Q & A With Ozzy Osbourne
Two questions we had before interviewing Ozzy: What more is there left to learn about the man who has been in the (black) light for decades? And would we be able to understand him? Sure, he’s in magazines more often than Viagra ads are, and he’s had a Behind the Music special and an entire reality series devoted to his tumultuous life. His candid autobiography, I Am Ozzy, was on the New York Times bestseller list. A movie about his life is in the works. And by the time you read this, his tenth studio album, Scream, will be hitting retail and iTunes (it’s well worth a download, by the way).
But as Ozzy’s following lucid words prove, he’s still one of the most dynamic, frank, and fascinating personalities in rock. Long live the godfather of heavy metal.INKED: You’ve been performing and recording metal music for 42 years. How do you stay in touch with the angry young man inside?
OZZY OSBOURNE: You know what? I don’t know. There is a stigma attached to metal, and I’ve never been completely comfortable about the word metal because it has no musical connotations whatsoever. They think anybody with long hair and tattoos—bass player, guitar player, drummer and a singer—is heavy metal. The ’70s were heavy. The ’80s were heavy. Then in the ’90s and the new millennium, on Ozzfest, it was just these growling people. I can appreciate it, but I don’t understand what happened to melody.
Nu metal left a lot of people cold for that reason. But they like it, you know. Nu metal is very, very aggressive. I said to my father many years ago, when he was alive, there was this new band, the Beatles. He said to me, “They’ll never do nothing. They’ve got no melodies.” And here’s me at the age of 61 saying exactly what my father used to say. But the whole industry has changed. I was quite shocked to find out that new bands that get signed to record companies now have to pay a certain amount of their concessions, publishing, and gig money. It’s fucking crazy.
How have you changed?
I don’t drink anymore or smoke anymore or do drugs anymore—apart from the ones that I need now, not the ones that I wanted to try.
You’re going to be doing dates with Mötley Crüe on Ozzfest this summer. The last time you toured together was in 1984. You guys partied like hell back in the day. What’s it going to be like now?
You know what? Now I just go and do my show. In the old days, when we came off stage, I went to the bus to get more drugs and alcohol inside me. I don’t even know whether they still do that. If they want to do that, fine. I don’t have a problem with that—I’m not one of these holier-than-thou guys. Believe me, if I knew I could have a good time with it I’d do it again. I’m not turning nerdy. I just never gave sobriety a chance before, really.
You have surrounded yourself with young musicians throughout the course of your career. Your new guitarist, Gus G, from Firewind, is half your age. Is it both invigorating and intimidating to have this younger talent around you, like Rick Wakeman’s son, Adam, on keyboards?
It’s not an age thing, but I don’t want a band of beer-bellied, balding guys with bandannas tied around their heads thinking they are still 25. I work out. I try to watch what I eat. My responsibility is to look as good as I can for the audience. Every day I work out for about half an hour, just to keep myself going. I’m addicted to that now.
What do you like about Gus G?
He’s a very fluent player. He can play in any style. I just hope the fans out there will give him a fair crack. He’s got big shoes to fill.
You’ve always found unknown talent, from Randy Rhoads to Jake E. Lee to Zakk Wylde, and brought them to the masses.
Following Zakk is going to be a very hard job because he was with me the longest and did the most albums with me. I don’t want people to think that we fell out. We never fell out. He was helping me out, and eventually I wanted to find a guitar player, but I was procrastinating. Zakk was doing his stuff and doing my stuff, and in the end I didn’t think it was fair to him, you know. He’s doing great on his own, and I know he’ll be around forever. He’s a great rocker and great guitar player. He’s one of the best.
Let’s talk a little bit about your tattoos. Which was the first one that you got?
The first one I got was the dagger on my left arm. You can’t really make it out, but it does say Ozzy across this dagger. I don’t understand why, when I got tattoos all those years ago, everybody had daggers. I don’t see what the fucking point was now, but back then you would go for a dagger on the arm.
But now it’s an art form. I’ve seen some incredible stuff. There’s one guy I saw in a magazine who could do any of the masters. I say this to my kids: If you have a tattoo, it’s not for the week, it’s for the rest of your fucking life, so just think about what you’re going to have on. I was doing a radio interview with Nikki Sixx, and he had this girl with him. I told him that to get laser surgery to remove your tattoos would leave a terrible scar. She said she had had one removed, and you could not tell. My son has them all over the fucking place. He makes me look like a beginner. He’s tattooed all over his body. I see these chicks with tattoos. I’ll assume they’re feminine, and they’ll have a fucking battle scene on their ass.
Do you remember when you got your first tattoo?
When I was 15, I think.
When was the last time you got inked?
In New York, about eight years ago. I decided to have a sleeve [on my right arm], but I wasn’t under the influence of any drugs or alcohol. And it’s a different vibe, man. When they started to do my arm and get down to my fucking elbow, I said, “You know what? I’ve changed my mind.” I stopped. This chick in New York came to my hotel and did it. It’s like a semi-sleeve now. It goes up the front of my arm, but it doesn’t have anything underneath. I’ve got to get it finished up one day, but it fucking hurts when you don’t have anything to take the pain away.
You have a lot of stuff on your right arm.
Yeah, but I covered a lot of it up with this semi-sleeve. I’m talking to you like a sensible man. My son at that time was crazy about the film Aliens, so I had an alien arm made. He looks at me now and goes, “Huh.” [Laughs.] But you know what? It’s a part of me. I’m not as covered as a lot of people. They don’t just get a bird or a dagger. They have whole biomechanical arms and things.
Is it true that you did the Ozzy tattoos on your knuckles yourself?
Yeah, yeah. When I was about 16. I was sober.
Was it painful?
No, no. On certain parts of my body—like my elbow on my right arm when I was doing the sleeve thing—I was in fucking agony.
So it’s much easier when you’re drunk?
When you have a bag of white powder in your pocket as well. Or some Vicodin.
Do you think some people like getting inked up because of the endorphin rush?
That’s bullshit. It’s called pain. I don’t really like pain. Pain and me don’t get on. I can take it because I’m macho, but when it gets to a part of my body where it really hurts, I’m like, Fuckin’ hell! There are a lot of guys who put the numbing shit on their arms, which is okay, I suppose. But in the old, old days you weren’t allowed to do that. If you had alcohol or drugs in you, they would say no way, come back.
You have a rose tattoo with Sharon’s name underneath it.
And I have the Grim Reaper on one side [of my chest], and a chest monster on the other, which I have to get touched up because the color is fading somewhat now. I don’t know why that is. It’s the Chinese baby-stealing monster. I wanted to do something different. You go to these tattoo parlors, and they ask what you want to pick out, but I wanted something original. So I looked through a magazine and saw this monster and asked if they could do that.
What is the most personally significant tattoo for you?
I think all my tattoos to some degree are personal. The one with Sharon certainly is. But I think the blue monster is pretty cool also. Fans that come to my shows sometimes have tattoos of me on them. That’s what you call dedication. Some of them are fucking great, you know.
After all that has been revealed about you, do you think that there is anything that your fans might be surprised to learn about you?
No. I’m still Ozzy. I’m still crazy. I want to try to be around longer than I would’ve been if I carried on doing what I was doing. Eventually your luck runs out, I suppose.
If Ozzy now could speak to Ozzy from 35 years ago, what would he say to him?
I wouldn’t have been speaking to Ozzy from 35 years ago because he would’ve been fucked up and not having this conversation. I never wanted to take the character of Ozzy off the stage, but it happened. When you talk about Mötley Crüe, people ask me all the time if I really snorted the line of ants. It’s very possible. It probably is true. But I cannot remember it.
Despite the crazy train that is the music biz, you’ve always managed to sell well and move a lot of concert tickets.
I don’t really want to know, the fucking truth is, but when fashion dies a lot of people die with it. I was never really that commercial. I had a few singles and videos, which were a pain in the butt to do. Oh, the fucking videos, I’m glad that ended. I hated making the fucking things. I look like a raving homo in some of them.
Do you think that part of your appeal is the fact that you’re a working-class hero to a lot of people?
I’ve never had this attitude. I’m not a guy who gets a hit record and [wants to] get people away from me. The only place I really don’t want people to come up to me and ask me things—and I wouldn’t do this myself—is when my wife and I are eating in a restaurant. I would never, ever do that—I don’t care who the fuck it was. I would never say to Paul McCartney that I love the Beatles [while he’s eating]. I just would not do that. But some people do. But also, a lot of people know me that didn’t know that much about my music because of the TV show.
Does it bother you when people come up and ask you for an autograph?
Sharon goes to me, “Sign the fucking autograph because you might have a day where they don’t ask you for your autograph, and then you’ve got a problem.” I don’t mind, but don’t make a big issue out of it. The biggest pain in the ass is phone cameras.
Do you ever actually see yourself retiring?
How can I retire from what I do? I’m the luckiest man in the fucking world. I have voice problems when I’m on the road from screaming every night. I’m not Pavarotti by any means. But if I was, he used to do one show every six months or so. The Beatles started me going in the first place, and I’ve seen Paul McCartney a bunch of times. He is in his late 60s and does a three-hour show, but he doesn’t scream at the audience like I do.
Your image has changed quite a bit over the last three decades. You used to be considered menacing and scary because of your outrageous behavior, and now thanks to The Osbournes, many parents have been charmed by you. Do you worry about having this family-friendly image now?
To be absolutely, perfectly truthful with you, I never watched the show. I’m not really big on being on television because my music is what I’m about. People would stop me on tour and ask what I’m doing now, and I would say I was doing a show. “A show? What kind of show?” “A rock ‘n’ roll show.” “Oh, you do that as well.” That was a really weird thing to get my head around for a while.
Do you think people’s perception of you has shifted dramatically?
I suppose there are people who imagine me going to my Bavarian castle and hanging upside down from the fucking rafters every night. I’m just a guy, man. I’m just a crazy guy who started a merry-go-round ride many years ago, and I’m still here. I haven’t tried to analyze things.
Do you think the old concept of the rock star is gone, at least as far as the lifestyle?
I don’t really know. I don’t really know what goes on. When we used to do dope and drugs when we were younger, it was taboo. But my son said you can do cocaine openly now. Back in the day when we used to do all that shit, we had to go to a friend who had a friend who had a friend who had a friend and would wait for a day. Today you can go down the block and come out with some crack or methamphetamines.
As a father, does it worry you that your kids’ generation has easier access to things like that?
One of the downsides of The Osbournes reality show was that my kids, at a very early age, started getting involved in drugs and alcohol. My son has had more clean time than I’ve had, and my daughter’s doing really well. Unfortunately it’s what goes on now. People don’t think it’s as dangerous anymore. It still is dangerous, but people expect it more now.
The modern rock and pop star images are so prefabricated now, like what we see on American Idol.
I cannot watch that shit. I cannot do it for the simple fact that for a person to come out of the working-class thing, pass the audition, go on the show and then have a panel of people tell them how fucked up they are … I’m a 42-year veteran, and I could not fucking do it. My hat goes off to all of those kids on those shows.
The whole “rock star” trip today seems like bullshit.
You can read a book on how to be a rock ‘n’ roll star. Or see a DVD on it. Now they’ve got the legal thing going before they get into the fucking studio. When we started with Sabbath, we had the desire to be a hit band before we knew what the fuck we were doing. We wanted to make money, but we got ripped off by managers and agents and everybody else. I said to Bill Ward recently that we may have gotten ripped off, but our lifestyle has definitely had a change for the better. We got out of the working-class environment. I went back to my old house, and it’s fucking strange, man.
The house where you grew up in England?
It’s very haunting when you go in there. It’s changed a lot, but it’s so fucking tiny.
Who’s living there now? Asian people.
Are you taking medication right now for Parkin syndrome?
I have a tremor. I was going around for fucking ages trying to find out what it was, and it was costing me a fucking fortune to get all these tests done. One doctor said I had MS, one doctor said I had Parkinson’s, but it turned out that it’s a genetic thing from my mother and father. I developed this Parkinson’s tremor. It’s not going to kill me, but I have to take a couple of pills every day.
Isn’t it ironic that it actually wasn’t the drugs and alcohol that sparked it?
That’s the first fucking thing I said to the doctor. He said it didn’t help, but it didn’t cause it.