Black Sabbath: Ozzy Osbourne Interview
- Scott McLennan
Never let it be said that Black Sabbath frontman Ozzy Osbourne is averse to trying new things. In 2012, the metal icon and former slaughterhouse worker went vegan. Unlike his animal-loving friend Paul McCartney, Osbourne quickly conceded defeat.
“I tried it, but I didn’t last more than a week or two,” Osbourne admits. “I’m eating more meat now than ever! The only meat I haven’t touched is the horse they’re eating over here. I’ll eat anything...”
Was there a specific meal you missed while living as a vegan?
“I’ll tell you what I really missed - meat! How can the guy who bit the head off several creatures suddenly turn full circle and now live on vegetables? That doesn’t sound right. I was Satan last week, now I’m on some fucking do-it-yourself gardening experience. These days I’m on a very low carb, high protein diet and I’ve dropped 30 pounds and I exercise like a freak. I’m 65 this year. God only knows how I got that far – I should have been dead a thousand times.”
Although his popular 2000s reality program The Osbournes modified the public perception of the Birmingham-born singer, Osbourne’s humorous observations are reminders that this genial grandfather was once Public Enemy Number One in the eyes of Conservative America. After using his teeth to tear the head off a live dove during a pivotal CBS Records meeting in 1981, Osbourne bit the head off a bat during an Iowa concert a year later. Obliterated by drugs and alcohol, Osbourne’s engaging autobiography I Am Ozzy details other lamentable ‘80s exploits including pissing on the Alamo, attempting to murder his manager/wife Sharon and shitting on crooner Roger Whittaker’s curtains.
Surviving his excesses and now triumphantly returning to front the band that sacked him in 1979, Osbourne’s perversely redemptive tale is deserving of a Hollywood film. Although original drummer Bill Ward is absent from Black Sabbath’s current line-up after a financial dispute (“I haven’t spoken to him in maybe six months,” Osbourne comments, “but I don’t want to slag him since he’s my buddy and I wish him well”), founding guitarist Tony Iommi and bassist Geezer Butler join Osbourne for their first Australian tour in nearly 40 years. Touring on the back of successful 1970 albums Black Sabbath and Paranoid, Black Sabbath’s debut Australian show was right here in Adelaide.
“That was the Myponga Pop Festival if I remember right? Management told us we’d have an exact copy of our amplifiers there, which we thought was great, but when we got there they were nothing like our amplifiers! But you know what? You get up there and do your best and I had a good time.
“I remember we had a big party at the hotel and some chicks there got absolutely shit-faced and were throwing up everywhere and we had to send them home. I don’t remember much on the sex front after that…”
Black Sabbath are currently mixing 13, their first album featuring Osbourne out front since 1979’s forgettable Never Say Die!. Acclaimed US producer Rick Rubin is on board as producer.
“Every time I’ve seen him for the past 15 or 20 years, Rick Rubin’s always said to me that if Sabbath ever got back together, he wanted to produce us. Before we went into the studio, people were telling us that he’s always got five things going on at the same time, so he’ll be in there one day and then you won’t see him for three weeks. All I can say is that whenever I was in the studio he was there. Rick Rubin is the producer and he knows what he’s doing. If this is anywhere near as successful as the Adele album I’ll be happy!”
Perhaps Rubin could sort out an Ozzy and Adele collaboration? Osbourne sounds excited at the suggestion.
“I’d die a happy man, I think she’s fucking great. She’s not fucking botox-faced, she’s a normal, healthy girl who speaks in her native accent.”
Despite burying the hatchet on 30 years of fractious friendships and estrangement, the Sabbath reunion of Osbourne, Butler and Iommi hasn’t been without its hurdles. In January this year Osbourne suffered minor burns when his Beverly Hills home caught fire, while Iommi’s 2012 lymphoma diagnosis ensured the Birmingham trio only managed three reunion shows last year.
“Tony’s fine, but he can only go out on the road for six weeks at a time as he has to have infusions or some shit for his immune system. I was amazed that during his chemotherapy he was still writing songs. My heart goes out to him, because when Sharon had cancer a few years back, she was so sick from chemotherapy she could barely get out of bed. It’s like having a football kick to the nuts. The chemotherapy is worse than the cancer – Sharon was like [the possessed child Regan in] The Exorcist, having seizures all the time. Tony is doing really well though.”
Talk of The Exorcist brings to mind Iommi's confession he once saw a ghost in Clearwell Castle while the band were recording Sabbath Bloody Sabbath in 1973. Osbourne's having none of it.
"From what I remember, it was this white stuff we were snorting through straws that made you see things like ghosts… so maybe it was that!"
Sampled by Kanye West, covered by William Shatner and even surreptitiously making an impact in last year’s Hollywood blockbuster The Avengers (Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man character wears a classic band T-shirt throughout the film), Black Sabbath’s influence stretches far beyond their role as metal forefathers. While Osbourne now enjoys a comfortable lifestyle in Beverly Hills and routinely mixes with rock royalty, the Prince Of Darkness never forgets his poverty-stricken West Midlands upbringing.
“You’re not going to believe it, but if I’m passing I frequently go back to my old house and sit on the doorstep for half an hour in the middle of the night. I’ll be going from Liverpool down the M6 and I’ll pull off in Aston for the memories. I can remember sitting on that step when I was a kid wondering what I’d be when I was a man. It’s all Pakistanis living there now.”
Given that Ozzy Osbourne is filmed at the end of the 2011 God Bless Ozzy Osbourne documentary on his knees silently praying in his dressing room, have his spiritual beliefs changed over the years?
“Oh, that? That was part of my alcohol and drug recovery. I had to get on my knees and give thanks for what I have, but I don’t do that anymore. I just burn a few witches in the garden and go to bed…”
WHO: Black Sabbath
WHAT: 13 released in June (through UMA)
WHERE: Adelaide Entertainment Centre
WHEN: Tue May 7
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