To suggest that Ozzy Osbourne has led an “ordinary” life is one of the most patently ludicrous statements ever made. More than five decades since Black Sabbath’s debut, Osbourne is considered a heavy metal god. He is one of the very few celebrities who is immediately recognizable by first name alone, and his exploits, both on stage and off, are legendary. From micturating upon The Alamo to biting the heads off of various winged creatures, there is no way to separate fact from fiction when it comes to the singer. How much of what we’ve heard about The Prince of Darkness really happened?
“There are so many good stories,” Osbourne laughs. “They’re all true. I’m not proud of it, but I’ve done some fucking stupid crazy things. But I can’t complain, I’m 71 and about to have a No. 1 album, you know?”
That, in and of itself, is far from ordinary. Many of Osbourne’s contemporaries retired from the music business a long time ago. Of those still carrying on, many are simply touring on the strength of their hits from a couple of decades ago. There are practically zero septuagenarian rockers jumping into the studio, with the exception of Osbourne, that is.
It had been almost a decade since Osbourne recorded an album, leaving many fans to believe that he was easing into retirement like so many of his peers. Then a chance encounter with a friend of his daughter Kelly got the ball rolling.
“My daughter said to me, ‘Would you think about doing anything with Post Malone?’” Osbourne says. “I said, ‘Who is Post Malone?’ Then I met him and we did the thing, and it was great.”
The unlikely duo recorded a pair of songs together, “It’s a Raid” and “Take What You Want,” the latter song also featuring Travis Scott. Recording the two songs lit a fire under the ass of Osbourne. It wasn’t long before he had an album’s worth of lyrics ready to go.
This burst of creativity couldn’t have come at a better time for Osbourne. As he struggled to deal with the physical effects of both Parkinson’s disease and the consequences of a nasty fall that further injured his neck and back, Osbourne was also grappling with his own mind. “I was feeling really dull after the accident,” Osbourne says. “I was down in the dumps, I haven’t been able to walk properly for a year. But recording the album really brought me back to life.”
That life, that vitality, can be heard right from the beginning of “Straight to Hell,” the album’s opening track. A choir sings out, setting an almost angelic tone, only to have an absolute earworm of a riff rip things apart, right before Osbourne’s iconic voice wails, “Alright, now!” The album catches a full head of steam within the first 15 seconds and continues to barrel along at breakneck speed for the next 50 minutes. “Ordinary Man” is arguably the most complete solo album Osbourne has released since 1991’s “No More Tears.”
Backed by a star-studded band featuring Duff McKagan (Guns N’ Roses), Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers) and Andrew Watt pulling double duty as producer and guitarist for much of the album, “Ordinary Man” certainly doesn’t sound like the work of a 71-year-old. Osbourne’s voice is as strong and other-worldly as it was 50 years ago on Black Sabbath’s debut album.
It was an innovative collaboration with Post Malone that led Osbourne to create the album, and it is another unlikely collaboration on the album’s title track that gives us one of the record’s defining moments.
“When I wrote ‘Ordinary Man’ it reminded me so much of an Elton John song,” Osbourne says. “We’ve been friendly with him for a long time. I said to Sharon that it would be so cool if we could get Elton to put something on it and she said, ‘Well, ask him.’ And he agreed. He’s such a genuinely great man, he’s the most generous man I’ve ever met.”
It would be one thing for Osbourne to simply record an album after all this time, but it’s incredibly rare for an artist to create something that still sounds contemporary five decades into the game. This certainly wasn’t how Osbourne saw his career panning out back in 1970.
“I didn’t think I’d be fucking breathing for 50 years,” Osbourne says. “By all rights I should have been dead by the time I was fucking 30 with all of the shit that I put through my body. I remember thinking when that first Sabbath album came out, ‘Oh, this’ll be good for a couple of years.’ Fifty years on the road, it’s just amazing.”
The times have changed greatly since Osbourne first started recording, particularly in regards to tattoos. In the metal genre, musicians are almost expected to have tattoos. It wasn’t always that way, and much like how he was a pioneer of metal music, Osbourne was one of the first rock stars frequently showing off a tattoo collection. It all started with those iconic knuckle tattoos—OZZY.
“I did those when I was about 15 years old and my father kicked my ass,” Osbourne says. “I did it myself with India ink and a needle. The two Zs don’t quite line up, one is smaller than the other. I spent a short time in prison where I learned the art of tattooing. I’m not really good at it. [laughs]”
Prior to the release of “Ordinary Man,” 50 different tattoo shops around the world hosted a listening party. Legions of fans showed up to get tattoos inspired by the metal icon, and more than a few showed up with “Ozzy” knuckle tattoos of their own. Even after years of seeing tattoos dedicated to him and his music, Osbourne still isn’t quite used to it.
“I’ve seen some fantastic tattoo work with pictures of me,” Osbourne says. “Some of them are so fucking well done. I’m a Beatles fan, but I wouldn’t have John, Paul, George and Ringo tattooed on my arm.”
Whenever fans come up to Osbourne requesting an autograph on a body part instead of an album or poster, he knows exactly what’s going to happen—a tattoo. “I’m a bit reluctant because I think one day you’re going to wake up, and your wife’s gonna ask, 'What’s that fucking thing say on your arm?’” Osbourne says. “You’re going to have to explain that it’s Ozzy Osbourne’s name and she’ll go, ‘You have fucking Ozzy Osbourne’s name tattooed on your arm?’ [laughs] On one hand, I’m very honored. On the other I’m thinking that one day you’re going to go, ‘Why the fuck did I do that?’”
Given his reputation, it comes as a surprise how much consideration Osbourne has put into his own tattoo decisions. “I think when you have a tattoo you have to really think about it,” Osbourne says. “I have a few that when I look at them I say, ‘What the fuck was I doing?’ You can’t change your mind, you can’t say, ‘I want a different fucking message on it now.’ It’s why you should never get your girlfriend’s name tattooed on you.”
Osbourne does have a woman’s name tattooed on him—Sharon. But don’t think this makes him hypocritical in his tattoo beliefs. “Yeah, but I’ve been with her for 40 years,” Osbourne quips. “I’ve got no plans to go anywhere else.”
This past year has been a particularly rough one for Osbourne, most notably because he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. In January the singer first opened up about what he was going through. “I’m not really good at keeping secrets,” Osbourne says. “I’d let a few people know, then the press caught a rumor going around that I was dying. So I thought, stop the bullshit, come clean.”
The outpouring of support since doing so has been overwhelming, lifting Osbourne’s spirits during the time that he was forced to postpone his world tour. Ever resilient, Osbourne is hoping to get back on the road. “The thing is, I need to be 100 percent sure that my body is up for it,” Osbourne says. “If I have to postpone it again, or cancel it, people are going to think that I’ve fucking lost it. I want to make sure that when I go out there I can stay out there.”
Sitting in a studio is certainly no substitute for standing on stage in an arena listening to thousands of fans chanting your name, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be comforting. “Ordinary Man” hadn’t even hit record stores before Osbourne started working on a follow-up album.
There is nothing ordinary about Ozzy Osbourne, and there likely never was. He’s led an extraordinary life filled with enough adventure (and misadventure) for two or three lifetimes. At 71, Osbourne has earned the right to sit back, relax and enjoy a pleasant retirement. But that wouldn’t suit him one bit.
“When I retire,” Osbourne says, “you’ll know it by hearing the sound of soil being dropped on a box.”