Memoirs Of A Madman is an apt title for the sixth ‘best of’ collection of Ozzy Osbourne’s career. Whether it’s snorting ants, pissing on the Alamo or – as the photo opposite proves – shaving his head and dressing up as a satanic butler, he’s spent a lifetime drunkenly going back and forth over that line between normal and utterly batshit crazy.
Then there’s another Ozzy Osbourne, the one who doesn’t get written about as much. This Ozzy is a reflective, funny late 60-something who dwells on his mistakes as much as his triumphs. You can still hear and see in him the working-class kid who grew up on the streets of Birmingham. Granted, he’s still prone to explosions of incredulity and some Olympic-level swearing. This is Deep Ozzy, rather than Crazy Ozzy.
That’s the man we get today, looking back on the triumphs, tragedies and occasional idiocy of his life with pride and surprisingly little regret. So sit back and enjoy the thoughts of Chairman Ozzy…
Sharon said to me: “We’ll be dead in twenty-five years.” Twenty-five years is nothing. When I was younger I used to say: “Oh, I’ll be dead by forty.” So that was alright until I was about thirty-nine and three-quarters. Then I thought: “Maybe I want to stay around a bit longer.”
What do I think happens after we die? I’ll try to send a message back. I think your spirit goes somewhere. I mean, not in the form of me or you or whatever; the energy that we have goes into the universe.
When I got fired from Sabbath I thought: “This is it. What can I do now? I’ll buy a bar.” That lasted about a month. My ex-wife [Thelma] asked me very kindly if I wouldn’t mind staying at home and letting someone else run the pub. People weren’t coming in because I was mad, and I was drinking the profits every day. That was in Newport, Shropshire. It’s just next door to Staffordshire. I’m told that they still call that place Ozzy’s. I don’t know whether that’s true or not.
What values did my father teach me? Get some money and give it to me! No, he would say: “You may not be wealthy and you may not be well-educated, but good manners come cheaply enough.” He instilled in me, from a very young age, ladies before gentleman; just be kind to the opposite sex; you help an older lady across the road or give her your seat on the bus. My father was a stickler for all that. He worked in a factory. Mum was a factory worker as well.
I don’t like the sound of vacuum cleaners. That drives me nuts when I’m in a hotel. Flymos as well, they piss me off.
We lived in a very small house. There were six of us in two bedrooms. With mum and dad it was eight; there were six kids. We had a bathroom but it was always going wrong. You’d have one bath a month or something because we couldn’t afford the electricity bill. The only holiday I used to have was prison. Well, I had an aunt that lived in Sunderland. That was like going to the Antarctic.
The first thing I do when I get back to England is go to Marks & Spencer. They do the best trifle and chocolate éclairs – real cream. I love them. There’s still a lot of me in England. The house I have in Buckinghamshire is my house. That’s where my anchor is, even though we don’t spend that much time there any more. My wife says: “We should sell up.” There’s something in me that just cannot do that. Because once you’ve sold up you’re fucked.
I now call cocaine ‘bullshit powder’, because it makes you feel that everyone’s wonderful, that you’re wonderful and you can solve the problems of the world. But it’s all an illusion. I did plenty of it for years. And I’m not proud of that. I think it’s wrong that they put addicts in jail, because it’s an illness. Pushers of heroin and hard drugs should be executed because it’s attempted murder. They’re selling death.
On the last Sabbath album there was a song called Zeitgeist. I went: “What does that mean?” Geezer goes: “Oh, it’s German.” I grew up in Aston, not fucking Stuttgart.
I miss the Birmingham that I left. Birmingham now has got bigger and they’ve had the town hall done out. If you spend six months away and you go back to anywhere you go: “Fucking hell! How long’s that building been there?” You don’t notice change so much when you’re there.
They believe in UFOs and aliens over in America. I think that’s all rubbish. What the fuck would anybody with any intelligence see in this planet? If there is a God, he probably went: “This’ll be a good experiment. I’ll put these things called people on Earth and see what they do.” In no time at all they start killing each other and doing everything they can to fuck it all up. I don’t believe in organised religion, but I do believe in something more powerful than me. Like nature.
My favourite thing about school was going home at four o’clock. I hated it. I’m incredibly dyslexic and I have attention deficit disorder. Back then they didn’t understand that. I was in a couple of musical things – we did The Mikado and The Pirates Of Penzance. That was alright.
I wasn’t ready for children until I was into my thirties, but you get married, you start having sex and babies happen. I love my kids, but with my first wife I was a married bachelor; I was fucking everything that moved and getting loaded on a daily basis. Sharon was different. She said: “If you bring any cocaine into this house I’ll call the police. Get your shit together.” She’d give me stick, whereas the wife before her would just let me do whatever I wanted. She didn’t care about me drinking myself stupid and doing drugs.
Nowadays you’ve got to write twenty songs, because you’ve got bonus tracks, and Japan always wants extra stuff. In the old days we used to write eight songs and think that was great.
While we were doing The Osbournes I had a row with my son. Jack, that is. I said: “What the fuck are you moaning about? When have you ever needed anything?” He goes: “Well, what about a father?” That hit me between the eyes. It knocked me sideways. I just never thought of that.
You can’t do something stupid twice and expect a different outcome. A stupid thing will always have a stupid result. I’m one of those people who goes: “Well, I’ll try doing that much cocaine again. It may not quite kill me this time.” If I like something I do it forever in large amounts. I never tried smoking crack. I wonder what that’s like. Get me a fucking bag bigger than my house full of crack! Then I’ll sit there and smoke it until I die. I can’t do anything in moderation.
My immediate family calls me John. In these AA meetings that I go to I identify myself as John, because I don’t want to say: “I’m the big shot.” The meetings are working for me. They’re at the Rainbow [Bar & Grill on Sunset Strip], where I used to get fucked up years ago. I go nearly every day. You talk about whatever’s on your mind, whatever’s bothering you. Because that’s what gets us thinking about drinking again. In Hollywood they have these open-top tourist vans. Sometimes when I come out of the Rainbow there’s one of these buses stuck in traffic stopped right outside. Everyone’s like: “Oooh! It’s him!” Fuck off.
I’ve wanted to do a Broadway musical about the life of [Russian mystic] Rasputin for a long time. I watched a film on television and he interested me. His philosophy was: a marriage without sex is a sin. So he’d go and fuck all these wives, and then he would go with the guys as well. He was like the first rock star; he was from the sticks, came good. He was my kind of guy. When I finished doing it the economy went up the spout and the first thing to get hit was new musicals.
I have a really strong cup of coffee when I first get up in the morning – black, no sugar. Just down it.
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I’m emotionally insecure. I’m everything insecure. I’m just a worrying kind of guy, you know? I can’t be anything other than what I am. I didn’t go to lessons to become Ozzy.
Do I still feel working class? Absolutely, yeah. I don’t think I’ve changed much in my head, but I’ve got to say I must have because I’ve got a Bentley in the drive, I live in Beverley Hills and I’ve got a big estate in England. I’m not a tight man by any stretch of the imagination. It never leaves you, though. My appreciation for good things is really high. I mean, if I pay five grand for a suit then I’m not going to leave it lying around. If Sharon sees something and she likes it then she’ll get it. I’ll go: “I don’t like it that much. Should I think about it? My father never saw that much dough in his life.” Sharon goes: “You ain’t your father! It’s a part of success.” I have sometimes thought: “Well, if my wife can buy things like that then so can I,” but I always have a little bit of guilt when I do it.
I’ve used Viagra. The advert for it says something like: “If you have an erection lasting more than four hours, go to the doctor as quickly as you can”. That freaked me out. I asked a doctor about it and he said: “Oh, they have to take your dick down.” They siphon the blood out of your willy. Seriously.
I’m not honest all the time. If your wife asks you what you think of her new dress, you don’t say: “You look like a bag of shit,” because that’s bad news. You’ve got to say: “You look great,” or you’re going to get a frying pan around the back of the head. I try to be as honest as I can, and when I’m dishonest it’s only because I don’t want to cause an argument. I’m on this programme of recovery, and honesty is a big part of it.
People often ask me: “Which one of your albums do you like the best?” It’s kind of like a living diary, because whenever I hear the old songs I remember how fun it was or how bad and sad it was. So it’s kind of like a musical memory jog for me. Technical Ecstasy and Never Say Die! are not bad Sabbath albums but we were dizzy from the success. Our manager had been ripping us off royally, so the whole business thing got in the way. I mean, I didn’t join a rock band to become a fucking accountant. I think we should have stopped at Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, but nevertheless. Unexpected things happen. You just have to make it up as you go along.
You go to the crossroads, and whatever path you take might look good in the beginning but you’re going to go through a stormy patch. Just hold on to your breeches and see what happens.
Back in the early days Tony and Geezer used to avoid me and Bill because we were a pair of nutters. I’d travel with Bill, the other two would travel separately. Me and Bill would be in a caravan on wheels, driving around like maniacs. We had a lot of fun together. Bill’s not far from my heart. I was sad he didn’t make the Sabbath thing. We’re going to do one more tour as Sabbath then we’re going to fold that up. It would be great if Bill could get it together to come on that tour. We’d all love it that way. Black Sabbath wasn’t made up by a business mogul in London. We were four kids who all lived within a three-mile radius of each other. We had an idea and it went bigger than our wildest dreams. Forget my solo career. Forget the arguments we had along the way. As four local guys we did great. That’s what I’m proud of more than anything, really.
There’s only one person who sounds like me. I’ve got a recognisable voice. But I was never confident about it. Tony Iommi’s very helpful in giving you courage. He’ll just say: “Relax. Take your time.” Because I want to go on and do the gig backwards, forwards and in five minutes. I still get terrible stage fright before I go on.
I understand that U2 did this brilliant, stupid idea of giving out free albums. That doesn’t matter to the likes of me, but it’s disrespectful to new bands. They can’t afford to compete with something like that. I’ve not heard it, but apparently the album’s not that great anyway.
They don’t have Sunday lunch in America, which is fucking crap. I love a roast. But if I do one myself I don’t want to eat it because I’m fed up with it by the time I’m finished.
Any band that I’ve ever been with, the early days are always the most fun. I’ll never forget Sabbath’s first journey to the States. We got on a plane from Heathrow, and I’m thinking: “We’ve been flying for hours. This thing’s got to stop for gas soon. Nothing can travel this far without filling up.” I remember landing at JFK and smelling the warm air of New York. It was a good smell. I took two packets of my own soap powder with me. When we were young it was a big thing to go to America. Now people come over for the weekend.
I’ve done some bad things in my life. I’ve never got into a situation where I consciously go: “I’m going to fuck him – or her – over,” but sometimes it’s happened that way.
Believe it or not I just want a bit of peace and quiet.
This article originally appeared in Classic Rock 204