Thursday, August 2, 2012

Flying Yarmulke at Anthrax Concert

DISCLAIMER: I AM A BIG ANTHRAX FAN. I always have been. I saw my first Anthrax concert in the early-mid 1980s and have followed the band since then. In fact, I was in the front row, cheering louder than anyone else, when they ripped it up on the Bronx dubbed “Anthrax Day” at the Big 4 at Yankee Stadium last year.

I have also been aware that their once long-maned, now bald and goateed iconic axe-slinger Scott Ian, is Jewish. Scott Ian’s Jewish identity is known and affectionately acknowledged throughout the thrash metal/heavy metal community. To wit, Ian tweeted a photo, on July 10th of a guitar given to him by the late “Dimebag” Darrell formerly of Pantera and Damageplan. Of course, Dimebag had signed the guitar to Scott, “To My Jewish Rebel Brother.”

On Sunday night, Scott tweeted to his approximately 110K followers “Someone caught a signed yarmulke that I threw into the crowd tonight. Yep, you heard me.” Anthrax was headlining the Jager stage at the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival in Bristow, Virginia Sunday. Mosh pits at Anthrax concerts are known to be some of the largest, most intense, powerful mosh pits in the metal world. Trust me, I've been in my share of them.

So, into the midst of this swirling, sweaty, dusty, dirty, thrashing, mass of humanity, Scott Ian whips an autographed kippah. A few hours later after the concert is over, he wants to make sure everyone knows about it, so he tweets it. Almost predictably, the very first reply to Scott’s tweet asks, “What’s that?” “That” is, of course a head covering that all religiously observant Jewish males wear, and most liberal Jewish men and women wear when going to synagogue called a yarmulke or kippah. It is a Jewish symbol almost as recognizable as a Magen David, a Star of David.

So, why does an iconic Thrash Metal Rock Star throw a Jewish religious/spiritual object into the crowd at a Metal concert? While some might view this act as purely disrespectful, it wasn’t. By virtue of the fact that he autographed the kippah, one imagines that he fully expects the lucky fan who caught it, to keep it as a prized piece of rock and roll memorabilia. (I happen to have a couple of guitar picks that Scott Ian has tossed into the crowd at other Anthrax concerts.) Since it was a Jewish religious object as opposed to a rock and roll artifact/object, perhaps he was, in a way, trying to share that part of himself with the crowd.

In some ways, Judaism, spirituality, and heavy metal or hard rock seem at odds with each other, and yet in other ways, as I have written about before, there is an intense spirituality that runs through Rock, including Hard Rock, Heavy Metal and Punk. I suspect that for Scott Ian, throwing this kippah into the mosh pit was a way of acknowledging that for him, there is a deep and congruent relationship between his Jewish identity, his experience of spirituality, and Rock & Roll. I get it.

I hope he saves the next autographed kippah for me, I'd wear it.

Rabbi Darby Jared Leigh serves Bnai Keshet in Montclair NJ and The New Shul in NYC. He is profoundly Deaf and loves music. He has appeared on stage with Twisted Sister and Jane's Addiction and is on Twitter @RabbiDarby