Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Book Review: I Am Ozzy, by Ozzy Osbourne and Chris Ayres

As a teenage Metal head I loved Ozzy Osbourne. My entire generation loved Ozzy and during the early to mid 80’s Ozzy was like the New York Yankees as far as production goes. It was hit album after hit album, killer song after killer song and that was just the musical end of it. If we want to talk about his image and the antics? Forget about it! There was no one like him. Maybe it’s just a sign of the times, but is there anything truly shocking about Rock And Roll these days? If there is, it existed in the Heavy Metal underground via Scandinavian exploits where death and music collided in the mid 1990’s. But as far as a mainstream threat? Sure there was the Marilyn Manson stuff in the late 90’s, but he was more of a scapegoat than an actual threat.

So when the announcement came that there was to be an “official” Ozzy biography I wanted nothing to do with it. At the time I had just finished reading Rudy Sarzo’s brilliant ‘Off The Rails’ and I felt there was no way anyone could even come close to delivering what Sarzo did. Not even Ozzy himself. I just had no faith in him being able to tell a story so magical yet disjointed, polluted and controlled. What would be the point?

On top of that, I still have fond memories of reading Mick Wall’s original Ozzy biography, ‘Diary of a Madman’ back in 86/87. This was long before I became the jaded, disgruntled and highly opinionated asshole writing this to you. So because of the time, what I read was pure as my mind wasn’t clouded with the realities of life and the music business. So that being said I was given the ‘I Am Ozzy’ book for a look over and here’s what I found.

From the first chapter I was hooked. Other than the incredible music he created, one of the things I fell in love with about Ozzy was his sense of humor. Within the first several pages of the book that Osbourne charm was in full effect and it helps give ‘I Am Ozzy’ a strong identity where as some/most ghost written biographies do not.

Obviously the story begins in Aston, Birmingham with young John Michael’s arrival into the world. Ozzy has often painted a pretty depressing picture (poverty, dyslexia etc.) of his earliest childhood memories and the stories here are no different. His relationship with his mother and father are explored throughout the book and some of the revelations are a bit on the shocking side. We get the formation of Black Sabbath and the coolest part of the Sabbath chapters is Ozzy’s recollection of all the individual qualities of the original four. Their differences and similarities and via words we get a cool connection to the initial vibe between them. Some of the banter between members when it came to group decisions such as band names, songs and business decisions are simply hilarious.

When Sabbath get cooking there’s some good stuff indeed. Sure some of the stories are repeated from the incredible ‘How Black Was Our Sabbath’ book, released a few years ago. But here’s the thing, even though they're repeated the way writer Chris Ayres has sewn these stories together they come across fresh and again, just super funny.

Ozzy’s relationship with his first wife is what seems like a pretty honest portrayal in as much as it was a big mistake. From his words, here the two of them couldn’t have been further apart from one another so it’s almost as if their union was over as soon as it started. It also didn’t help that Ozzy was a fucking lunatic. We’re talking about a guy who seemed was out of his skull 25/8 and as mentioned the humorous side exists, as does a sad one. There are a few stories of hanging with members of Led Zeppelin with the best being, of course Ozzy and John Bonham, could you imagine?

Ozzy opens up on the business of Sabbath and how detrimental their management’s handling of their career nearly destroyed them. Now, this is not some huge secret but the blunt way of describing the years of work Sabbath did and how they were left is pretty heavy. Now on the flip side, Ozzy’s always been upfront about the days of being ripped off. His take was, they (Sabbath) had all the cash, cars, drugs and houses they wanted so what did they need to follow the business end of things for?

Once Ozzy goes solo is when the book starts to teeter into the land of make believe. The Randy Rhoads years are so well covered in Sarzo’s book that it’s hard to really digest some of the stuff in this book. I’m not saying some of it’s not true, but it’s up to the reader to decide. Ozzy’s feelings and thoughts on the death of Randy seem very true, very real and for the first time in print, man you can just feel the guy losing control when that happened. Again, heavy stuff.

I have to say though; the book really skims over a LOT of details. A lot of the references are of a somewhat vague nature so if you were looking for some in-depth accounts to the ‘Bark at the Moon,’ ‘Speak of the Devil,’ ‘The Ultimate Sin,’ ‘No Rest for the Wicked,’ and the personnel (Jake?!) and beyond eras you might be disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some funny stuff interspersed that references the above LP eras, but not necessarily a semi-detailed breakdown. You might get more info on various trips to rehab centers and arrests and assorted controversies (Bat biting, dove crunching, Alamo pissing and “Suicide Solution” tragedies), but then again they’re a part of the story.

The book pretty much wraps up with years surrounding ‘The Osbournes,’ Sharon’s cancer, Ozzy’s quad bike coma and Ozzfest. Also in there are the reconciliation between Sharon and Don Arden and some of the Bob Daisley and Lee Kerslake fiasco. Additional thoughts on Ozzy’s children and grandchildren are decent, but what was surprising about it all was Ozzy’s thoughts on television and “being laughed at instead of with” and just what price being a fucking lunatic has cost him.

In the end, I got a warm feeling inside from reading this book. It reminded me of why I liked and was drawn to Ozzy in the first place. It also reconfirmed that he’s human and he doesn’t come across as anything but a working class kid that through trial and error, became one of the biggest Rock and Roll stars the world has ever seen.