My Love of Ozzy Osbourne 23.07.17
That's of, not for, in that the object of my passion is a band whose 1980s heavy rock I still feel something for. As for the man called Ozzy Osbourne who fronted and sang, and whose charisma and status gave the band its stardom, I have mixed feelings.
Why write about him, about them, the band? Perhaps simply, I've been listening so much to 1980s Ozzy Osbourne lately, their eerie glamour, their junk food for the soul. I've talked before about guilty pleasures. Here, heavy rock's most resonant reflection to Lady Gaga continues to endure, that combination of glamour and ecstatic melodies, those electric guitar solos by the forgotten genius of Jake E Lee (pictured). But I'm already getting ahead of myself. Forgive me for this week's posting, it really is about them, not me.
So, the personal story of a superstar: John 'Ozzy' Osbourne sang for one of rock n roll's all-time influential bands, Black Sabbath, from the late sixties to the end of the seventies. I will admit, I find Black Sabbath mostly turgid. They named themselves after a horror story and narrowed their art to a horror music, and it shows, a thematic cul-de-sac.
I'm already digressing into genre; rewind. Osbourne's personal life began to spiral as the seventies concluded; Black Sabbath became a parody of their former selves. Their what-could-have-been evolution would come to fruition over a decade later in the form of Chris Cornell and his band Soundgarden, and their peerless album Badmotorfinger. But this posting is not about them, and I am digressing again.
Osbourne circa 1979 was washed up, the drink and drugs and wild behaviour had turned him into a porcine figure of tight white satin and bad songs. Sacked by Black Sabbath, he exited Britain for California, his future wife and manager Sharon tasked with helping his reinvention. Already, I admit this drama of Ozzy's phoenix-like recreation is part of the appeal to me.
1980, and John 'Ozzy' Osbourne is now purely Ozzy Osbourne. His dark hair flecked anew with blond highlights, his glare turned into a contented smile. His new, eponymous band features a gifted young guitarist called Randy Rhoads, who cuts a gentle, feminine figure, his ability with the rock guitar the equal of contemporary Eddie Van Halen. Ozzy Osbourne, the drunk from Birmingham, becomes a glamorous American star in Californian sunshine and sell-out stadiums.
Stop. I know how I'm meant to feel at this point in the story, to sense the tragedy about to occur. 1982 and two albums in, with Ozzy's slightly higher-pitched, more likeable singing style matched by a more gloriously go-for-it music, young Randy Rhoads dies in a freak plane accident. It is the stuff of rock n roll legend, the brilliant prodigy who died before he got old. This is where I digress from the what-could-have-been.
Because Ozzy Osbourne hires the guitarist Jake Lee, he of mixed Welsh-Japanese descent, so beautiful back then to look at and listen to. I have been Youtubing Jake Lee for the best part of a month now, he strikes that much of a chord with me. His guitar playing is one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard, and I include the opening minutes of Wagner's Parsifal in that gushing tribute. Watch him play on Youtube, his song Killer of Giants, as he stands in a single shaft of light, the gentle, complex melodies emerging at his fingertips.
Jake Lee wrote the music for two of my favourite Ozzy albums, Bark at the Moon (1983) and The Ultimate Sin (1986). For the first of these, it seems Lee was forced to waive all rights or claims to having written the music. After the second, he got fired and would never be so famous again. But equally, Ozzy Osbourne would never be as good again.
Stop again. I was very young when all this happened. Years would pass before I began to hear of and listen to Ozzy Osbourne, before that day as an awkward, ungainly teenager when I watched a documentary, Dancing with the Devil. It informed me of heavy metal's alleged bad influence on young people, and how one particular teenage boy killed himself after listening to Ozzy Osbourne's Suicide Solution. Of course I bought the album, and after it, the other albums. For a teenager of unremitting ugliness and mediocrity, I spotted that allure like a sliver of another dimension opened up to me, Ozzy's world of cartoon monsters and orgasmic guitar solos the rabbit hole I yearned for.
It's strange how people change in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, but those moments of exposure to certain art in our youth stays with us. We all have our filters, why did 1980s Ozzy Osbourne and the guitar play of Jake Lee flow smoothly through mine? Artistically, they are the equivalent of McDonalds, or supposed to be. Perhaps it's the glam of the genre, men transformed in cascading blond highlights, tight leather and lots of eye-liner. Maybe it's Ozzy's glow of rebirth, and the twin tragedies of two talented guitarists, the one by death before his time, the other by a career cut short by a mean-spirited manager and a front man who never appreciated what they had. But electric guitar play can provide its own kind of ecstasy, it's not just about the history of this band. Finally, though, it's about the power of the past: we never get away from it, from what we were, those who portray trans people as having no past have no clue.
I always wondered when I was young, when I would stop wanting to become female, and when I'd stop finding value in the music that meant so much to me at the time. In some aspects of my identity I have matured, or at least altered my perspectives. But here I lie on my bed typing this, now as Gina Maya, and still listening to Ozzy Osbourne.