Heavy metal singer Ozzy Osbourne has made some great music and music videos over the years and has just released Memoirs of a Madman, a collection of classic music videos, unreleased and out-of-print live performances and interviews from his solo career. It's available as both a two-disc DVD and an audio release (a single CD, a two-LP set or a two-LP picture disc set). But Osbourne admits he can’t watch himself on TV.
“I have this fucking thing about seeing myself on TV,” he says via phone from his Beverly Hills home. “I never watched one episode of The Osbournes. I don’t like to see myself on TV. It freaks me out. I think, ‘Is that me? Do I really look like a fucking idiot like that?’ With The Osbournes, people would ask me who writes the script. I would go, ‘What? They would go, ‘Who writes the script to the show?’ I would go, ‘God. That’s just the way we lived.’ The kids ended up on drugs. I ended up on drugs and alcohol. My wife got cancer. You can’t get more real than that.”
It’s ironic that Osbourne, famous as the sinister singer of Black Sabbath, would even acknowledge a higher power. But to hear Osbourne tell it, the band’s real inspiration was horror films rather than Satanism.
“When we first started writing, we started doing jazz blues like Jethro Tull, Ten Years After and the original Fleetwood Mac,” he says. “Back then, it was peace, love and all that shite. We sang about the dark side. We didn’t realize what we were doing. We just started to write scary music because we grew up from across the movie theatre. Tony [Iommi] thought it was strange that people paid to get scared and pay to go to the theater so that’s what we started doing. It was just a fluke of luck. The first album is a great album but when you’re on the inside looking out, you don’t realize it. I remember when I took my mom and dad the first record and played it for them and there’s the thunder and the rain and the demonic first riff comes in. My father looks at me and asks me, ‘Are you sure, you only take the occasional drink?’ It was some spooky music. It was the biggest and best thing that ever happened to me.”
Working from a $200 advance, the band made an impressive debut and followed it up with the even more impressive Paranoid, albums of sludge-y metal that sounded little like anything else out there.
“Paranoid came out and went to number one in England, and I thought, ‘What the fuck have we just created?’” says Osbourne. “Four of us started a band, made some music and, from record one, we never made a bad album. It always entered the charts. You don’t know. It’s a crapshoot. You either win or you don’t.”
Osbourne embarked on a solo career at the time when MTV’s popularity was on the rise. As a result, it was crucial to make music videos, even though Osbourne isn’t particularly fond of them.
“You think these fucking directors were making War and Peace,” he says. “They were only three-minute videos. I remember when I was making the video for ‘Mama, I’m Coming Home.’ I went to this sky blue room and had to get a side of pork and walk across the room. I thought, ‘What the fuck does this mean? [This is] going to cost 900,000 dollars.’ I went and used the cameraman who did the Nirvana video for ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’ He just did a video with me in the car. That cost about 10,000 dollars. I prefer the one I did because it was cheap and there was no elaborate fucking trickery. MTV played them both. Sometimes I would just go, ‘What are you fucking thinking?’ It’s only a music video. It didn’t warrant spending millions of dollars.”
At 65 (soon to be 66), Osbourne shows no signs of slowing down. He just announced Ozzfiesta, a five-day event set to take place from May 27 to May 31 next year at the Hard Rock Hotel in Riviera Maya, Mexico. Osbourne will perform alongside a slew of other acts. There will also be a Comedy Club Night with sets from Jim Norton and Jim Florentine. And Osbourne plans to release one more Black Sabbath album too.
“The Black Sabbath success [with last year’s 13] took me by surprise,” he says. “Over the years, being with them and being solo, we never got a number one in America. It took all this time to get a number one in America. We did an 89-date tour. It was great gigs. I was sober and I wasn’t fucking doing drugs. I wasn’t smoking cigarettes. I wasn’t going out and getting fucking crazy. I honestly thought I would never do that. I never thought I could write anything or record anything sober. If we never do anything again, I’m glad that we ended up on an up note. The only sad thing is that [Sabbath drummer] Bill Ward wasn’t there. One of the greatest accomplishments of my life is that I was one of four guys from the streets of Birmingham who conquered the world in our own way."
Initially, Osbourne didn't think he'd become successful at anything, but he's certainly grateful things have turned out the way they did.
When I went to school, nobody told me about anything," he says. "My father told me I had to have a trade or I would be in the scrap heap. I could never hold a fucking job. I took up burglary and that didn’t work out. You make mistakes until you get the thing right. Having a band and career as a musician is not a job. It’s a gift. I don’t have to get up at seven in the morning, sit in traffic, go into a job I hate and then work for someone I also hate for the rest of my life. I would want to fucking kill myself.”