Ozzy Osbourne: Still Screaming

Talk to the knuckles.
(Photo credit: Jennifer Tzar.)

He has graced the covers of countless magazines. He has had a “Behind The Music” special and an entire reality series devoted to his tumultuous life. He’s written a best-selling autobiography (I Am Ozzy), a movie about his life is in the works, and his tenth and latest studio album Scream just hit stores.  He recently lead 52,000 people at Dodgers Stadium in delivering the longest scream by a crowd (just over a minute), setting a Guinness World Record and raising money for charity. Thus it seems like trying to come up with some sort of profound introduction to an Ozzy Osbourne story seems moot given how much people already know about the crazy, iconic frontman.

Actually interviewing Osbourne, on the other hand, is an entirely different matter. While certain aspects of the singer live up to what one would expect — crazy stories, forthcoming answers, liberal use of the F-bomb — he comes off as more lucid and intelligible than he did on the Obsournes reality show, which he admits was due to having his “head was scrambled with fucking panic” while being on TV. He stresses that he’s a musician, not a TV personality. He also was gracious with his time — our planned half-hour chat lasted for over 45 minutes — and answered every question presented to him, often at great length. It helped that I’m great with deciphering British accents.

After having spent over four decades in the business and done countless interviews, one might imagine that rock’s middle aged Prince Of Darkness would have run out of things to say. Far from it, as this interrogation proved. I chatted with Osbourne for a story in the June/July 2010 issue of Inked magazine, but I had more than enough for an ADD feature. (Keep in mind that I had not heard the entire Scream album yet when this interview was conducted last month. And for context, this was conducted a few days prior to Ronnie James Dio’s passing.)

What can you tell us about the new album Scream?
Parts of it are very, very heavy. I think if you buy an album that’s just heavy all the way through, it’s hard work to listen to, if you know what I mean. I like to put some lighter stuff on. We wrote and recorded 14 songs. There are not 14 songs on the album, but there are 10 or 11 on it. They can’t make up their mind if they want 10 or 11 or nine. I just say, whatever you want.

On your new album you brought in guitarist Gus G., who is known for playing in the Greek power metal band Firewind. Once again you’re bringing in a relative unknown to your entourage. Does bringing in fresh blood help reinvigorate you?
I’m sick and tired of people going, “I’ll bet you’re happy with the resurgence of metal.” I’ve never played to empty rooms. I’ve never had to do two-for-one tickets. I’m not on the front page of the L.A. Times every day. I don’t understand. Somebody said to me that I’m one of the only guys left doing this [classic rock] music now. I said what are you talking about? Paul McCartney and Elton John are older than me. The Stones, Bob Dylan, we’re not part of the latest fad. Bruce Springsteen works his ass off.

“Every so often a bunch of friends fall off. My old drummer died of cancer recently, and one of my crew [members]…died of cancer. Eventually it’s going to be me. One day I’m not going to get out of it and be gone.”
(April 29, 2010)

I think the outsider status is what gives metal its cache with its fans. You’ve scored many multiplatinum records yourself, but metal never gets that respect from the mainstream. I think it emboldens the fans a bit.
There’s a track on my [new] album called “Soul Sucker”. It’s a great track, and I thought it would be a great name for the album. I put it up on my webpage, and all my fans went fucking nuts. They couldn’t imagine walking around with “Soul Sucker” on a T-shirt because it sounds like [something they would use in] hip-hop music. I mean, I don’t listen to that stuff. People ask me about new bands. I don’t rush out and buy the latest album by the whatever they’re called. In my career I’ve seen things go from one extreme to the other. I remember when CDs first came out, someone told me about this new invention [to replace records] that couldn’t get damaged and would last forever. Everybody wanted CDs, and now you can’t get rid of the fucking things. It’s all downloading now.

Does Ozzy have a future in Gothic home decoration?
(Photo credit: Jennifer Tzar.)

On the Sunset Strip there was the Tower Records for fucking ever. It was a landmark. It was like the Hollywood sign. I was across the street at Book Soup picking up some magazines for Sharon. I went across the road to Tower Records to get the new Sheryl Crow album. It was 4:30 in the afternoon, and I walked in and it was fucking empty. I said to the guy, “Are you open?” “Sure.” I go, “Have you got the new Sheryl Crow album?” “We have as many as you want.” The following week it was fucking gone. Wow, man. Then the Virgin went up the road. It’s unbelievable what this new downloading fad is doing now. I don’t know what’s going to happen. Live concerts are going to be the thing, I think. Everybody says they’ll do a stadium tour or whatever. They do great business, then they go around for a second time and people have less money than they did before because we’re still in that economic shithole. It’s kind of greedy, you know. Just back off.

Is it true that you do illustrations?
I just doodle around.

What kind of stuff do you like to do?
I just use paper and ink. I do that thing where you use dots and turn them into a design [Pointillism]. I do that sometimes. I do it because it is good to contemplate the day. It mellows me out. I just put the iPod on shuffle and do it, and it puts me in a good frame of mind.

Are there any particular images that are recurring in your work lately?
I’m on the devil’s head thing right now. I don’t say that I’m going do a face there, a chimney there, or a house there. I just do it and it comes out. Sometimes it’s shit, and I put it in the trash, but sometimes people say it’s cool. When the world gets on my shoulders, I’ll sit down and doodle. I’m not a great artist. I would love to become a painter. I love it. For a person to look at a blank piece of canvas and know what they want to do is great. I have a couple of friends in England who are artists, and one of them does paintings that look like photographs. I had no idea that he was so good. Fucking phenomenal.

You were known for your crazy partying back in the day. Is it strange to think that there are parts of your life you can’t remember but other people can?
That happens all the fucking time, but I remember a lot. In the book I say that this is only my memory of what these situations is. Other people might read it and say, “He’s talking out of his butt.” As far as my short-term memory, I’ll go upstairs and forgot what I went there for. It happens all the time, man. I’ll have my spectacles in my hand, and I’m going, “Sharon, have you seen my spectacles?” “They’re in your fucking hand.” I’ll go up and down the stairs 15 times looking for them. With names — I’ll go through all my family’s names until I get the right one. My hearing is not as good as it used to be, so I’ll get yelled at because I’ll get the fucking information wrong all the time

“I’m sick and tired of people going, ‘I’ll bet you’re happy with the resurgence of metal.’ I’ve never played to empty rooms. I’ve never had to do two-for-one tickets.”

Have you thought of doing some new musical projects with your kids?
I have my own studio at the house here, which is where did the last album. I did a cover of “Changes” from Black Sabbath’s Volume 4 with Kelly, and that was a big Christmas hit a few years back. I’m there for them if they ask me to sing on something or need advice, and vice versa.

Close encounters of the Ozzy kind.
(Photo credit: Jennifer Tzar.)

There was a rumor that when you are looking for a new guitarist that you were thinking of reaching out to Jake E. Lee. Is that true?
At one point we thought maybe, but I haven’t seen him since the day he left. The reason why he left his because the other two guys — Randy Castillo, who is no longer with us, and Phil Soussan — were talking [trash] about him. They twisted my arm. It was all a big fucking conspiracy. I have nothing bad to say about Jake E. Lee, but I haven’t seen him since the day he left.

You have stuck it out longer than most of your peers did.
But the bottom line is that the ’80s ended. I remember telling Sharon, “This is fucking great.” She said wait until the end of the decade, and it’s true. When went from the ’80s to the ’90s, I think No More Tears, Guns ‘N Roses and Whitesnake were the only things that survived the tail end of that. But then it got all crazy again.

It’s surreal to me to see all these icons that I grew up listening to are hitting middle age now. Has it been strange for you to think that you’ve been doing it that long, and to see your peers getting older?
Every so often a bunch of friends fall off. My old drummer died of cancer recently, and one of my crew [members] — a Scottish guy who had been with me forever, and his son works for me — died of cancer. Eventually it’s going to be me. One day I’m not going to get out of it and be fucking gone. When Sharon got cancer, it fucked me up bad. It’s always somebody across the road. It’s always somebody else. It’s never going to be you. I’m a hypochondriac. If I’m watching a TV ad and they ask if I have a lump under my armpit, I’m feeling for fucking lumps. If I feel something that resembles lumps, I’m straight down to the doctor. As all men do, you get prostate problems. I went to my doctor about it, and he said that 50% of all men don’t get checked for it. Out of the 50% of men that do, 25% develop prostate cancer. They’re not exactly the most glamorous tests. And colon cancer as well. I go and get checked now.

You’ve been to the White House. You’ve won a Grammy. You’ve been inducted into the Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame. Has there been one moment that’s been more significant for you than anything else?
When the Osbournes reality show took off, it started a ball rolling that is still going today. Everybody’s doing it now. I remember at one time we had a dinner party in the garden with a bunch of celebrities, including Paul McCartney and Elizabeth Taylor. But I never felt comfortable on the red carpet.

I remember seeing you at a Fox TV party about a year and a half ago, and you were at a table in the corner trying not to make too much of a big deal of yourself.
Sharon and my kids don’t mind it, but I just don’t feel comfortable. It’s not what I’m about. The reason people couldn’t understand what I was talking about [on TV] was that my head was scrambled with fucking panic, you know. I don’t like television.

Dental work is not always
a priority for rock stars.

Is it because people have an image of who they think you are?
It was a reality thing and showed me as I am. In the beginning it was an extended version of Cribs, and then it took off. I didn’t understand any of it, other than being good for my ego for about five minutes.

Is there any really personal song on the new album Scream?
The whole album is personal. Kevin Churko the producer did a remarkable job. We did it mostly with him and me, then brought the band in, which I’m not going to do ever again because I like jamming with the band. There is one song called “Let It Die” that is very interesting. It’s a play on words like the Billy Joel song “We Didn’t Start The Fire”. It’s nothing like Billy Joel, but it is very interesting. It just came. We just worked on it, and it came. Kevin was very instrumental on that song.

Are you playing any new places on tour this year?
I’m playing China, Israel and Turkey.

Do you get to experience cities when you’re in them?
No. I do the show and get the fuck out of there. When I’m in town, everybody knows I’m in town for a reason. I don’t go by bus as much now. On this tour, the band and I are going on a private plane.

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