Stupid Is as Stupid Sells
Do you know how Ozzy Osbourne's metal-cult guitar hero Randy Rhodes died? In a plane crash, sure, along with Osbourne's hairdresser and pilot -- that much is rock and roll mythology. But do you know why the plane crashed? It was buzzing Ozzy's tour bus on a street near Orlando, Florida, when it smacked into a house and everyone on it died. The Ozz was on the tour bus at the time (Rhodes was replaced in a matter of weeks and the tour continued). No one needed to die. It was just stupidity.
Osbourne, as much as any performer in the history of rock, has built a career based on stupidity. He's a multiplatinum rock superstar who once claimed "I'm not a musician, I'm a ham" (that much makes sense). He's the working-class Birmingham, England, kid who formed a pop-rock band called Earth in 1968; the trendsetter who helped transform Earth into the prototypal heavy metal four-piece Black Sabbath in 1969; and he's the opportunist who renamed Sabbath's sophomore War Pigs LP in honor of the track "Paranoid," once "Paranoid" became Sabbath's first (and only) top 20 hit. He's the multimillionaire who made his first suicide attempt at 14, "just to see what it would feel like." He's the super-indulgent rock star who claims to have spent two years dropping acid every single day with Sabbath drummer Bill Wood, and he's the unrepentant fool who bailed on Sabbath in 1978 because he was "very unhappy. I got very drunk and very stoned every single day." In 1981, at a Columbia Records meeting in Los Angeles, he bit the head off a live dove, just like anyone trying to make a good impression on his bosses. A few months later, when a fan at a Des Moines concert appearance tossed him a live bat (don't they check for those at the door?), he bit the head off that and endured a consequent series of rabies shots in the stomach. Stupidity. The idiot pissed on the Alamo, and you (you know who you are) will still buy a ticket to see him.
I saw the Ozz last time he was in Houston, during his "No More Tours" tour. Osbourne was already long over in my mind, but it's nice to go wave good-bye to old legends when they stumble off to die. And since, as a junior high schooler, I'd once spent a year playing inept air guitar along with Diary of a Madman in my bedroom, showing up seemed the thing to do. I still cringe when I remember the shock of seeing the Ozz standing there on that stage, prancing around like some Richard Simmons clone, elbows bent, wrists waving at ear level, dancing with his knees while macho legions -- bikers, stoners and wannabe Satanists of every stripe -- head-banged with their Bics.
It didn't make sense to me, and as I recall, the essence of the show was summed up out in The Summit's mezzanine, where a 20-foot-tall inflatable Ozz doll wobbled on its butt. It was a thing of questionable beauty, and I was walking around its periphery, marveling at its sheer cartoonishness, when I was provided one of those metaphorical epiphanies that occur, if you're a lucky music writer, once or twice in a lifetime: one of the Ozz doll's vinyl butt cheeks was plastered with heavy-duty silver electrical tape, presumably to keep all that hot, stale air from whizzing out of some hidden hole in the Madman's butt. If only his road crew had put the doll in storage and saved the tape for the Ozz himself.
But you don't get to be the undisputed king of heavy metal bombast by being a visionary. You get there by being one hell of a savvy marketer, and Osbourne is just that. Visit his web site (http://www.globalartists.com/monsters), which, according to the tracking magazine WEB 500, is one of the top three music-related sites on the Internet. Or witness his new release, Ozzmosis, a hollow, fantastic-sounding CD that preempts the inevitable backlash over the Ozz's recent ballad output with a nugget of thrashy opportunism titled "Perry Mason." It's one of his finest moments: a faux classical buildup that lasts to the very edge of dismissal before kicking in with a one-two gut punch of meat-hook guitar chords and a melody line tailor-made to bridge the radio gap between White Zombie and, well, Ozzy Osbourne. Zak Wylde's guitar squeals and wails and trembles in all the right air-guitar spots, and Ozzy's vocals are precisely what they've always been: silly, bombastic and instantly, nostalgically recognizable. It's just about the best thing on the radio right now, even though the song's subject is a dead giveaway that you're listening to an artist who's drawing his lyrical inspiration from too much late night TV.
The rest of the album retreads plenty of Ozzy's tried and true themes of schizophrenia, afterlife, fear, garden variety insanity and defensive self-aggrandizement. There's also a song about his son, but who wants to hear Ozzy singing about fatherhood? As it turns out, the same people who'll listen to Ozzy singing the phone book, if that's what it comes down to. Not because he's a visionary, or even terribly bright, but because he's a legend: the undisputed king of stupid.
Ozzy Osbourne performs at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, December 7, at The Summit. Tickets are $22.50 and $24.50. Korn and Life of Agony open. For info, call 629-3700.
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