I threw out “Speak of the Devil,” Ozzy Osbourne’s double live album. Michael Jensen gave it to me, or one of the people working for his PR firm. I was afraid someone would come over and see it, back when I used to let people into my house, when people used to stop by, before we all went virtual and heard from our peeps all the time yet rarely saw them.
You see Ozzy Osbourne was anathema. The first Black Sabbath LP came out when I was a freshman in college, it was excoriated by the press and got little airplay, any that I was exposed to anyway. It was just one step over the line, when Led Zeppelin were considered heavy metal and anything heavier was seen as trash, before Metallica became god and the whole scene moved to the left even more, or maybe right. That’s right, once upon a time heavy metal was mainstream, but now it’s niche.
So I’m driving all over town pushing the Sirius XM buttons. Needing music to kick out the mental jams, trying to track down the cause of my skin condition, which has flummoxed a slew of doctors. And on Ozzy’s Boneyard I heard “Highway Star.” You don’t know what it was like during the summer of ’73 hearing “Smoke On The Water” on the AM, which is all that my ’63 Chevy possessed, what a riff! Although at this point I prefer “Woman From Tokyo,” which curiously sports the same riff as Joe Walsh’s “Meadows,” from “The Smoker You Drink…,” released the very same year, although there was no lawsuit to my knowledge, and Joe never sued Steve Miller for the riff in “The Stake,” which was the same as the one in the previously released “Rocky Mountain Way,” and there’s that amazing bass sound in “Woman From Tokyo” half a minute in but I do prefer “Meadows” but both are tears, they leave the station slowly but then the turbocharger kicks in and they explode and you’re hanging on tight, enjoying the ride of your life. And the hit take of “Smoke On The Water” was the live one, from “Made In Japan,” which is so rare, reminds me of “Coming Up,” from “McCartney II,” the live iteration was such a treat on the radio, it was the one that succeeded, with Paul’s vocal twisting and turning, alternately screaming and singing melodiously, so joyous, so right, did I tell you it’s all about energy?
And I get sick of Ozzy intoning OZZY’S BONEYARD! on his channel, I remember when it was just called “The Boneyard” on XM, before the merger, and isn’t Ozzy a joke anyway, didn’t TV kill his career, not only Ozzfest but causing him to endlessly reunite with the remnants of Sabbath, all exposure is not good exposure, but Steven Tyler’s career emerged intact after “Idol” and you might ask about all those personalities on “The Voice,” but I’ll tell you they’re not stars like, they don’t represent what Ozzy did. Which is “I don’t give a F___! That used to be the rock and roll ethos, before everybody sold out to the corporation and bitched they still weren’t making enough money.
But somewhere along the line I realized I loved “Flying High Again.”
By time we hit the eighties it was about two rock stations in L.A. KNX flipped from soft rock to that which I do not remember, KROQ changed from free-format to the ROQ of the 80s and became so self-congratulatory it became unlistenable, so you pushed the buttons between KMET and KLOS and there were songs you did not want to listen to but the other station was on commercial and you came to know them by heart, like “Flying High Again,” the lyrics of which I did not comprehend until the internet.
Oh no, oh no
Here we go now
It was like you were on a roller coaster, strapped in, the car starting to move, with no exit, and as you’re entering the dark tunnel Ozzy is expressing anxiety and regrets and then… There was that crunchy guitar, like someone was using a buzzsaw as they were consuming Cheerios, it’s the work of guitar legend Randy Rhoads, the secret sauce of Ozzy’s solo success.
Randy Rhoads, he was around forever, he was the axeman in Quiet Riot, back when you could see that band all over town and they only had success in Japan.
But Randy perished in a plane crash and after recovering from the trauma, assuming one can do this at all, assuming Ozzy ever has, Ozzy reconstituted the band and emerged with a solo album every bit as good as what came before. There were a few false starts, but with Zakk Wylde firmly in the group, Ozzy released 1991’s “No More Tears,” a nearly hour long opus with almost no fat that is listenable throughout. The hits were “No More Tears,” “Mama, I’m Coming Home” and “Time After Time,” but I prefer the Lemmy cowrites “I Don’t Want To Change The World” and “Hellraiser,” both of which evidence the Ozzy ethos…I’m an outsider doing it my way, you can follow me or not, but I’m not gonna change.
But change he did. Became a joke on MTV and never equaled the peak on wax again, even though he tried.
And “No More Tears” infected me to the point where when my friend Jeff Laufer said we had to get tickets I called up Epic, this was in the days before e-mail, and we went to the Universal Amphitheatre and I was blown away, became a fan for life. It was all there, all those hits, presented by a curiously friendly madman, who kept showering the audience with water from a bucket, before he doused himself.
I had to go again. It was just that powerful. But, like I said, Ozzy’s now a punch line imploring us to see Sabbath before they disappear, refusing to pay Bill Ward along the way, and now I’ll probably get hate mail from Sharon, showing who wears the pants in the family, but now even Sharon’s gone warm and fuzzy, where have all the good times gone?
Which is all to say I’m driving down the highway passively listening and then “I Don’t Know” grabs me by the throat and won’t let go.
People look to me and say
Is the end near, when is the final day
What’s the future of mankind
How do I know, I got left behind
That’s who this music was for, the left behinds, the ones who did not go to Yale, never mind college at all, who changed your tires and made your goods before what was made was made in China and if something broke you just threw it away, like these same people, without a future voting for Trump, even if it’s against their everyday interests, because now they can’t even afford concert tickets and their music is a sideshow. But they and it didn’t used to be.
Everyone goes through changes
Looking to find the truth
Ain’t that so. What you used to believe you no longer do, you try on your bell-bottoms and then discard them, the older you get the more wisdom you’ve got but the less you know.
And speaking of changes, they’re embedded right there in the song, the second verse is different from the first, it’s got melody, you want to sing along as you’re banging your head.
Nobody ever told me, I found out for myself
That’s the truth of life, it’s your own adventure, learn the lessons but don’t become a slave to the past, leave your own mark.
And now you’ve got your arms in the air, implored by Ozzy, the guitars are raging, the bottom is pounding, but you can smell a whiff of the British Invasion, there’s melody and lyricism right there.
And then Randy Rhoads begins to shred. And I’m brought back to the way it once was. When we saw the Beatles on television and bought our guitars and all tried to play. Some never gave up, they became stars, all using the same instrument yet sounding different. Yes, it’s Randy Rhoads’s guitarwork that puts “I Don’t Know” over the top.
And I’m thinking how Ozzy is selling the same message as Dylan, that people are looking to him for answers but he hasn’t got any! You’ve got to look inside yourself.
But that does not mean you cannot crank the tunes to 11 to drown out all the detritus so you can think clearly. That’s the funny thing about this sound, it creates its own safe space. It’s the eye of a hurricane, the wind is blowing but at the center you feel safe, in control, that you can make it.
That’s the power of music.
That’s the power of Ozzy Osbourne.
And Randy Rhoads.