Ozzy and Cher came up in the same phase of popular music history, of course, but that's pretty much where the similarities end.
Or do they? I mean, neither of them have struck me as being the swiftest barrel in the shed, if you will. Whenever La Cher tried to make a Really Profound Comment about something, she ended up sounding like...Well, like someone who wasn't entirely in control of their own reasoning, and had no editing process. In short, like Ozzy.
The written work of John "Ozzy" Osbourne stretches back to the year o' my birth (although he claims to be celebrating his fortieth year of performing, as of 2007), and is overloaded with things that, in the hands of other writers, would be weirdly clumsy metaphors. In Ozzy's hands, I'm pretty sure one may assume he means these metaphorical-sounding things one hundred per cent.
I mean, he begins his career as any number of people did in those days: a vaguely Jesus-y hippie who has already smoked wayyy too much pot. He believes war to be Bad, but in Ozzy's case there's another wrinkle: Nuclear warfare is directly attributable to Satan.
Oh, okay. Well, nothing really wrong with that, as such. It would take only the most doctrinaire anti-war activist to say that that sort of thing is exactly what the military-industrial complex wants your stoned ass to believe, sure.
The fact that Mr. Osbourne began his career by unleashing no less than three songs (!) on this subject, spread out over three albums, is pretty fucking incredible. The song "After Forever" from Masters of Reality (1971), is nothing short of a wholesale defense of religion, albeit delivered by a deeply stupid man.
By the time we get to Black Sabbath's Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath (1973), he is far less concerned with the pernicious influence of Satan, and has decided that God is actually some sort of celestial Big Brother figure that is deeply insecure and likely to lash out at humanity in general for no particular reason. Other People are no less to blame, though, and this forms the backbone (along with the importance of smoking marijuana, and astral projection) of his entire catalogue, to say nothing of most heavy metal bands that followed in their path.
Debut albums are often the greatest albums of them all; the young, snotty and unafraid band comes charging out of the gates. Van Halen, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath: all of them had great first albums marred only by the open stupidity of their lead singers.
Black Sabbath's Black Sabbath (1970; featuring the song "Black Sabbath", I needn't remind you) wasn't just the young, angry statement of your average freshmen; it changed the game. All doomy minor chords and abuse of the low E string, it was brutal, and had no kind words for humanity at all. Psychedelic rock was dead, Death Rock was born, and O what things it would later birth.
Along the way, the music just kept getting better and better (or if not always better, certainly more experimental), and Ozzy just kept on delivering these odd little statements that he knew, deep down, he had an audience for. Kept on telling the kids to smoke pot and not give a shit what other people thought, to forsake evil...Though exactly what that was kept changing. An overwhelming picture of an aging adolescent was emerging, with no idea of what to do.
His audience was right with him on that one, too. They too had been promised better things, or had promised themselves better things, and instead, all they had were empty anthems about being Oneself, above all else. Hm.
And Ozzy just kept on getting more and more fucked up, and finally, in 1979, he left Sabbath for good.
It is a matter of myth that he bit the head off a bat. Versions of this story range from him picking the thing up from the stage, thinking it to be made of rubber, and finding out way too late that it wasn't, to the entire event being a fabrication (I mean, who brings a bat to a concert?). It is a matter of history, however, that at the first meeting between a newly solo Ozzy and his overlords at RCA records, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a dove, which he then bit the head off of. Who brings a dove to a meeting?
So, his career off to a fast start, he changes the game again. And again, the innovation lies in the music, not the lyrics. Randy Rhoads, late of the as-yet-unknown L.A. band Quiet Riot, had a guitar vocabulary that ranged from beautifully intricate classical (check the song "Dee" on Blizzard of Ozz) to beyond-Hendrix constructions that just didn't seem possible. All this being done in the rock idiom, and sure to be accepted by the already-loving masses, not feared as a new thing.
Because of his contributions, I rate Diary of A Madman amongst those that belong on the Periodic Table of My Favorite Albums. And he was done in by an idiot pilot who felt the need to offer both Randy and the hairdresser on that tour a ride in his plane, which then was buzzing the tour bus, and crashed into it, killing all aboard (the plane, that is). Mr. Rhoads is now in that pantheon of Dead Stars and Oh, What Ifs, while I've always felt it was sort of wrong that no one ever mentions the hairdresser's name.
So, at this late stage in the game, Ozzy has potent tradition and sentimentality on his side. He has tribute bands, one of which is captained by a co-worker of mine, and an audience that doesn't exactly seem to be getting younger, but at the same time, the Ozz Fests (tm) of the last fifteen years have featured enough bands that young people actually wanted to see that Ozzy may never fall from notice.
He did the last one free of charge, mind you, so rich is he. I mean, he paid the people who worked for him, but if you wanted a ticket, you walked right on in.
And more importantly, do you remember the old days when parents were scared of this goof? That this Oz-zy was going to be the thing that finally made kids bite off their parents' heads and go attempt astral projection somewhere together, whilst smoking tons of The Pot?
(Quick story: the year is 1985, and I'm watching the Ozzy/Motley Crue show at the Memorial Coliseum. The guys next to me are smoking weed out of a small brass pipe, and are hardly the only ones doing so. Security personnel materializes out of seemingly nowhere, and asks the guys, "Hey! Is that marijuana?", which causes the one holding the pipe to pause thoughtfully before finally saying, "No." The security guy says, "Okay!" and leaves. The guys next to me shrug their shoulders and continue smoking.)
But in the wake of all that has transpired in popular culture and the world since the early Eighties, Ozzy is a particularly sweet trip down memory lane for many. People like the pot smokers in the above story have long since had kids of their own, and they bring them to the show now. It's a piece of living rock history: something that draws families together.
It's all that Arena Rock shit I thought was totally dead, too: endless, masturbatory guitar solos and flashpots. I was talking to Ozzy's pyrotechnics guy when they were here the other night . He said that he'd joined this rolling fun show in 1994. First thing I did was check the hands: he still had all his fingers.
Zakk Wylde, the guitarist (you sir, are no Randy Rhoads. You're not even Jake E. Lee!), dedicated a signed guitar pick to a shrine of sorts to a co-worker of mine who died earlier this year, and Ozzy stopped and genuflected at the damn thing, too. There was a large group of people who had paid over a thousand dollars a head to get backstage, being led around by some fish from the local classic rock station. They seemed lost, still holding their autographed portraits, and kept stopping in a big, ugly flock.
The demographic makeup of the group was equally Under Fifteen and Over Forty. They had spent their Hard Earned to be led around what amounts to a Very Large Garage by some flunkies who barely gave a shit, utterly missing the Rob Zombie show (which was quite good). They had spent this money to meet a man who no longer remembers his lyrics so well, but has plenty of people in the audience who do, and often falls back on the whole "EVERY-BODY! LOUD-AHHH!!!" thing.
They came to see this man that has been so many things, ultimately ending up as this sort of Carol Channing of heavy metal: his diction, while singing, genuinely resembles hers for one, and also the same question gets asked about both of them..."People really like him/her, but why, exactly?"
Well, he's one of us. This is the first show I can remember where most stagehands made it a point to actually watch the show. Ozzy isn't a former stagehand (unlike Lemmy from Motorhead), but he's still very much like lots of people you know, at least partially because there was an Ozzy for them to try to be like, in the first place.