Reflections on the Ozzy Osbourne's memoir, I Am Ozzy.

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Feb. 5 2010 9:33 AM

Ozzy Does It

The improbable persistence of Ozzy Osbourne.

Illustration by Charlie Powell. Click image to expand.

I Am Ozzy is the title of his book. Perfect. Not They Call Me Ozzy or The Ozz I Waz or even Why Ozz? Because. Just this bald declarative, this absolute. And here it all is, in vivid as-told-to prose, an identity and its roots: the childhood playing in a dark city (Birmingham) still half-flattened by Hitler's bombs; the industrialized young manhood in a factory testing car horns and then in a slaughterhouse; the tattooed grandmother, the early imprisonment, the graffiti-ing of the words "IRON VOID" on a roadside wall; the lost fights, the "mouthful of pub carpet"; the bestial recoil from "the hippy-dippy shit that was all over the radio"; and the epochal day when his bandmate Tony Iommi ("an incredible fighter") says, "Maybe we should stop doing blues and write scary music instead."

Lester Bangs wrote in 1972 that Black Sabbath was "probably the first truly Catholic rock group, or the first group to completely immerse themselves in the Fall and Redemption." Was he thinking of lines like "Day of Judgment, God is calling/ On their knees, the war pigs crawling"? Or of Iommi's de profundis guitar tone, the huge doleful burden of it, as much a sign as a sound, traveling out into space and separation? St. Paul would have had no trouble recognizing it: "For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain until now."

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Elementally, Sabbath was a power trio plus one: a post-Cream unit playing with thick-toned fluidity (they could shuffle, stroll, vamp, swing, crunch) to which had been added this voice, this presence that lived at the edge of the music, alienated and premonitory. "When sadness fills my days/ It's time to turn away/ And then tomorrow's dreams/ Become reality to me." It was literally prophetic: If anyone in the early '70s had "the voice of one crying in the wilderness," it was Ozzy. His wail, his call, raised itself starkly and with a curious chastity over the general boogie-band din of the hour. And what was he prophesying? "Long ago I wandered through my mind/ In the land of fairy tales and stories/ Lost in happiness I knew no fears/ Innocence and love was all I knew ... It was an illusion!" Or more succinctly: "You're havin' a good time, baby/ But it won't last."

Fervently as he sang them, the words weren't his: They were the words of Sabbath's druidic bass-hog and chief lyricist Geezer Butler, with whom Ozzy shared an uncanny symbiosis—a symbiozzis, you might say. Geezer—"not your average bloke," as I Am Ozzy puts it—was a fearsome poet, as well as a natural depressive, who in his childhood had wanted to be a Catholic priest. His deep-sea broodings and stoned Ultimata in a sense created Ozzy, fulfilled the Ozz-ness, just as Chuck Dukowski's Geezer-inflected lyrics for Black Flag would one day fulfill the Rollins-ness of Henry Rollins. "I have a prediction/ It lives in my brain/ It's with me every day/ It drives me insane." Dukowski or Butler?

Geezer had his flowery, World of Warcraft side, too. I Am Ozzy records a scene from the making of Sabbath Bloody Sabbath: Ozzy, in need of lyrics for "Spiral Architect," gets Geezer on the phone. Geezer grumbles a bit, says he'll call back in an hour. "When I spoke to him again, he said 'Have you got a pen? Good. Write this down: "Sorcerers of madness/ Selling me their time/ Child of God sitting in the sun ..." ' "

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