During his Zoom interview with Billboard, Anthrax bassist Frank Bello discusses the wall of pictures on display behind him: photos of famed Universal monsters Frankenstein, the Wolf Man and the Creature From the Black Lagoon; a still from Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein; and a group portrait of The Beatles from their Sgt. Pepper’s era. And then he points out something smaller but equally important: an action figure of flamboyant fitness guru Richard Simmons.
“If you’ve ever heard Richard Simmons on [The Howard Stern Show, those are] some of the best shows ever,” declares Bello while he beams at the thought. “You’re laughing so hard. He was always a guy that wasn’t afraid to be who he was. I always thought that was cool. Everything here in this house will make me somewhat happy, and that’s what I surround myself with. I’m tired of negativity, to be honest.”
Speaking of which: Bello combatted the many negative aspects of the recent pandemic lockdown by finally writing his memoir, Fathers, Brothers, and Sons: Surviving Anguish, Abandonment, and Anthrax (Rare Bird Books, Nov. 2), after eight years of contemplation. Bello credits his co-writer, Joel McIver (Justice for All: The Truth About Metallica), for helping revive so many memories that were key to telling his tale. Sometimes it was difficult, such as revisiting his brother Anthony’s murder in 1996. He says a lot of tears, tissues and breaks were necessary to get through that.
“I was literally reliving it, and all this stuff kept coming out,” recalls Bello of the cathartic writing process. “All the therapy I’ve been through to try to get me out of that place, it all was coming in.”
Fathers, Brothers, and Sons digs deep into Bello’s psyche. He discloses his tumultuous upbringing, where around the age of 10, his father abandoned him, his four siblings and his mother. The impact of that precipitous decision dramatically influenced his life from then on as they struggled with poverty. Further, the continuous physical bullying he received in elementary school forced the future rock star to move in with his grandmother in the Bronx at age 11. Things then got better at school.
“I have great, strong women in my life,” declares Bello, now a married father of a son. “My grandmother, my mother, my aunts; just beautiful people that I cherish to this day. As far as fatherhood, I want to show this is how not to do it. I experienced that. I don’t want people to go through that. This is what happens when abandonment happens and [made] the hole I have in my gut, my heart.” (A percentage of his book sales will be donated to charities assisting abandoned families.)
“Thankfully, metal was filling that gap for me,” he adds. “Something had to make me feel better. [It was] the community of metal because we all bonded behind our uniforms, our leather jackets, all that stuff. It was something to belong to. It was so helpful to me.”
Then there was the murder of his youngest brother, an event that will forever be seared into his mind. Anthony was shot and killed after having an altercation with a man whom Bello declines to name. Going through the court system was also emotionally draining. During the tense trial, the only eyewitness to the murder who had agreed to testify ended up disappearing, clearly having been intimidated into silence. The failure of justice being served incensed Bello and his family. Unbeknown to them, he went out and bought guns.
“I went dark, as I say in the book,” notes Bello somberly. “That was my first reaction: revenge. I was the hunter. I can’t even exaggerate this because I don’t even want to go anywhere near whoever that person was. It didn’t matter — Anthrax, family, nothing mattered. It was about tunnel vision. ‘Let’s just do this.’ It was a mission, two weeks of bad stuff, going to the wrong people who I never would have talked to, who I never would have got things off of. Really bad stuff.”
After the initial hunt proved fruitless, Bello saw the light and decided to shed his rage. He didn’t want his mother to lose another son to jail or murder. “That’s where I first went — and then you go into the therapy after that, because if you don’t, you’re going to go off the deep end,” says Bello. “I was a mess. My whole family was a mess.”
Three weeks after Anthony’s murder, while on tour in Japan (which he did because of serious financial concerns for everyone involved), Bello wrote the ballad “Pieces” about his brother. He sang on that bonus track for the band’s underrated 1998 album Volume 8: The Threat Is Real, and the bassist says that fans who have dealt with loss in their life find the song helpful and healing.
Fathers, Brothers, and Sons doesn’t dish all the usual tell-all dirt. Sure, there are crazy stories about drinking bouts with Slayer’s Kerry King and the late Abbott brothers from Pantera. Yes, there are wild road stories like the time a security guard mistook Anthrax frontman Joey Belladonna for an unwanted fan who had gotten onstage, which led to a melee. But Bello doesn’t trash-talk anyone. For instance, he doesn’t get into much detail about Anthrax’s various frontman changes. His memoir instead embraces the positive within the darkness.
Anthrax has always been known for its sense of humor, and Bello comes off as an upbeat guy. He cherishes the band’s pioneering music, as well as its groundbreaking collaboration and tour with Public Enemy in the early 1990s. He shares his family’s love of life and togetherness and his youthful passion for music, like when he and a friend fan-stalked KISS as kids and singer-bassist Gene Simmons tolerated it. It worked out: Simmons wrote a personal essay about his own father abandoning him for the book’s foreword. KISS was a huge influence on the young Bello, as were bass heroes like Steve Harris, Geezer Butler and Geddy Lee. Famed producer Eddie Kramer later helped Bello find the bass tone that would stand out within the energetic cacophony of Anthrax. (By the way, what soothes this metal beast after a bad day? The voice of Barbra Streisand.)
The bassist also reveals that up until the release of Anthrax’s third album, Among the Living, he still worked at Joe’s Deli, which was owned by his uncle, in the Bronx to make ends meet. Bello has not taken his success for granted: He has toured the globe and broadened his horizons but has always stayed within the New York area and remained close to his family. Even though he’s a local guy who got to play Yankee Stadium, he embraces a strong work ethic and remembers where he came from.
The arrival of Fathers, Brothers, and Sons is timely, for 2021 marks the 40th anniversary of Anthrax’s formation. The multimillion-selling, six-time Grammy nominees have played a few one-off shows this year, including the Blue Ridge Rock Festival, the Aftershock Festival and a special livestream concert on July 16.
Another part of the anniversary celebration includes the Among the Living graphic novel that collects stories inspired by each of the songs on the seminal 1987 album. Contributors for the compendium include Ian, authors Grant Morrison and Jimmy Palmiotti, My Chemical Romance’s Gerard and Mikey Way, and Corey Taylor of Stone Sour and Slipknot. Bello penned the story inspired by the track “One World.” It involves a bank teller being badgered for money by multiple people and the macabre thoughts he has about ripping their hearts out. In a sense, it’s what one could call a dark side of him spilling onto the page.
“I’ve had that all my life,” acknowledges Bello. “As the therapist said, it is from the abandonment thing, the rage that I’ve had all my life. There’s a big percentage of my life coming from that and from questioning, ‘Why?’ It’s the big why.”
A grateful Bello knows that being in a heavy-metal band has been a life-saver, allowing him to vent his rage onstage and connect with like-minded people. For this, he can thank his uncle, Anthrax drummer Charlie Benante, who enlisted Bello to join in 1984. Benante was a big influence and musical mentor, encouraging his nephew to switch from guitar to bass when he worked out bass parts on the six-string during their pre-Anthrax jam sessions. Bello is thankful that they are still writing music together — the band is working on its 13th studio album.
“The family strength is there,” he says. “I’m very proud of that. We grew up into this thing. A lot of hard work. A lot of luck, too. It’s persistence, man. That’s the story of Anthrax. Persistence.”
And it’s the story of Frank Bello.