Diary of a not-so-mad man
"It amazes me that people see me like this," the Englishman complained in a weekend phone interview from his home in Beverly Hills. "I don't go out very often; I watch TV a lot and stay home, so how do they know I worship the fucking devil or whatever? They don't see me swinging off the rafters off my house or anything."
Of course, any man who is prepared to bite the heads off live doves (in a meeting of CBS record executives) and bats (on stage) is hardly likely to get a fair shake when it comes to images in the media. "I thought it was a rubber bat," Ozzy once said, somewhat disingenuously.
Other manifestations of his past drink and drug excesses didn't help either. After polishing off four bottles of vodka one afternoon in September 1989, Ozzy told his wife, Sharon, "We've decided that you've got to go." He then proceeded to strangle her. She managed to hit the security button in their home and the police got there before Ozzy could do any more damage to her – or himself.
He was charged with attempted murder, but after a drying out spell and an enforced separation from his family for three months, the couple got back together and stayed together. They've now been together nearly 20 years and Ozzy's past indulgences – at least the drugs and drink part – have given way to exercise, a healthy diet and a family-centered life.
The MTV man
MTV will be offering an inside look at the Osbournes – Ozzy, Sharon, daughters Kelly and Aimee and son Jack – in a 13-part, fly-on-the-wall documentary series to be broadcast in the United States. Anyone who saw the precursor to the series a few years back, when Ozzy also allowed TV cameras into his home, will recognize that the king of heavy metal is anything but the monster he's sometimes made out to be.
That's not to say, though, that life chez Oz resembles The Waltons. The original documentary was more like Absolutely Fabulous, with Ozzy his usual cartoon self – a wealthy, foul-mouthed, heavily tattooed, uncompromising vision of horror for Middle America – and the kids on hand to keep the household from going out of control.
Picture this: Sharon has hired a chef to make breakfast for Ozzy. Eggs Benedict is not even in Ozzy's vocabulary, let alone on his list of potential breakfast items.
"Why do we need a fucking chef to cook me breakfast?" he complains. "All I want is fucking eggs and bacon. We don't need a fucking chef to do that." Or words to that effect.
"Don't swear, Daddy," the kids tell him.
No one who has seen these images of Ozzy will mistake him for an accountant; they may, however, be confused by the sight of Ozzy under the thumb of his wife (who, as his manager and the daughter of legendary British promoter Don Arden, carries her own fearsome reputation) and children, not to mention the infamous photos from the past, of the out-of-control, drugged-up, boozing rock animal who kills wildlife on stage. The images just don’t seem to go together.
So who – or what – is the real Ozzy?
"It's somewhere in between," Ozzy admits. "I'm not a Satanist; I'm just a guy who likes to make people smile. Rock 'n' roll is the best thing that’s ever happened to me in my life because I can let people have fun."
And the cartoon monster image?
"Well, it's better than being a terrorist, isn't it?" he suggests.
Ozzy hopes the MTV series is going to be shown in Japan.
"It would be really interesting to see a translation of what I'm saying and having me dubbed in Japanese," he said. He would certainly prefer that to hearing himself in English.
"I cringe when I hear myself talking normally," he says. "I hate the sound of my speaking voice. I sound like a mutant." (Ozzy's slurred Birmingham drawl prompted one American journalist to ask if the MTV series would be subtitled so people could understand what he's saying – at which point, Sharon reportedly shouted: "Who said that?!...Stand up, you arsehole!").
"Japan's been good to me"
If not on television, Japanese fans will have a chance to see the new lean and healthy Ozzy in the coming weeks when he tours Japan in support of Down to Earth. They can also be content in the knowledge that he’s likely to be recording his upcoming concert at the Budokan for a live album.
"I haven't been there for a while, but the Japanese have always been good to me," Ozzy says. "I've got a good fan base over there. I like the Japanese people, and I've always had a good time there."
Though his bad-man image has proven appealing to teens all over the world, the reality is that he can only sustain his success as long as he is still producing the goods on record. And even at the age of 53, he is still producing awesome – and contemporary – rock 'n' roll. He admits that he's able to do this with a little help from his friends.
"I work with teams," he explains. "On Dreamer [track 3 on Down to Earth], I worked with Mick Jones from Foreigner and Marty Freed. The melody line just came from nowhere. I'm not usually a melody maker, but Dreamer is the coolest melody I've ever written." In fact, it's probably the closest he's come to writing pure pop, which may not please all his fans.
Ironically, Ozzy supposedly left Black Sabbath in 1978 – when it was one of the biggest acts in the world – because he was unwilling to follow guitarist Tony Iommi into a more melodic strain of heavy metal. Since then, Ozzy the solo artist – still one of the biggest rock acts in the world (he's sold over 40 million albums to date) – has been able to indulge in his love for The Beatles ("When I first heard She Loves You, I couldn't fucking believe it. They got me interested in music.") and has come up with some of his own sweet melodies.
Of course, Ozzy's bread and butter is still very much on the dark side. On Down to Earth, longtime sidekick Zakk Wylde cranks out monstrous guitar riffs that perfectly complement the air of menace and scary lyrics that are Ozzy's trademark.
Despite the Sabbath reunion album, which he did a couple of years back with the original members of Black Sabbath ("It's like visiting your relatives," he says of their relationship), Ozzy's got too much to look forward to to spend his time looking back. And while he was shocked over the recent death of George Harrison, he doesn’t lose any sleep thinking about his own demise.
A man alive
"It's just one of those things that happens to all of us," he says matter-of-factly. "I don't think, 'I'm dying, I'm dying, I'm dying' all day, because while I'm thinking about dying, then I’m not living."
Ozzy is still very much alive and is working like a madman: Besides the MTV series and the upcoming Far East tour, he and his wife also organize the Ozzfest, a heavy metal festival that tours mainly America and Europe. (“Jack chooses most of the bands now,” Ozzy admits.)
"We've been trying to take the Ozzfest to Japan, but the problem is the logistics are just ridiculous – the costs outweigh the profits," Ozzy explains. "With all the equipment, the stage and the bands, it’s just too huge to do."
With all these projects going, how long can Ozzy keep it up?
"I was asked if I would still be doing this at 35; I said yeah. At 45? Yeah. At 55? Well, I'm 53 now, so yeah. And at 65? Well, maybe, yeah – unless the plane goes down on Tuesday," Ozzy jokes, adding: "There’s no rule saying you can’t rock 'n' roll at 60.
"If there's an audience out there and they want to hear me, then it’s OK. If my fans fall by the wayside, if I'm playing to 25 people in The Whiskey on Sunset and I'm not enjoying it any more, then I won't do it anymore.
"But I'm 53 and I'm still going. I'm the luckiest guy in the world and people still want to hear me, so it's great."
6th February, 2002