August 11, 2005
After Forever: Wherein Josh Jabcuga finally caves in and attends Ozzfest, to see his mighty metal heroes, Black Sabbath, for what could be the last time.
My teenage years could be summed up in two parts: The period prior to an older brother introducing me to the music of Black Sabbath, and everything thereafter. Until a few years later when I got laid for the first time, thereby shifting all my priorities out of whack, my existence revolved solely around the sounds of Ozzy, Tony, Geezer, and Bill, the iron men of heavy metal, Black Sabbath.
I graduated from high school in 1995, and my personal soundtrack had been scored by a couple of thugs from industrial Birmingham (where else could “heavy metal” be so masterfully and righteously crafted?) who had swiped their name from a Boris Karloff movie. When my peers were listening to either Snoop Dogg or Nirvana, I was drowning out the noise of the outside world with classics like Sabbath, Bloody, Sabbath, and even less popular entries in the Sabbath catalogue like Never Say Die.
Each weekend I’d make a trip to the local independent bookstore where I would scour heavy metal publications such as R.I.P. magazine for any mention of Ozzy and/or his former bandmates. Ozzy’s solo career was flying high thanks to a late resurgence in popularity resulting from the No More Tears album; speculation of a Sabbath reunion seemed out of the realm of possibility. Remember, this was before Ozzfest opened its doors for business. This was before Sharon Osbourne whored out her family with MTV's The Osbournes, just to be able to collect royalty checks on Pez dispensers and bobblehead dolls molded in the likeness of Ozzy-spawn Jack and Kelly. Classmates would either laugh or look at me cross-eyed when they saw me fumbling for my Black Sabbath CDs and my Walkman on the march to the bus stop after school. Sabbath, in my opinion, the progenitors of the very in vogue (at that time) grunge music genre had their status downgraded from one time arena-rock heavyweights to mere footnotes in heavy metal history, often forced to be content standing in the shadows of Led Zeppelin. But the shadows…ah, that’s where Sabbath felt most at home. That was their very element. It was there, in the gutter. Spreading the doom and gloom. With the fire and brimstone. Among the smokestacks and thick smog. Calling out to the downtrodden and angst-ridden. Yep, for a confused, lonely teenager, this was sweet music to my ears.
Perhaps this dormancy and ability to go under mainstream rock radio’s radar is what saved them in the long run, protecting their relevancy. Turn on classic rock radio on the FM dial. After two days, I guarantee you that you’ll hear every single Led Zeppelin track ever recorded, ridden hard and placed back on the shelf wet (and not just “Stairway to Heaven”). Not so with Sabbath. Classic rock outlets tend to just stick with playing Sabbath’s hits like “Iron Man,” “Paranoid,” and occasionally “Changes.” They barely manage to skim the surface. So putting on a Sabbath platter is like opening up a new book or venturing into unfamiliar black waters, whereas when you spin a little Page, Plant, Jones, and Bonham at home, each note is so familiar, so tried and tested, I half expect an annoying radio jockey to interrupt with some equally offensive commercial for the local used car dealer. Zeppelin has been so commercialized, however unintentionally that may be, that you can’t help but listen to them and expect to be sold something, even it it’s just between songs.
We Sold Our Souls for Coca Cola
As much as I’d dreamed of one day seeing the original Sabbath line-up live and in person, I never once thought Black Sabbath could live up to the high standards I’d created for them. Reunion concerts are often ugly affairs. The world has witnessed Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley shill KISS coffins and KISS condoms on stage; it’s also seen some dude try to channel (albeit rather convincingly) Jim Morrison with The Doors of the 21st Century. Rock ‘n roll forgot about the sex and drugs a long, long time ago. That’d been playing it safe. These days it’s about charging three hundred bucks for a seat on the floor and cashing checks for product endorsements ranging from Volkswagens to iPods. Who can blame Sharon Osbourne for trying to capitalize on the reality TV show craze? So what if she tarnished all those near-mythical stories of her husband as the Prince of fucking Darkness? Music is money, and that sound you heard was not the sound of bats’ heads rolling, but of checks being cashed. Would you fucking like fries with that, mate? Ozzy was a showman before he was a singer, and this was show business after all. Black Sabbath, though, this was Ozzy before Sharon. Black Sabbath had always been about the music. Well, the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll. We’ve all witnessed how, er, well Ozzy has held up over the years, but how did dear ol’ Sabbath fare in 2005? More importantly, did I really want the answer to that question? It’s like going on vacation and finding a great little out-of-the-way eatery, only to return years later to find the place has become a dive under new management. Would you fucking like fries with that, indeed.
People tend to gloss over the musicianship of Black Sabbath, instead focusing on the quote-unquote satanic worshiping elements that the group occasionally played up for the…yep, you guessed it, for the money. (And truth be told, these days video games are scarier than anything Sabbath did back in their heyday. Resident Evil, Silent Hill, even Grand Theft Auto make Sabbath seem tame in comparison.) Black Sabbath needed all the paydays they could get, though. Their original contract gave them squat, and their penchant for recreational pharmaceuticals often saw the fortunes they did have go straight up their noses anyway: a close reading of the liner notes of the brilliantly titled Volume 4 reveals a special nod to Coca Cola of Los Angeles. Clearly ol’ Ozzy was never a fan of Pepsi.
Masters of Reality
After several reunion tours and a few years of resistance, I finally gave in when I heard that this year’s Ozzfest would likely be the last outing for the mega successful traveling sideshow of metal and merchandise, as well as the final opportunity for fans to pay their respects to Black Sabbath, who deserve the respect of being name-checked once again: Tony Iommi on guitar, Geezer Butler on bass, the ferocious Mr. Bill Ward on the skins, and Mr. Crowley, Mr. Tinkertrain, Mr. “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated”--Mr. Ozzy Osbourne.
Other than just missing Will Smith backstage (who was in tow with Jada Pinkett Smith, on the road with Ozzfest promoting her own band), behind the scenes at Ozzfest is pretty low key. It’s really business as usual. No drunken shenanigans. No penetrating of the groupies with hammerhead sharks. Not even anyone snorting any insects, ala the oft-repeated tale of Ozzy running out of blow and bending over to Hoover up a line of ants while on tour in the 80s with Motley Crue. The groupies were surely squandered off on the tour buses (at least that’s what I tell myself), which form a fairly sizeable convoy in the parking lot off-center behind the main stage. Some of the younger bands are tossing footballs around, having barbeques, even soaking in the sun.
For the most part, I see more action as I take in the sights (and sounds) of Ozzfest itself. There’s a bunch of women walking around topless, with faux bikini tops spray-painted on. There’s the middle-aged woman who asks me if I’m from Brazil (I’m wearing a Sepultura soccer jersey with “Brazil” lettered on the front, and with my Polish roots, bloody roots, I'm about as far removed genetically from Brazil as possible), who then proceeds to offer me a few blunts in trade for the shirt off my back. I decline her offer. Had she offered me a cold bottle of water, or even a hot pretzel at that point, she would have had herself a deal. And of course, there’s the biggest collection of white trash I’ve ever seen gathered in one spot, save the local “Super Flea” flea market. Who knew father-son bonding now consisted of smoking a jay together? Let’s not forget the occasional fight, which is quickly turned into a full-fledged riot when overbearing security swoops down on the scene. Is it really necessary for approximately twenty security guards to break up a fight between two drunk Canadian dudes?
Somewhere Zakk Wylde and his Black Label Society were jerking their whammy bars into overtime. Somewhere Rob Zombie was taking a break from directing movies to bang his head on the Ozzfest second stage. Somewhere Iron Maiden was warning the villagers to run for the hills. That was all din for this particular concertgoer, since somewhere, Black Sabbath was lurking in the shadows, waiting to take the stage.
Hole in the Sky
I squint my eyes a couple of times and I swear to you I was standing in some smoky arena circa 1974. But I wasn’t in some smoky arena circa 1974, no matter how much my eyes and ears tell me otherwise. Ozzy screams into the microphone for the audience to put their fucking hands in the air, higher, where he can see them. He motions for them to sing along in unison when the chorus hits. He takes buckets of water and douses the first few rows. My friend looks at me and screams, “This is just like Sunday mass!” Just like witches at black masses!
Ozzy’s heavily processed voice was like Velveeta on an eighty dollar steak, but that’s the way it’d always been, and tonight, it tastes to me and to a capacity crowd that even Velveeta gets better as it ages. All the hits were present, from “Iron Man” to the still timely (unfortunately) “War Pigs” to an electric “Children of the Grave” to "N.I.B." and even slight riff teases and nods to “Symptom of the Universe” and “Sabbath, Bloody, Sabbath.” In between songs Ozzy is sipping tea poured by personal assistant Tony Dennis. He’s doing fewer of his trademark grasshopper jumps these days, but he’s running in place like he’s doing Tae Bo, or maybe more precisely, secret Jazzercise steps from the Olivia Newton John “Physical” video. Somehow, though, he gives you the sense that he’s actually enjoying it, even after all these years, and if he’s faking it, well, he deserves an Academy Award along with the Grammy. After all the really high highs and really low lows during the course of Osbourne’s career, it appears the Ozz-man still gets his best buzz from feeding off the energy of the crowd, and not from feeding off bats per se.
And what of Osbourne’s cohorts, Geezer, Tony, and Bill? Geezer Butler and Tony Iommi are breathtaking. I don’t think anyone has ever accused Geezer and Iommi of being teetotalers, but their musical conditioning is astounding. They play so effortlessly that it’s like watching an Abrams tank mow threw a suburban shopping center. God they’re spectacular, I say to myself, and I wonder why they still don’t get the recognition they deserve like a John Entwistle or a Jimmy Page. The sonic landscape they map out before the crowd is never gratuitous or overly showy like an Eddie Van Halen. Everything is smooth, every curve feels like it belongs, every squeal and moan a puzzle piece that finds its way home. And Bill Ward back there on the drum kit is the rainmaker. While age and time have stolen some of his rapid-fire drum fills, Ward has managed to compensate for them with a confident, deliberate, and menacing beat, like a Shaolin monk who kills with three well timed and masterfully placed blows, not wasting any energy on frivolous movements.
If Zeppelin has “Stairway to Heaven,” perhaps Black Sabbath should be known for the flipside to that coin, with the song that bares their name, “Black Sabbath.” What is this that stands before me, figure in black which points at me. I’ve got goose bumps. I turn around to get a glimpse of the crowd, who are collectively lighting the highway to hell with their Zippos outstretched.
The evening air is crisp and the moon is full. Maybe God has taken the night off, or perhaps He/She has taken a cheap seat in the lawn section. Tonight it’s Black Sabbath’s time to shine. After over two hours of deafening devil’s music, the group embraces and bows. They’re all smiles and handshakes with one another, as if they’ve never missed a beat, as if nothing has ever changed, not time, not money, not rock 'n roll, nothing.
Who can explain it? Maybe Black Sabbath did make a deal with the devil after all; if so, perhaps they’ve found a loophole or a clause and have managed to get a few more miles out of the ride. Ozzy is the living, breathing rock ‘n roll cliché except someone has forgotten to tell this to the old man. Fuck telling him now; you’d be about twenty years too late. But this isn’t July 21, 2005. It’s a smoky arena circa 1974, and if I squint my eyes just so, I can see the past and the present all at once. I can even see after forever.
NEXT WEEK: An interview with Mr. Rob Zombie.
PoopShoot's own Chance Shirley has released HIDE AND CREEP. Rent it at Blockbuster or Hollywood Video, or better yet, buy yourself a copy over at Amazon.com.
Praise for the writing of Josh Jabcuga, who pens Squib Central with ink made from his own blood, published every Thursday, exclusively at www.moviepoopshoot.com:
"You’re a bad influence on them, I’ll tell you right now." -Max Cavalera, lead singer of Soulfly, former lead singer of Brazilian death metal icons Sepultura.
I read your article and you my dear are a true
ASSHOLE!!! Wonder how you landed your job, desperation???"-Angie (last name unknown; article mentioned...unknown).
“Josh Jabcuga can take the 26 measly letters of our crude alphabet and capture the bi-polar soul of all that is classically yet disturbingly American. Then, when his typewriter is left to cool, he can turn right around…completely ready to trounce any drunk punk that’s got me backed into a corner.” –The Colonel J.D. Wilkes of The Legendary Shack*Shakers.
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