Oct 30 2012

Ozzy Osbourne, just a guy who likes to make people smile


By Fred Varcoe

“I’m not the Antichrist, I’m not the Iron Man, I’m not the kind of person you really think I am . . . I try to entertain you the best I can, I wish I’d walked before I ran,” Ozzy Osbourne sings in “Gets Me Through,” the opening track on his new album, “Down to Earth.” It is at once a touching thank-you to his hordes of faithful fans and a dismissive fuck-you to those who have tried to condemn him or who have misrepresented him.

“It amazes me that people see me like this,” the Englishman complained in a weekend phone interview from his home in Beverly Hills. “I don’t go out very often; I watch TV a lot and stay home, so how do they know I worship the fucking devil or whatever? They don’t see me swinging off the rafters off my house or anything.”

Of course, any man who is prepared to bite the heads off live doves (in a meeting of CBS record executives) and bats (on stage) is hardly likely to get a fair shake when it comes to images in the media. “I thought it was a rubber bat,” Ozzy once said, somewhat disingenuously.

Other manifestations of his past drink and drug excesses didn’t help either. After polishing off four bottles of vodka one afternoon in September 1989, Ozzy told his wife, Sharon, “We’ve decided that you’ve got to go.” He then proceeded to strangle her. She managed to hit the security button in their home and the police got there before Ozzy could do any more damage to her – or himself.

He was charged with attempted murder, but after a drying out spell and an enforced separation from his family for three months, the couple got back together and stayed together. They’ve now been together nearly 20 years and Ozzy’s past indulgences – at least the drugs and drink part – have given way to exercise, a healthy diet and a family-centered life.


Ozzy and Sharon


The MTV man

MTV will be offering an inside look at the Osbournes – Ozzy, Sharon, daughters Kelly and Aimee and son Jack – in a 13-part, fly-on-the-wall documentary series to be broadcast in the United States. Anyone who saw the precursor to the series a few years back, when Ozzy also allowed TV cameras into his home, will recognize that the king of heavy metal is anything but the monster he’s sometimes made out to be.

That’s not to say, though, that life chez Oz resembles “The Waltons.” The original documentary was more like “Absolutely Fabulous,” with Ozzy his usual cartoon self – a wealthy, foul-mouthed, heavily tattooed, uncompromising vision of horror for Middle America – and the kids on hand to keep the household from going out of control.

Picture this: Sharon has hired a chef to make breakfast for Ozzy. Eggs Benedict is not even in Ozzy’s vocabulary, let alone on his list of potential breakfast items.

“Why do we need a fucking chef to cook me breakfast?” he complains. “All I want is fucking eggs and bacon. We don’t need a fucking chef to do that.” Or words to that effect.

“Don’t swear, Daddy,” the kids tell him.

No one who has seen these images of Ozzy will mistake him for an accountant; they may, however, be confused by the sight of Ozzy under the thumb of his wife (who, as his manager and the daughter of legendary British promoter Don Arden, carries her own fearsome reputation) and children, not to mention the infamous photos from the past, of the out-of-control, drugged-up, boozing rock animal who kills wildlife on stage. The images just don’t seem to go together.

So who – or what – is the real Ozzy?

“It’s somewhere in between,” Ozzy admits. “I’m not a Satanist; I’m just a guy who likes to make people smile. Rock ‘n’ roll is the best thing that’s ever happened to me in my life because I can let people have fun.”

And the cartoon monster image?

“Well, it’s better than being a terrorist, isn’t it?” he suggests.



Ozzy hopes the MTV series is going to be shown in Japan.

“It would be really interesting to see a translation of what I’m saying and having me dubbed in Japanese,” he said. He would certainly prefer that to hearing himself in English.

“I cringe when I hear myself talking normally,” he says. “I hate the sound of my speaking voice. I sound like a mutant.” (Ozzy’s slurred Birmingham drawl prompted one American journalist to ask if the MTV series would be subtitled so people could understand what he’s saying – at which point, Sharon reportedly shouted: “Who said that?! . . . Stand up, you arsehole!”).

‘Japan’s been good to me’

If not on television, Japanese fans will have a chance to see the new lean and healthy Ozzy in the coming weeks when he tours Japan in support of “Down to Earth.” They can also be content in the knowledge that he’s likely to be recording his upcoming concert at the Budokan for a live album.

“I haven’t been there for a while, but the Japanese have always been good to me,” Ozzy says. “I’ve got a good fan base over there. I like the Japanese people, and I’ve always had a good time there.”

Though his bad-man image has proven appealing to teens all over the world, the reality is that he can only sustain his success as long as he is still producing the goods on record. And even at the age of 53, he is still producing awesome – and contemporary – rock ‘n’ roll. He admits that he’s able to do this with a little help from his friends.

“I work with teams,” he explains. “On ‘Dreamer’ [track 3 on ‘Down to Earth’], I worked with Mick Jones from Foreigner and Marty Freed. The melody line just came from nowhere. I’m not usually a melody maker, but ‘Dreamer’ is the coolest melody I’ve ever written.” In fact, it’s probably the closest he’s come to writing pure pop, which may not please all his fans.


Ozzy playing with Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi


Ironically, Ozzy supposedly left Black Sabbath in 1978 – when it was one of the biggest acts in the world – because he was unwilling to follow guitarist Tony Iommi into a more melodic strain of heavy metal. Since then, Ozzy the solo artist – still one of the biggest rock acts in the world (he’s sold over 40 million albums to date) – has been able to indulge in his love for The Beatles (“When I first heard ‘She Loves You,’ I couldn’t fucking believe it. They got me interested in music.”) and has come up with some of his own sweet melodies.

Of course, Ozzy’s bread and butter is still very much on the dark side. On “Down to Earth,” longtime sidekick Zakk Wylde cranks out monstrous guitar riffs that perfectly complement the air of menace and scary lyrics that are Ozzy’s trademark.

Despite the “Sabbath” reunion album, which he did a couple of years back with the original members of Black Sabbath (“It’s like visiting your relatives,” he says of their relationship), Ozzy’s got too much to look forward to to spend his time looking back. And while he was shocked over the recent death of George Harrison, he doesn’t lose any sleep thinking about his own demise.

A man alive

“It’s just one of those things that happens to all of us,” he says matter-of-factly. “I don’t think, ‘I’m dying, I’m dying, I’m dying’ all day, because while I’m thinking about dying, then I’m not living.”

Ozzy is still very much alive and is working like a madman: Besides the MTV series and the upcoming Far East tour, he and his wife also organize the Ozzfest, a heavy metal festival that tours mainly America and Europe. (“Jack chooses most of the bands now,” Ozzy admits.)

“We’ve been trying to take the Ozzfest to Japan, but the problem is the logistics are just ridiculous – the costs outweigh the profits,” Ozzy explains. “With all the equipment, the stage and the bands, it’s just too huge to do.”

With all these projects going, how long can Ozzy keep it up?

“I was asked if I would still be doing this at 35; I said yeah. At 45? Yeah. At 55? Well, I’m 53 now, so yeah. And at 65? Well, maybe, yeah – unless the plane goes down on Tuesday,” Ozzy jokes, adding: “There’s no rule saying you can’t rock ‘n’ roll at 60.

“If there’s an audience out there and they want to hear me, then it’s OK. If my fans fall by the wayside, if I’m playing to 25 people in The Whiskey on Sunset and I’m not enjoying it any more, then I won’t do it anymore.

“But I’m 53 and I’m still going. I’m the luckiest guy in the world and people still want to hear me, so it’s great.”


Feb 20 2011

Manic Street Preachers

(Originally published in The Japan Times)

Manic Street Preachers’ angry tunes turn up Japanese fans

By Fred Varcoe

To some, the Manic Street Preachers are the new Sex Pistols, the new Guns N’ Roses, the new Nirvana, the British Guns N’ Roses, the British Nirvana, etc., etc.
You get the idea.
Whoever they are – and they will insist, no doubt, that they are merely the Manic Street Preachers – there always remains the danger that this week’s new wild boys could turn into New Punks On The Block.
One of the horrors of old age (35.96 years) is that you keep telling yourself, “That’s been done before.” Of course, my parents tried to say this, but lacked the conviction of actually knowing what had gone before. In fact, they were hoping that nothing like (insert horror of your particular generation here) had ever happened and merely thought that if I thought something wasn’t original I would lose interest in it.
In reality, of course, if what had gone before was so horrendous as to unsettle my parents, then I certainly wanted some of it as part of my antisocial weaponry. As a result, my parents were convinced in the ’70s that I was: 1) worshipping the Devil (Black Sabbath); 2) taking acid trips to Katmandu (Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd); and 3) killing off prominent members of the establishment (the Clash and Sex Pistols).
Little did they know that I was secretly conforming to their social values – well, I was closer than they thought – and that, far from worshipping the Devil, we were actually fairly good mates.
The Manic Street Preachers, like most bands, are doubtless not interested in comparisons to what’s gone before. Straight musical comparisons of the type “The Beatles are better than the Stones” or “The Jam is better than the Who” rarely do more than irritate musicians. Still, the past is an important point of reference and, as music is an evolutionary art, it has significance.
The band’s ironic allusion to the past in “Condemned to Rock ‘n’ Roll” makes the point that we’re talking about an indefinite now rather than a series of generational crises:
“The past is so beautiful
The future like a corpse in snow
I think it’s all the f—ing same
It’s a life sentence babe.”

The Preachers have been shot out of the same gun that produced the angry sounds and sneers of bands like the Clash and the Sex Pistols. (On Fuji TV’s “Beat U.K.” recently, lead singer/guitarist James Dean (groan) Bradfield tried to impress the viewers with a couple of “f— you’s” while bassist Nicky Wire did his best Sid Vicious impersonation and came across as being genuinely thick.)
Perhaps significantly, they too have risen to the fore in a deep economic recession. The bleak prospects facing the young and unemployed of Britain have given rise to a new breed of angry young musicians and, just as important, a new breed of angry young fans.
As punk was a welcome antidote to the disco dross of the ’70s, so the new breed of the ’90s is welcome relief from the neo-hippy dirges of the Manchester scene.
That the Manic Street Preachers arc the most exciting band to come out of Britain in recent years is hardly surprising. They are virtually the only exciting band to come out of Britain in recent years.
The band’s Japanese debut at Club Citta on May 11-13 was sold out weeks ago and could easily have stretched beyond a week. After Nirvana’s Japanese tour earlier this year, it was the most eagerly awaited rock event of 1992. But unlike Nirvana, the Preachers went some way to delivering live what they promised on their debut album, “Generation Terrorists.”
The main difference was balance. The songs on the album, while leaving no doubt we are dealing with anger, were presented with a slightly sugar-coated production job. Live, the energy level hits the high end of the scale as 1,000 sweaty Japanese punks and rockers bounce up and down to the Preachers’ very direct brand of rock ‘n’ roll.
Where Nirvana is slightly flakey and occasionally laid back in delivering the message and the music, the Preachers slam it into your face. The guitars of Bradfield and the slightly – okay, let’s be honest, very – redundant Richey James grind along like a rivet gun, laying down a foundation for Bradfield’s excellent and, unlike Johnny Rotten’s or Joe Strummer’s, controlled vocals.
If you can’t tell how angry Bradfield is just by looking at him (believe me, you can), you can take a peek at the lyrics that accompany the CD.
“Madonna drinks Coke and so you do too
Tastes real good not like a sweet poison should
Too much comfort to get decadent
Politics here’s death and God is safer sex”
(“Slash and Burn”).
“Useless generation
Dumb flag scum
Repeat after me
F— Queen and country
Repeat after me
Imitation demi gods
Repeat after me
Dumb flag scum”
(“Repeat (U.K.)”).
The Japanese fans may understand the album title, but probably don’t make much headway with the semi-literate lyrics. The important thing is the gist of the message gets across. With the concert being held in the all-standing human crush heat of Club Citta, there is an intensity there that is usually lacking at theater venues.
Added to which, the Preachers’ penchant for choral-style hooks allows the Japanese audience to actively participate and get closer to the band and the music. A few adventurous fans climb over the shoulders of the mob down front and threaten to get on stage, but always back out at the last minute, much to the disappointment of the fans and the band, who are hoping that the barrier between the two will break down. But this is Japan, so it won’t.
Still, as events in the metropolis go, it made its mark. The band has the same universal appeal as Guns N’ Roses and Nirvana, and, like the Seattle rockers, it has just taken the first big step. Fame and money are on their way. Providing Bradfield keeps his muse (with five more years of a Conservative government, this should be no problem), the future looks bright. Next time round, the Manic Street Preachers could be playing the Budokan.
Except there may not be a next time round if the band members are to be believed. They have said they will break up rather than outlive their usefulness. They don’t want to end up as memorial pieces.
A wise move. Otherwise we could be looking at a fate worse than death: the new Sham 69.