erasing clouds

Ozzy's Not the Antichrist

essay by matthew webber

Ozzy Osbourne, Down to Earth (Epic)

Thanks to MTV's inescapable reality series, The Osbournes, here's what America knows about Ozzy Osbourne: he curses profusely; his dogs crap all over his house; he walks as if he's had a stroke; he hates his neighbors and loves his wife; he embarrasses his kids; and to every newspaper, magazine or television news program that chronicled his show, he and his family are representative of all of us.

What America has forgotten is that he's the effing Prince of Darkness.

Also forgotten is that Ozzy released a new studio album last year, Down to Earth.

Ozzy will no doubt headline his annual Bacchus-fest this year in true Ozzy fashion: he'll slog through Black Sabbath hits like "Paranoid," "War Pigs," and "Iron Man," he'll splash the crowd with buckets of water, and heavy metal fans will cheer more for his presence - his Ozzy-ness - than for his deteriorating performances. They'll flicker their lighters during "Mama, I'm Coming Home" (written about his wife, Sharon, whom America now knows intimately). They'll give him the old two-fingered rock 'n' roll salute. Not only is he Satan, he's an MTV icon. So rock 'n' effing roll!

Have they listened to or will they care about the songs on Down to Earth? I'm guessing not, but I'm telling you they should. Remember: It was Ozzy's music - and more importantly, that hollow, ethereal voice - that first turned him into Ozzy. If this Prince's peccadilloes turned you into an Osbournes addict, than listen to this album and take notes as you do.

His songs are more personal, revealing, and honest than they've ever been. The truths they reveal are Ozzy's own, not those of a cameraman or an editor. His lyrics are poems that deconstruct themselves, as well as Ozzy's past and his Mephistophelean celebrity.

They're attempts at redemption, apologies, penances. They're renounces of everything Ozzy used to stand for. They're as gripping as his show, and often, they're better. They're heavy and metallic and beautiful and sad.

They're essential listens for anyone who's followed Ozzy - because they sound like the last words he might ever sing.

Admittedly, most syllables that ever gurgled their way out of Ozzy's mouth sounded final. His self-destructive addictions were documented long before MTV existed. But he used to sound so evil (if you couldn't hear his cries for help), and now he sounds repentant (but to me, he sounds the same). With these lyrics, you'd have to be Tipper Gore to misunderstand the melancholy.

The explosive "Get Me Through," the album's first single, leads off. In it, Ozzy salutes his fans who "get me through" this existence. Because it's so furious (Zakk Wylde, Ozzy's lead guitar player since the late-'80s, as usual plays each guitar string as if it will burn his finger), the by-now classic Ozzy thunder threatens to obliterate the real message of the song, which is the reason why Ozzy needs adulation in the first place: He's lonely. Like his Iron Man character, nobody understands him. But he's not a character in a song. He's a human being. He sings: "I'm not the kind of person you think I am/I'm not the Antichrist or the Iron Man." If you watched The Osbournes once you know this is true. He's an old man paying for the mistakes of his youth with a slow and flabby body and children who threaten to repeat his indiscretions. He could be your uncle; he could be your grandpa. He's hardly the image of a drug-consuming madman. As he dances along with the singing-and-dancing James Brown doll, he's scarcely a scary rock 'n' roller. He's actually kind of a goofball.

In the chorus, he confirms what an entire career of lyrics have suggested: "I dread the long and lonely nights"; those nights in between shows; those nights without Sharon, the woman he loves, the woman who saved him from himself; those nights where he's alone with the memories of dirty deeds, and worse yet, with deeds he can't even remember. The nights when he becomes the wretched, English youth with long hair, dyslexia, and a love of the Beatles he used to be. The nights when he might sleep the sleep without dreams, never again to wake up to applause. If you listen to his voice, it's impossible to ignore this. He's lonely, and mortal, and terrified of dying and maybe going to hell. His loved ones can love him for who he is; his fans can love him for who he really isn't. Both love him unconditionally (his fans can even be said to idolize him), and he's praying these loves can sustain him on the road.

Again: Ozzy is not the Antichrist. Really, he never was. Does anyone still doubt he's a normal human being? Sadly, and unfortunately for his sanity, his lyrics and persona have always been misunderstood and scapegoated. On the album's last track, "Can You Hear Them?," Ozzy sings of this: "The way the world perceives me, is not the way I am/The one half thinks I'm crazy, the other thinks I'm damned." He doesn't think he's either, but he's scared that he is both. If you were Ozzy, wouldn't you be? It's what he's been told his entire career. Although all he ever wanted was to make music and be loved, mostly what happened was he made music and was vilified for it. In the past, he was sued by the parents of a teenage boy who killed himself after listening to Ozzy's anti-suicide song, "Suicide Solution." And everyone knows he once bit the head off a bat. He's probably more famous for this than for his songs.

As Ozzy allows the idea of his death to concretize into a certainty, he's turning philosophical. As he tries to impart the wisdom he's only just learned to children who don't listen to him, he hopes his life can have some meaning. He hopes the world can be a happier, more peaceful place. You can guess this from watching The Osbournes and know this from listening to songs like "Dreamer," whose lyrics and melody sound increasingly like "Imagine" with every subsequent spin: "Gazing through the window at the world outside/Wondering will Mother Earth survive?/Hoping that mankind will stop abusing her/Sometime… I'm just a dreamer, who dreams of better days." Are these the thoughts of Satan?

Or what about these? From "You Know… (Part 1)": "Tried to be a father/Things just made it harder/Sorry if I made you cry." Above all, Ozzy wants to be forgiven, and the songs on Down to Earth are his first feeble steps in that direction.

Is it possible for Ozzy to be forgiven - by his family, his fans, and his critics? By God Himself? On another new single, "Running Out of Time," he raises some doubts and many more questions: "[I'm] Just another lonely broken hero picking up the pieces of my mind/Running out of faith and hope and reason/I'm running out of time." Time to record another album? Time to film a second season of The Osbournes? Time to headline Ozzfest next year? Time to live cleanly before he dies? Ozzy, of course, will die; biology, as always, is inevitable. Can his last years on earth be his first years in purgatory? How much time does he have left? Are his children doomed to follow in his dangerous footsteps?

Has Ozzy already damned himself?

His voice throughout is haunting. But then, I guess it's always been. Ozzy's always sung as if he's afraid of death. With his Dionysian past, and with America's Christian morality, he's added to this fear his sense that he should be terrified. If religion is correct, than Ozzy's voice is right. In the meantime, he tries to pick up the pieces. He searches for reason. He hopes. Maybe there's enough time for him to right his wrongs, but he's quickly losing faith. Maybe he never had it.

Does America know if Ozzy prays? Does anybody know if the Antichrist can be saved? Have we stopped laughing at Ozzy's antics long enough to listen to Down to Earth? Can this album (or any rock record) save any of us? Will he ever successfully housebreak his pets? Is it as sad to you as it is to me that it's the previous question that interests the most people? Are you, like me, hoping the second season of The Osbournes doesn't become a parody of the first?

Am I the only one who wishes these answers are yes?

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