The Marilyn Manson Family Portraits

When I first moved across the country to live in Portland, Oregon, I couldn’t afford to go back to visit my family for six months, which was probably the longest time we had ever been apart. Though we’ve moved many places far away, we were almost always together as a unit.

During one of the phone conversations leading up to my visit, where my mom quizzed me about what I wanted to eat, she mentioned that she had scheduled a date at the local photography studio to have a family portrait taken.

We hadn’t had one done since I was a teenager, shortly before my grandmother died. She had a terminal illness and knew she was dying but wanted one last photo of our family all together. I was sixteen at the time and so hungover that I had to sit down midway through the photo session because I thought I was going to pass out. (My grandmother asked my mom and dad if there was a possibility that I was pregnant.) My brother Randall and sister Karla were wee—ages six and eight—full of gapped teeth, and my brother had a summer crew cut that was growing out.

Now Karla and Randall were in high school, and my mom said my brother was seriously resisting the family portraits. He was fifteen, had grown his hair out, and dressed like his favorite musician Marilyn Manson, who he had seen in concert multiple times. After getting off the phone with my mom, I told my friend Susan that my brother didn’t want to dress up for family portraits. She came up with the brilliant suggestion of us all wearing Marilyn Manson T-shirts since my brother had so many.

Once I flew home to see my family, I jokingly mentioned this to my mother, and my brother was on fire with this idea. He insisted we do it and my mom picked through the closet full of Halloween costumes and found some wigs to go along with the T-shirts that Randall had selected.

My father didn’t like the idea of the joke photo, and we drove to the photography studio in our good clothes with the Marilyn Manson T-shirts, leopard gloves, and wigs stashed in a bag.

Our first photo was formal with us kids grouped around a sitting Mom and Dad under the bright lights and umbrellas. That didn’t take too long, maybe ten minutes. And then my mom said to our photographer, “Okay, you’re going to think this is weird, but…,” and she laid out what we wanted to do. I think the photographer had been bored before, going by the “Greats,” “Just one more shot,” and so on that she let out, but now she got really excited.

“I know the perfect place—do you mind driving somewhere?—it’ll be like an album cover.”

It was January in Iowa, which means freezing or below, and we found ourselves in front of a half-destroyed building in just our Marilyn Manson T-shirts and other street clothes. My mom and dad both put on wigs and Kristi brought along the serial killer paperback that she was reading as a prop. With leopard gloves dispersed so we could each wear one, we huddled together for warmth while trying to strike band poses. My dad really started getting into it now and cadged a pack of cigarettes off one of us to roll up in his shirtsleeve and look more badass.


I went back to Portland and forgot all about that photo session until several months later when my mom mailed photocopies of the family portraits to me. I didn’t like the normal ones—I don’t think any of us did. I liked the portraits of us in the Marilyn Manson T-shirts. It seemed more like who we were together—too loud, always late, with a closet full of Halloween that’s too good for just one day a year.


Osbourne’s Voice Comes through Loud and Clear in “I Am Ozzy”

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.