The time Anthrax almost changed their name
Updated: Nov 27, 2019
Following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, there was another attack that is often overlooked. There was an anthrax attack. Letters containing anthrax started popping up in mailrooms and mailboxes all along the East Coast. I remember this well because I was living in Washington, DC at the time. Every day I rode the subway past the Brentwood postal facility where anthrax had been found. I remember that I would try not to breathe as the train drove by the facility - just in case there was any anthrax in the air. It sounds silly but, by that point, no one knew what was coming next and what we should be doing to protect ourselves.
The paranoia didn't end there. I worked for the Justice Department which was a few blocks away from where a federal employee had died sorting mail that contained anthrax. As a precaution, it meant that I could no longer receive my mail until it was irradiated. Irradiation was a process of exposing mail to radiation to kill any anthrax spores that might have been in it. Even with the process, it was a bit unnerving to get mail that looked like it had been slightly cooked and wonder whether it really was safe. Even worse was the few times that we were evacuated from our building because a package showed up and no one knew what was in it. Scary times indeed.
With this public health issue, a legitimate question arose in the heavy metal world. Should thrash masters, Anthrax, change their name? Of course they were not to blame but was it insensitive if they kept it while Americans were dying from attacks by their namesake? It was a major question and one that brought unwanted attention to the band. Mostly because when people wanted to research anthrax, they went to the website, anthrax.com. Imagine the surprise when they got there and found a heavy metal band. In a smart and classy move, the band included a link to websites where people trying to research the bacteria could go to learn more.
Around that time, I did something that not many people were doing so soon after the attacks. I was going to go into New York City for a concert. Yes, events were happening in the City but attendance was down. Americans were afraid of another attack and were hesitant to do much of anything in the City.
I was motivated to go for two reasons. The first - DJ and metalhead Eddie Trunk was putting on a concert to raise money for families of the NYPD and the NYFD affected by the 9/11 attacks. The second reason was that Eddie pulled together a fantastic lineup that included Sebastian Bach, Ace Frehley, Overkill, Anthrax, and a band that had not played together for 14 years - Twisted Sister! This show was a very important one and that overrode any fear I had of going into the City.
My friend, Meredith, and I got tickets as soon as they went on sale and got down to the City early on the day of the show. We were committed to get a good view so we got on line ridiculously early. We were one of the first people in line in front of the Hammerstein Ballroom. We actually ended up on VH-1's Rock Show right behind the host (and Anthrax guitarist), Scott Ian, as he reported.
As soon as we got in, we grabbed a spot at the front of the stage so we would have a clear view of the whole show. I had a camera and wanted to get some pictures, too. This was before cell phone cameras so all of the pics that I took that day were on a disposable camera (remember those?!). If I wasn't close enough, I'm pretty sure that none of them would have come out.
The highlights for the show for me started with Sebastian Bach. At the time, Bas was starring in "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" on Broadway. On the night of the concert, he finished up that performance, headed down to the ballroom, and tore the roof off the place with a high energy set. For some reason, I remember that Bas had this super-cool white boots on and I just kept thinking, "How does he move around with that much energy wearing those?"
Twisted Sister was another highlight. I missed seeing them at their peak in the 1980s so this was the first time for me. They played all of my favorites from the "Stay Hungry" album and even played "We're Not Gonna Take It" twice - once as a band and once at the end of their set with a bunch of other rockers that were watching from the side of the stage - I remember Doro was one of those guests. Dee Snider (who had more energy that I could imagine and who still does to this day) was a force to be reckoned with.
While Twisted was the headliner and my primary motivation for going, I have to be honest. My most memorable moment of the night involved Anthrax. Remember how no one knew if Anthrax was going to change their name because of the anthrax attacks? Well, word got out at the show that they would be making some type of announcement. And they did. As the set started, the guys walked on stage with no instruments. They walked across the stage and it became apparent that they were all dressed similarly. They each wore white jumpsuits with big black letters. It wasn't clear what those letters were until they turned and faced the crowd.
WE'RE NOT CHANGING OUR NAME
That was all this metal crowd needed to know. Terrorism was not going to change this NY metal band! It was at that point that they got the crowd worked up and put on a fantastic metal show and went on to become one of my favorite live bands. Another fun fact about the show is that it was one of the earliest shows with their then-new guitarist, Rob Caggiano (who has since gone on to play in Volbeat). For years, I thought it was his first but he corrected me many years later and told me that he had played a few shows before that one.
After months and weeks of living in fear of attacks and what might come next, it was nice to finally feel comfortable and spend an evening with my fellow metalheads united behind the one thing that we all had in common - a love of heavy metal.