When I was 13, my budding obsession with heavy metal was still in its infancy. Ozzy, Metallica, AC/DC, Megadeth and Queensrÿche were already in heavy rotation on my Walkman, but then I heard about this ‘70s band Black Sabbath that supposedly invented the genre. And Ozzy sang for them. What??? I had to hear it.
As the only ways one could check out a band in 1990 were hearing them on the radio, purchasing a cassette/cd or having a friend dub a copy on tape, I remained in the dark about what this scary, mythical band sounded like.
Then late one night, while on vacation, lying in the dark in some motel room at midnight with my headphones on, I came across a syndicated radio program called Metal Shop.
They played what I later found out was the title track from Sabbath’s self-titled debut. I knew it was Sabbath when I heard it. I just knew. The voice clearly belonged to Ozzy, but the music wasn’t solo Ozzy. It was dark and horrifying, and I daresay evil-sounding. It scared the shit out of me.
Big black shape with eyes of fire
Telling people their desire
Satan’s sitting there, he’s smiling
Watches those flames get higher and higher
Oh no, no, please God help me
At the time, Hell was my greatest fear—it was an intense phobia drilled into my head by well-intentioned fanatics grooming me to become one of them, and those lyrics hit hard. I had a very real fear of eternal damnation, and that song exploited it to the max. Still, I was thoroughly titillated. I didn’t want to hear more—I had to hear more.
I managed to get my hands on a cheap import cassette called “Black Sabbath’s Greatest Hits.” It had a creepy old painting of the Black Plague on the cover.
The feeling that rushed through me upon pressing play was probably much like the rush a junkie gets shooting up for the first time—I was instantly hooked, and my life was forever changed.
Fast forward to 2004: by that point, I was well-versed in the entire spectrum of metaldom. I had delved deep into thrash, death, black, doom and power metal. I’d seen Morbid Angel live by then. I’d seen Pantera. I’d seen Megadeth. I’d seen a lot of shows.
My bucket list bands, however, were Sabbath, Judas Priest, Slayer and Iron Maiden. When it was announced that the first three of the bands I just listed were playing Ozzfest 2004, I knew I had to go.
There I was, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The venue was outside the city, out in the desert, and beneath a blazing summer sun I checked off two of those boxes. Slayer and Judas Priest both blew me away, and I could scarcely believe that I was standing there watching these Gods of Metal performing live before my very eyes. Priest was my main reason for going, honestly.
Yes, I was excited to see Sabbath, but this was the heyday of The Osbournes. I’d seen plenty of Ozzy shuffling around on my TV screen, presented to the audience as some kind of drug-addled mumbling buffoon, and I thought, Okay, Ozzy’s really old now, so don’t expect much. Just enjoy it. This is Black Sabbath you’re about to see. This is huge.
So they took the stage as the sun began to set, and for two hours, there was absolutely no trace of TV Ozzy to be found.
The Ozzy I saw onstage was running and jumping all over the place, clapping his hands over his head and the whole nine yards, just like the Ozzy of old from all the VHS concert tapes I’d watched hundreds of times by that point.
When they did Black Sabbath, and the quiet, eerie parts came in, Ozz was bathed in the glow of a red spotlight, and the giant twin screens on either side of the stage showed a closeup of his face.
What is this that stands before me?
Figure in black which points at me
Turn around quick, and start to run
Find out I’m the chosen one
Holy shit. Ozzy looked possessed. He had an aura surrounding him that gave him a larger-than-life presence, and I was enthralled by his and the band’s performance.
I was amazed that even at his age and condition at the time, he was still killing it live. I’m even more amazed that he managed to do it for nearly 20 years after that!
It’s no big surprise to me that he’s finally retiring from touring for good. It was inevitable at some point, obviously. It was more of a surprise to me every time a new tour was announced. But man, what a great run. What a legend. I hope that in this new chapter of his life, he can find peace in the absence of that which he clearly loved and thrived upon. After all he’s given us, he deserves nothing less.