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Ozzy & Sharon Osbourne

interview by Joy Williams
published in
Novaya Yezhednevnaya Gazeta, Moscow, Russia & Rock Hard, Germany
cover photo © Mark Leialoha/Artist Publications

Ozzy Osbourne/Rock Hard Mag c Mark Leialoha

“I really don't understand why people have a negative image of me. Part of me is happy, because rock'n'roll is a sensationalist business. If you haven't got controversy, you haven't really got rock'n'roll, you've got fucking Phil Collins.”

This interview was conducted in 1991, as Ozzy was in the studio in LA with producers John Purdell and Duane Baron (Motley Crue, L.A. Guns). After 18 months of work (including writing and pre-production), he'd completed 13 tracks as we go to press, including "Mr. Tinker Train," "I Don't Want To Change The World" and a song called "Don't Blame Me," which addresses some of the allegations and legal threats his music has inspired. Ozzy hasn't chosen an album title yet but says, "I don't want to call it Return Of The Madman or Black Death or anything like that. That's all gotten kinda boring to me."

Managed by his wife (Sharon, whose father managed Black Sabbath), Ozzy has come to a point in his life where he can look back and reflect on himself and his business. What is important to him is family and being an artist and—still—new and unusual experiences.

When I interviewed Ozzy and Sharon in their management office in Beverly Hills, he was dressed all in black—sort of Goth. Black robes, a cross and a hat with a Russian pin, which he told me he "always" wears. He was quiet, subdued, and nothing at all like the wild madman of legend. Rather, he was very easy to talk to, very warm and open. And the conversation is rather stream of consciousness, covering ultimately the life of one enormously influential, humble and self-confessed insecure man who happens also to be OZZY OSBOURNE, legend.

Sharon was, during this interview and all other dealings I had with her, professional, warm and open, as well. Also very quiet, very soft-spoken, gentle and terribly polite (well, except for the use of certain words, but in the music business, who thinks about that for 2 seconds?) It's hard to see right off how she could handle Ozzy and his career, but then some of the strongest people have the quietest demeanor.

Tearsheet from Rock Hard (Germany); photo c Mark Leialoha/Artist Publications

Ozzy Osbourne in Rock Hard (Germany)
photo © Mark Leialoha/Artist Publications

Certainly, judging by what came down over the negotiations for the Moscow Music Peace Festival, Sharon is no pushover. The trip was "difficult for Ozzy," Sharon says now, "because we were promised a certain place on the bill, and when we got there, of course, it wasn't that way. And it was very bad for Ozzy because we'd pulled out a week before. We knew we weren't going a week before because what had been promised to us we found out wasn't reality. People who were setting up the show in Moscow were calling us and saying this isn't what we'd been promised, and this and this and this is what has been going down.

So I called Doc McGhee and said, "Doc, it's nothing to us. We really wanted to go to Russia, but this is your trip. This is the Doc McGhee show. So, we're bailing out. God bless, we love you, bye!" And he literally begged us to come, and he said he would give Ozzy the original spot that he'd been promised.

The night before [it was time to leave] we said, "OK, we'll go." We pulled everybody into place and within 10 hours we were there at the airport. And of course when we got to Russia he hadn't changed anything. Then, Ozzy said he wasn't going on, again, and it was only because of the crowd and the way the people were that Ozzy said, "OK, I'll do it, because I can't disappoint everybody." So he went on stage and did his show.

But for us it was very humiliating because basically we were lied to to get there. And we didn't realize how big Ozzy was in Russia. We had no idea how big he was! Doc knew how big Ozzy was in Russia—you see, he'd had several trips over there. He did turn around and say to us, "I knew all along how big Ozzy was there...." Which we all laugh about now, but it wasn't as fun as it could've been because it was on/off, on/off all the way, it was like two weeks of sheer hell.

OZZY: When I went to Russia I had no idea, no information at all that the Russian people had even heard of me. So when I saw all these banners in the audience I thought, "This is a joke. This is a dream," you know? But the reception I got was amazing. One of the observers was telling me that they have a black market [in bootleg tapes], which is not surprising, really. I mean, you can't keep a population down. I'm planning, when I go out on the road, to go to Moscow or Leningrad [St Petersburg] because in Russia there are a lot of things that are astounding, not just in music but in everything. The privilege of being involved with rock'n'roll music is that it is international. And to see people with such excitement—it's great.

Q: Did you find that, being a Westerner, you were treated as very special?

Ozzy Osbourne c Pat Enyart/Artist Publications

Ozzy Osbourne
photo © Pat Enyart/Artist Publications

OZZY: Not so much special, but sometimes I felt as if I were a Martian who had just landed in Central Park. They [Russians] were different, you could know someone was Russian just by the way he looked, the way he acted, the way he walked. The older people especially would stop and stare. It was a great experience. I'm real emotional about Russia. It seems like they have such potential. [Going to Russia] was one of the things I'd wanted to do in my life, I suppose because it's one of the places I thought I'd never get to see. It was like an expedition for me, uncharted ground.

SHARON: It was interesting for me because I'm not at all political. Don't know a thing about it. Don't try to. It's just that you don't realize how spoiled you are until you go to some place like that. You just don't realize....

Q: We had this vision of the Soviet Union as a great world power, second only to the United States, but it's really not that way at all, it's really poor by our standards.

SHARON: It was just little things, like if you wore perfume. It's like, there are certain shops that have everything for the tourists, but not for the Russians. I would think it would be so frustrating for kids. And you know what was so hysterical? When we were over there with Doc we all went over to the Ministry of... I don't know what, Culture I think, to a press conference. We went straight in the back door into their private offices and were given tea and whatever. And Doc had his briefcase stolen! (laughs) Now that, to me, just put it right in place. You would think everything would be so safe. I cracked up, it was the funniest thing.

But, in general, everyone was so nice and courteous over there. When we were coming home, we got a call from Varick Airlines and they said that the head of Varick was coming in. He was only going to be there for one day and they asked him what he wanted to do—and he wanted to meet Ozzy Osbourne. Would we please take out half an hour of our day and come over and meet him? And we did, we went over and met him in the offices at Varick. And he was very, very nice and he said to us, "Anytime you want to come to Russia, just call and I'll send airplane for you. Just for you. You can fill the plane full of your own family and guests and whoever you want. You come to Russia and you'll never pay an airline ticket and I'll take you everywhere." And I know that it wasn't the typical English or American bullshit. It wasn't bullshit; they don't bullshit. We were touched by the way everybody was.

Q: Things have changed so much. Five years ago you could be arrested for playing or sponsoring or even listening to rock'n'roll. Now, the KGB and the Young Communist League sponsor rock shows on the radio—and thrash festivals and concerts. On the other hand, the business is very different over there. Here, a manager works with or for an artist on a percentage basis, and the artist has copyright rights and gets paid royalties. The more records he sells, the bigger his audience at shows, the more money he makes. There, the manager essentially owns the artist; the artist is merely an employee of the "musical center," and gets paid a salary, which remains the same regardless of how many records are sold or people come to the concert.

SHARON: It's like the old form of management! Joy, my father was one of the main fucking culprits from the '50s on. He'd get these people and turn them into stars, but then everything went to him. He would put them in a house and give them a car, he would give them money for clothes and whatever, but then nothing more. They basically worked for him.

Q: So, why are you not the same?

Ozzy Osbourne c Jay Janini/Artist Publications

Ozzy Osbourne
photo © Jay Janini/Artist Publications

SHARON: Because I learned everything from him, and I saw what it did. It doesn't work. Because every artist he ever, ever managed left him—from Gene Vincent onwards. It doesn't work! I mean, I lived through it as a child, I saw.... I can remember the arguments with Gene Vincent. But, you can't get away with that shit anymore, you just can't. It works to the point that you will find that one vulnerable kid that's talented, and you can get them for a while, two to three years, but after that they're gone. They wise up real quick.

Q: The only reason they can still control artists the way they do in Russia is because the artists for the most part can't figure out where else to go, how to make it on their own—hardly surprising, given the way things have been so controlled all their lives. So, in general and with a few exceptions, they do what they're told. And historically, in Russia to defy what you're told to do has disastrous consequences.

OZZY: [At the Peace Festival in Moscow] there was a girl in the audience that wouldn't do what the soldiers had told her to do. Apparently, they went backstage and beat her up. But, you get violence everywhere you go. I go crazy at a concert when I see people being beaten. I don't like this mentality that if you're a big, six-foot fucker you gotta break somebody's head. That's not security, that's some fuckin' moron, if you ask me. If a guy gets a broken nose and has to go to the hospital, I get the blame. But it's not what I want, it's not what I represent.

Q: But to many people, you personify violence and evil and....

OZZY: I write a couple of songs about black magic and witchcraft and right away I'm a Satanist!

Q: You know, it's interesting that it only works that way for rock musicians. When somebody makes a movie about these things, the director isn't thought of as a Satanist. Why the difference?

OZZY: I went to see that movie Total Recall, and I couldn't believe it—every scene 20 people got shot, with fucking arms ripped out of the socket and the like. At the end of the movie I was thinking, "What a load of shit!" People line up at the movies now to see the most grotesque things. What the fuck is that all about?

I really don't understand why people have a negative image of me. Part of me is happy, because rock'n'roll is a sensationalist business. If you haven't got controversy, you haven't really got rock'n'roll, you've got fucking Phil Collins. But if everybody is the same, what's the point in going to see them? One major word in show business is "variety." You've gotta have variety. Variety is everything. Variety is the spice of life. If we all walked around in black suits all day and were all the same, there would be nothing to create humor for us. You wouldn't see someone do something off the wall.

Q: But in truth, some people will always be different, no matter how restrictive the government gets.

OZZY: I suppose that's because you can't imprison a nation forever. Eventually, they're going to get pissed off. You'll never have a mass of people where everyone's thinking the same thought at the same time. You can pretend, and go along with the crowd, but out of 50,000 people you're going to get a handful that say, "This is bullshit. I want to go this way." We're not lemmings, otherwise you might as well jump off that cliff.

Q: And yet, as an entertainer, one of the things you do is to get people to follow you.

OZZY: But in a positive way. There are no political overtones, it's just fun all around. I don't like uniforms, I don't like fucking orders. I won't go out of my way not to conform, but I don't like rules and regulations. It's stupid, because there are rules you have to abide by, there are natural rules, but I don't like stupid, fucking rules. The reason I originally got involved with music was because I didn't want to go to work every day from 9:00 to 5:00 and die working on some machine out in some fucking factory. I couldn't conform to a regular job. When I was in school I must've had thousands of jobs because as soon as I wanted to got to a concert or something I'd walk off the job and tell the boss to go fuck himself. I could never do it.

If someone (the army) said to me, "We want your son to fight," I'd tell him to go jump off a fucking cliff. I won't have it. I think it's the most barbaric thing in the world. But it scares the heck out of me. That's one of the biggest fears in this world, is fucking global war. Nobody will win. War doesn't achieve anything. My opinion is, if one gun is fired in anger, it's wrong no matter who's right or wrong. But, unfortunately, as a last resort you will always have war of some form. It's a necessity.

Moscow Music Peace Festival 1989

Moscow Music Peace Festival
Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow
12 and 13 of August 1989

Q: That's one thing I like about rock'n'roll, you can be rebellious but it doesn't really hurt anybody.

OZZY: For a while in England a few political parties used a rock'n'roll stage as a political theater, singing political messages. And that gets me pissed off because whatever I sing about, if I feel political or whatever, it's how I feel. I don't go up there as the front man for the fucking Liberal Party or the fucking Nazi Party or whatever. That is not what I'm about. I am one individual putting out what one individual's thoughts and ideas are. I hate it when they mix high-level politics with entertainment. Next, we'll have the prime minister of England singing heavy metal music!

Q: But, when you started out didn't you love music too? It wasn't just something to run away to, was it?

OZZY: No. I was a kid when The Beatles came out and I was just totally fucking blown away. The Beatles were fucking magical.

Q: I've heard that from so many musicians, but I never expected Ozzy Osbourne to tell me that the reason he's in music is because of The Beatles!

OZZY: One thing about the Beatles: Even now, they're timeless records. You can put Sgt. Pepper on, "A Day in the Life", it's fuckin' brilliant. It takes you on a journey. "Strawberry Fields Forever" is just fucking magic. To this day, I've spent hours trying to figure out how they got those sounds and how they got this to intertwine with that, and I can't work it out. I went to see McCartney last year at the L.A. Forum—I never got to see The Beatles, though; tickets were always sold out like 10 minutes after going on sale—and he was playing Beatles classics, and I was just melting in the audience.

The Beatles had such an effect on my whole life, my whole structure, my whole being. My room was littered with Beatles stuff; I'd go 20 miles to get a poster of the Beatles. One thing I learned is that if you've got a good melody, you've got a good song. There are so many bands out there that try to impress other bands with their musical ability, which I respect, but the Beatles had only three chords—but they were such top-line melodies. I mean, Lennon and McCartney were just, for me, the perfect combination. They were sweet and sour. How can you fucking top the Beatles?

Q: Hmmm, I would have assumed that you would go more for the Stones, since they were the bad, rebellious boys of rock then.

OZZY: There's no front man that's ever going to top Mick Jagger. They've all tried. Mick Jagger was a close second for me. The Beatles were extremely rebellious, but they were a band accepted by the yuppie section as well. Everybody loved the Beatles, from nine to ninety-nine. After the "Love Me Do" period, when they went into flower power, that was their rebellious thing. You know, "Picture yourself on a boat in a river...." When you hear that song it takes me on a journey. It's like a fantasy land.

Q: So why did you wind up doing such dark, heavy music?

OZZY: Black Sabbath wasn't all black, it wasn't all black magic. There were a lot of environmental issues that we were talking about years ago. (Geezer) Butler wrote some pretty interesting stuff, lyrically. We were always trying to do something different. We didn't want to do the "boy meets girl" stuff; I think we may have done one kind-of love song the whole time we were together. We sang about all kinds of things—fiction, political, environmental, occult, every which way you can imagine—but because of the name Black Sabbath and because of the image we created, people never thought....

I just read in a review, "Ozzy Osbourne has never had a ballad." Bullshit. For 20 years I've been singing ballads. I've done ballads on quite a few albums, you know, and they've never picked up on it. I like '70s music. Music in the '70s was much more musical than before. The techniques for recording were wild. In the '70s there was a variety of music. Music wasn't categorized. [Now], it's fucking ridiculous because you're stuck in one bag. In the '70s you identified yourself as an individual, rather than having a thousand bands like this and a thousand bands like Ozzy Osbourne and a thousand bands like whatever. It was individuality. I did a bill with the Eagles, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Black Sabbath. I've played lots of bills with Jethro Tull.

I smile when I'm on stage; I'm having a good time, you know? When it's not working, I get pissed off, but when it's working I get this feeling.... It's like everyone is part of my band and we're all having this great big party. There's nothing to beat this type of feeling. When I get that vibe, that magic that comes out of me on stage, there's not a woman, there's not a drug, there's nothing in this world that can compare to it. It's like, the fucking thrill of the audience is better than ecstasy. Believe me, if you could sit down and mathematically figure it out, everyone would be a rock star.

Q: Nobody can figure it out. That's why it's called magic.

Randy Rhoads/Ozzy Osbourne c Jay Janini/Artist Publications

Randy Rhoads/Ozzy Osbourne
photo © Jay Janini/Artist Publications

OZZY: And it is, in a way, magic. It's a miracle. When you've got the crowd in your hands, believe me, it's beyond any thought you could ever imagine. And when it goes the other way, it's beyond any bad feeling. And when I can't make it work for one reason or another I become extremely miserable. There are people that have got this power and people that haven't. I like people working for me that I don't know how they can play what they do, because I haven't got an ounce of fucking rhythm. I saw Aerosmith and Motley Crue, and they've got this magic.

But what often happens to people is that ego gets in the way, their ego starts telling them what they should be doing. And if you start listening to your ego, it's out the window because you lose the natural feeling. I've been doing this for 24 years and I still get the horrible feeling that it's going to be a failure. I still get stage fright. I'm fucking terrible to be around until the show. When I played at Long Beach recently, I was screaming on the phone, "It's going to be a total disaster. I haven't done a gig since Russia. I'm gonna go to a doctor, my throat doesn't feel good...." That's the way I am. I'm a fucking brat before I go on stage. Then suddenly I'm on stage and I'm all better. But, if I didn't do that, I wouldn't have this thrust inside of me. I admire people who can go play in a tennis championship. Imagine the stress! It's one against one. I'm panic stricken for the first song; it takes me a song and a half just to settle.

Q: So how did you feel before you went to Russia?

OZZY: The thing that crossed my mind when I went into Russia was, "They've never heard of me before, so if I play like crap they're not going to know the difference." There was no information coming out of Russia. Well, I knew Paul McCartney was big over there, his album was big over there, but I had no fucking idea that I was. I thought nobody in Russia had ever heard of us. But when I got on stage and I saw all the fucking banners, it was like, "Wow!" It was 19,600 people with thousands of banners. A fucking thousand banners with my name! It was incredible. I'll never forget that as long as I live. And another thing, the audience reaction was really weird. I thought Cinderella played excellently; if I was asked who had the best music of the day, I would say it was Cinderella, but the audience didn't react to them because they didn't know them.

Q: There's a reason Ozzy has been around 24 years. And you've had a great deal of influence on rock'n'roll.

Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath
(l-r) Geezer Butler, Ozzy Osbourne,
Tony Iommi & Bill Ward

OZZY: With Black Sabbath, I had no fucking idea that we had impressed anybody. We never did any radio, we never did any press, we never did any tricks. It's now 11 years since my split from Black Sabbath and I've just begun to realize.... Because when you're involved with it you haven't got the time for a second thought. You just do it. I've always been a self-critical person. I suppose that's what's kept me striving in a lot of ways because I always want to try and better myself.

Q: A rock star is still a human being.

OZZY: Yeah, I have things I like, I get sick, I get happy, I get sad. I'm very sentimental. I've gotta have my own way. I'm not a pleasant person to live with. I'm kinda growing up.... You know, the fact that rock'n'roll is show business means it goes up and down all the time. So, after 22 years of that, you kinda get spaced out. You know, like, "Why didn't my record sell millions of albums?" Or, "Why is my record #1?" And I expect rightness from myself all the time. But if I don't get rightness, it's not my fault. I never want to blame myself. You're perfectly secure as long as you're still making records, and I'll be honest with you, they're not all great. You can sit in the fucking room thinking whatever you want, but as far as the music goes, every one of us makes a good record and a bad record. How can any one man write so many fucking hit songs? I mean, dig the number one songs on this album. You get one hit song and you decide to write another one. You figure if you change it a little bit here and there, that's completely understandable, but to go from one song to a completely different song and still have another hit is beyond my understanding.

Q: Is it hard for you to write?

OZZY: There's no time span for writing. You can't say, "Come around this weekend, I'm going to write an album." It can be in the recording studio, it can be in the rehearsal studio, it can by lying in bed, it can be on the bus. So, you know, ideas come from wherever. Later, I'll put one of my records on and ask myself, "Where was my head at when I came up with that idea?" When we did the first two solo albums, we did them back-to-back. This latest one I'm doing now is taking 18 months. I'm just now in the studio, after 18 months!

You've got a desire to write songs. It's not enough. It's not enough. Every record I've ever made I've got something I've gotta write; I want to lock myself in the room with a bottle of vodka. I go crazy, you know. It's not so bad on me, but what I've put my wife through is unbelievable. "You bitch," and I moan all night. I don't understand why I feel this way. I don't like how I feel, so I have to find something to justify why I'm feeling that way. Most of the time, the closest things are my bottles. I've gotta calm down. It's not my wife's fault that I can't cope with the fucking sun. It's not my wife's fault that I'm losing confidence in myself in this period, because it's tough, you know. It's not my wife's fault it didn't sell, or it did sell, or whatever.... She's my manager and my wife.

I'm thinking, as time goes on as I'm going through this phase, "It's gotta be good, it hasn't gotta be fucking incredible. Is it incredible? Have I got an incredible album?" And I'm thinking, "Maybe not, maybe so." But now I'm thinking, "You've got no excuse, you've gotta come up with a fucking dynamite album!" I'm constantly walking around tearing my album apart and I haven't even recorded it yet.

Q: It's easier when you're just beginning. You can just go in and do it.

OZZY: That's the best, when you go in there innocent and you just hope it's a hit. For example, I remember doing this interview with a guy from San Francisco; he was a real Metallica fan and he said they just go into the studio and play and it's done real fast. And I said, "Just wait until they've been at it for awhile." My first album took 12 hours to make. I wish I could do a fucking album now in 12 hours! With success, you have to try different machines and try stereophonic things and the like.

Q: Why do you have to?

OZZY: Because it's there for you to use. It makes you feel good. You gotta put your finger in the pie. You gotta taste different things. It's like a kid in a candy shop. Just because it's there.

Interview with Ozzy next


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