By Rex Rutkoski
Ozzy Osbourne prefers to think of himself as a survivor rather than a pioneer.
”I’ve been a very fortunate and blessed man. I’ve touched a lot of people in the right places and the wrong places. But I certainly touched a few people,” he says, laughing. “I know what and who I am and what I want to choose to believe I am. I don’t try to be special.”
Even the hard rockin’ Briton’s rebirth of fame through MTV hasn’t changed that.
Whatever anyone wants to feel about him is his or her choice, Osbourne says. “Everybody has the right to do what they damn well please. I know what I’m about. Most times people get everything wrong anyway. By me verifying something, it can shatter somebody’s fantasy or dream.”
He’s had that happen to him, he admits. “I have admired people from a distance for a long time. Very often I’ve been so disappointed when I actually meet them. The fantasies built in my head about them were totally shattered.”
He wants to keep that fantasy, even if it means maintaining his distance at times from those he admires.
There have been times when Osbourne has grown weary of explaining himself. “You make up your own mind. I’m not in the game of explaining myself. Why should I have to?” he reasons.
That also applies to his lyrics. Osbourne says he makes a point of not trying to interpret his writing anymore for people. Misinterpretations of such songs as his “Suicide Solution” led him to that decision, he suggests.
“The song was not pro-suicide. It was about the dangers of drinking yourself to death on alcohol,” explains the artist who had to take on his own long battle with the demons of drink.
A song, like any form of expression, can have varied meanings to many different people and they all can be valid, Osbourne says. “You can listen to any one of my lyrics and conjure up what it means to you,” he says. “You can look at a painting and think it can be about whores. I can look at the same painting and get a different feeling. That goes for poetry, lyrics, songs, anything artistic. If it touches a nerve in your emotional circuit, then it’s OK.”
He admits he had two embarrassing encounters with misinterpreting the lyrics of others. Once he struck up a conversation with the late Frank Zappa about Zappa’s satirical “Moving To Montana.” “I told him I thought it was about cocaine dealing,” Osbourne recalls. “He said it was about a dental floss tycoon. I felt like a dick.”
Ozzy says he also was one of those listeners who fell into the Jimi Hendrix trap too. “I used to think he was singing ‘Excuse me while I kiss this guy’ instead of ‘Excuse me while I kiss the sky.’ “
That continues to happen with his lyrics and song titles, Osbourne says. “I’ve proven that time and again. Sometimes I haven’t got a title after I’ve written a song, so I’ll just think of letters. It might be the first letter of an object I see in the room. Later I’ll get these amazing letters from fans saying, ‘I know what those letters mean.’ “
Lyrically, Osbourne says he is drawn to the abstract, a Salvador Dali approach “where words mean something but don’t mean something.” “I like the early David Bowie stuff too,” he adds.
Songwriting is somewhat of a magical process, he suggests. “I believe people who write songs don’t write them. It’s somewhat like a conductor who is given these songs. You hear a song and say ‘No one can ever top that,’ yet someone always does,” he says. It also seems like everything that can be played has been, he adds, yet someone always finds a fresh approach.
Osbourne has always enjoyed trying those different approaches. “I could do another version of ‘Paranoid’ over and over again, but I like to try different areas. Black Sabbath was not always singing about black things. We also sang about environmental issues and things of our time. We were ahead of our time in a lot of respects.”
He invites anyone still tempted to try to censor his musical genre to first take a history lesson.
”If you start criticizing rock lyrics or want to start censoring rock’n’roll, you should go right back to Shakespeare,” he says. “What’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ about? Suicide. And you can go right across the board with (the subject matter of) operas, plays, painting, poetry.”
What about parents who are still afraid of rock’n’roll?
”Believe it or not, I don’t like watching horror films,” says this musician stereotyped as being enamored with dark themes. “The media causes more problems than fucking rock’n’roll, broadcasting and printing all this negative shit all the time.”
This parent says he has tried to have as much family life as he possibly can, considering the career he has chosen. “The benefits of my career and success have enabled me to give my wife and kids the best that money can buy. Reaching the younger generation through my music has led me to be still young at heart. I’ve been able to speak to my children on a one-on-one level. You’ve got to tell them the truth.”
Sometimes the kids become the teachers, he says. “When I say things to my son, I teach myself sometimes,” Osbourne explains. “When I tell him, ‘When you do a stupid thing, expect stupid results,’ I stop and think, ‘Shouldn’t I be saying that to myself?’ “
He has tried to be as honest as he can, he re-emphasizes. “They know I am an alcoholic. I told them the truth. Luckily I survived my years through sex, drugs and rock’n’roll to be able to tell my children the dangers.”
Osbourne says he knows that many parents may be shy about being candid with their children, “but you cannot afford not to be candid.” “This is an era of reality. I’m afraid we all have to wake up,” he adds.
In terms of music, Osbourne says he is not out to teach anyone else. “I do what I love to do. It’s just the luck of the draw for me. I don’t try to keep up with the Joneses. I just do my own thing.”
He believes his approach to his artistry has changed through the years. “That’s why I have lasted as long as I have. Otherwise I would be stuck in one bag you know.”
“Willpower and destiny,” he replies. “I’m still striving to better myself. I suppose the longevity I have had is worth its weight in gold. Imagine the things that have come and gone since I started in music (in the 1960s).”
Age remains relative in rock’n’roll, he suggests. “A good many of the people I went to school with are dead. If I’m still enjoying it and we aren’t playing to half-empty halls, then why shouldn’t I continue in rock? You shouldn’t stop because of age. Look at the Rolling Stones. Mick Jagger is one of the greatest front men of all time.”
As for his source of creativity, Osbourne says, “I don’t want to know.”
And his definition of success?
Osbourne: “I’m here!”