt. People can think whatever they want to think. If there's a backlash, it should've been eight months ago when the album came out. They shouldn't be thinking like that. They should be thinking, `Oh, what can we do [about the homeless]?' That's why we're doing this with these organizations. That lends credibility to this. People will see it's not just being done for exploitation. The purpose behind the video is to inform people about the homeless, not to glorify Anthrax."
Of course, if the media start cuddling up to Anthrax once they find the band can thrash and think at the same time, Ian and his group-mates just might have platinum records hanging on their walls by summer. Keep in mind, after all, that double platinum wasn't in Tracy Chapman's future until after she played the Nelson Mandela benefit gig in England last summer that was televised 'round the world.
Should Anthrax receive mass-media exposure for its efforts, it might also enable the band to separate itself from the drooling pack of Satan-worshiping hippie groups that provide Geraldo with a program every two weeks.
"Some bands write about the devil, and some bands write about girls," explains Ian, whose band actually did write politically correct songs about televangelists ("Make Me Laugh") and racism ("Schism") for Euphoria. "That's just not what kind of people we are. I like sports cars, and I like girls, but by the time Anthrax came around, all that stuff had been written about to death. People weren't really writing about reality. We just never felt like a part of that sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll image."
Ian's real dream is to wash heavy-metal behind the ears. "We just really want to get across to people's minds that heavy-metal isn't just mindless sex and violence," he says. "Maybe the video will help metal in general. They'll come up with a new term. Instead of `heavy-metal' or `thrash' or `speed-metal,' they'll come up with `thinking metal.'"
Later this month, if MTV decides to okay Anthrax's new video, it'll have to decide just who should be watching it. The programmers could stick it in the Headbangers Ball slag heap among the typical Metal Church/Megadeth rubbish or put it in prime time for the masses.
And here, Ian puffs out his chest again and sounds a warning shot to MTV cigar puffers that they'd better care who wins. "Why can't they play Anthrax as much as they play Def Leppard, Paula Abdul, or the Dead Milkmen? It's something that should be played, whether it's a metal or pop band. Something with this kind of message should be played no matter what."
Anthrax will perform at West Valley Pride Pavilion, 51st Avenue and Indian School on Monday, April 10. Show time is 7:30 p.m.
The band is looking to change the way the world thinks about heavy-metal. And MTV is the only creature in its way.
Ian's real dream is to wash heavy-metal behind the ears.
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