One of my young life regrets is that I never got to see Ozzy Osbourne in concert, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. I remember having tickets to his concerts twice, but both times they were canceled and I was left feeling bitterly disappointed. This was in the late eighties when Ozzy was struggling with addiction (actually, when has he not?), and I believe both of those times he was shipped directly to rehab. Then I read I Am Ozzy and found out that the infamous bat head incident happened in Iowa, where I ended up doing time in high school.
This happened before I moved there, and Ozzy was doing a show in Des Moines (which he remembers how to pronounce to this day). His concerts had become known as free-for-alls where members of the audience would bring various things from home—a pig’s head, snakes, and in this case, a live bat—and throw them onstage while he performed. During this show, Ozzy caught the bat, and he thought it was one of those rubber jobs you can buy at a toy store or 99-cent store. So he did what any self-respecting rock star would do and bit its head off. The noxious taste let him know his mistake immediately, and afterward, he had to get a full course of rabies shots while on the road touring. The public will never let him forget this, and after that I don’t think Ozzy has pleasant associations with Iowa, so I guess I forgive him for canceling those shows.
In I Am Ozzy, Ozzy digs deep, going back to his early childhood in England where he played in bombed-out ruins and lived in a house with an outhouse in the yard and one bedroom that the next-oldest sibling would graduate to after the eldest flew the coop (he was one of six children). Ozzy had terrible learning disabilities that were overlooked in school, and he was just told that he was stupid. He was also bullied by his headmaster, but there Ozzy learned a trick that’s served him well to this day. He would pull crazy stunts and tricks to make people laugh, especially those that he admired or who were big bullies. Once he got that laugh, he knew he was in and then their attributes and protection would rain down on him.
Where he grew up, Ozzy saw the men go into work every day and toil away at the most boring industrial jobs (not calling in was a point of pride), and then once these men retired, they didn’t know what to do with themselves. Many of them died shortly after they retired, including his father. As a teen, Ozzy did a stint testing car horns and working in a slaughterhouse (he says he has bad animal karma from this time in his life and that’s why his family has so many pets now), but he knew this wasn’t what he was meant for. He just couldn’t do it, and so he found another way—what some people would think the least likely way—and became a rock star.
Ozzy credits his early success to his father who for some unknown reason lent his son money to buy an amp. An amp was a luxury in those days, and anybody who had one, whether they were a musician or not—well, that made them immediately in the band. With his amp, Ozzy advertised himself as a singer and that’s how he landed in the band that became Black Sabbath. It’s amazing when he recounts how the band cranked out some of their classic albums with only a few hours’ worth of studio time. When you have limited time and a budget, you do what you have to, to get things done. Black Sabbath caught on pretty quickly, but there were a few hiccups along the way, like the time they were booked because club owners thought they were an all-black band. I would love to have been present at that club date!
With success and money, Ozzy’s appetite for booze and drugs grew. Where before he could only drink until he ran out of money, now he had a limitless supply, so he would go to the pub and be gone for literally days. During this time Ozzy was in his first marriage, but he was in full addict mode and did things like shoot all the chickens that his wife bought for him to take care of and almost killed the town vicar by accidentally feeding him cake laced with a potent dose of hash.
His first marriage failed, and he was kicked out of Black Sabbath, because while everybody was drinking and drugging, they felt Ozzy’s was too out of control and interfering with the band. That’s when Sharon came into the picture and became Ozzy’s manager. She was determined to turn him into a solo act, and with a few unplanned stunts by Ozzy, his career took off brilliantly. They also became something more, the match made in heaven that we all know now, and started a family on the road.
Some people complain that they can’t understand Ozzy when he talks, like in this infamous interview where he scrambles some eggs in his leopard-print bathrobe:
But when he sings, all of Ozzy’s lyrics are comprehensible, and if you really try, you can understand him. If you don’t want to try, his voice and humor come through loud and clear in I Am Ozzy. A lot of his stories are laugh-out-loud-funny, and I get the feeling that Ozzy is much more clever than he lets on. I think part of his appeal is that he plays the part of the fuckup, the ne’er-do-well, but by doing that he gets what he wants. My grandpa used to do the same thing by pretending to be deaf. Eventually people would get so frustrated with him that they would give him whatever he wanted just to get rid of him. It’s fun to think of my grandpa having a little bit of Ozzy in him.