Book Review: Frank Bello - Fathers, Brothers, and Sons: Surviving Anguish, Abandonment, and Anthrax
Reviewed by Dan Barners
Frank Bello with Joel McIver - Fathers, Brothers and Sons - Surviving Anguish, Abandonment and Anthrax.
The boys in Anthrax seem to be all about the getting us reading, what with the recent release of the tremendous Among the Living graphic novel and now this, a memoir from Metal’s smiliest four-stringer.
To dispel the idea immediately: this book is not a biography of Anthrax; while it does cover the history of the band, it does so as the backdrop to the life and times of Frank Bello – of the trials and tribulations of life on the road, of the search for guidance and of the life-altering power of music. In essence, it’s as much about the Anthrax story as Bruce Dickinson’s What Does this Button Do? is about Iron Maiden.
There are three distinct themes running through the book: Frank’s sense of abandonment after his father left; his adoration of the women in his life; and his need for family and a Safe Home. And it is this triptych of influences that has shaped Frank into the man he is today: outwardly extroverted, a natural showman and a massive personality, yet a man who struggles with his inner demons of anger and fear that he will become the thing he does not want to be.
Multiple studies over many years have shown the inconvenient truth that children, and particularly boys, need a strong father-figure during their formative years. So, regardless of how some people feel about this, it is an empirical fact based on study after study. Recent events across the pond have been overwhelmingly attributed, by the leaders of those communities, to absent fathers.
Frank’s own father separated from his mother when Frank was ten-years old and left him with anger toward his dad and a lack of understanding as to why this had happened. The subsequent relocation to a different home and different school, and resultant bullying by bigger boys, as well as watching his mother squeeze every last penny from every dollar, left Frank angry, but also feeling powerless and in despair.
In the foreword to the book Kiss legend, Gene Simmons, espouses the need for young men to have role models and – just as nature abhors a vacuum – those young men will find their role models wherever they look, regardless of whether they are positive or negative.
Luckily for Frank, a further move, brought him closer to his grandmother and uncle Joe, whose family business taught young Frank the value and necessity if hard work; and to Uncle Charlie, who introduced him to the music of Rush and Kiss. Uncle Charlie would go on to act as a much bigger player in Frank’s life as the Charlie in question is Anthrax’s constant drummer.
It is this devotion to music that kept young Frank from following negative influences and keeping, as far as possible, on the straight and narrow, guided by his heroes on record. Throughout his life he had sought and found father-figures, be they his Uncle Joe, who taught him the need to work hard and that, regardless of how you conduct yourself, sometimes life just isn’t fair; to Anthrax’s accountant who took Frank under his wing and schooled him in the finer points of fiscal responsibility and future planning. All of this, along with the void of his absent father, inform his actions as a dad to son, Brandon.
It's clear from the dedication of the book that his devotion to the three strong women in his life and their undoubted influence on his development into the person he is to this day cannot be underestimated. From seeing his mother managing multiple jobs and in tears as she tried to feed five children after the departure of his father; to the supportive environment provided when he moved in with his grandmother, support that continued right up to her passing; to the rock that is his wife and how these influences drive him to be a better man.
It's clear that family means a lot to Frank, and not just because of his Italian heritage, but also due to his sense of abandonment and the guilt that instilled in him. He refers to his family units – both his biological family and the Band of Brothers mentality of the Anthrax cohort – as his Safe Home; it’s the place where he can be himself, there are arguments and disagreements, but that’s parr for the course in any family.
His consideration of Anthrax as a safe and secure environment colours his recollections of the time in the early noughties when he stepped away from the band and took up the bass role in Helmet. It was the space he needed for clarity but there was never a time when he did not see himself returning to the band and his extended family.
Central to the book is the tragic murder of Frank’s youngest brother, Anthony, and the subsequent trial and collapse of the case against the accused. It’s clear that, although this played out in 1996, it is a wound that has not – and probably will never – heal. He is extremely candid about the demons that overwhelmed him during this time and his desire to exact revenge on the perpetrator of the crime. He talks about the anger of the senselessness of the incident and of the supportive actions of his band mates. It is a remarkably emotional chapter of the book, especially when you’re used to seeing Frank as the happy-go-lucky bass man, regaled in Bermuda shorts and jumping like a man possessed.
All that said, Fathers, Brothers and Sons is not a bleak, downer of a book; all of the above are played out against the trials and tribulations of being on a hard-working band and, as such, is packed with anecdotes about the likes of Kiss, Iron Maiden, Metallica and more.
Thought Gene Simmons was just about the money? Think again. The book is packed with stories from the road; many cheery quips about the madness of young men on tour: insane drinking sessions with Pantera, sound checking with Lemmy and being allowed to play the great man’s Rickenbacker through Motorhead’s rig; happy times with Metallica, coloured by the recollection of the night Cliff died.
During his story we also get a glimpse of Frank away from the stage and the thrashing. We see a devoted husband and father who lives by a staunch ethical code; a budding actor who studies his craft in the same dogged manner he applied to his music; and a man with a deep love of Martin Scorsese movies and Barbara Streisand.
Even during the bleakest of recollections, the book is easily accessible. Written in conversational prose it’s a though you’re sitting across a table in a bar and Frank is recounting a series of stories. And although it deals with some delicate and tragic circumstances it never descends into pitying melodrama.
If you’re interested in a full biography of Anthrax, then this isn’t the book for you. But if you’re interested in the life and times of one of Metal’s most endearing figures then Frank Bello’s story is well worth your attention.