August 9, 2002
BY JIM DeROGATIS POP MUSIC CRITIC
An Ozzfest without Ozzy Osbourne is sort of like an ice cream sundae
without the nuts. Or the cherry, the whipped cream or the ice cream.
Basically, what you'd get is the bowl. One had to respect the Clown Prince
of Darkness' decision to skip some dates on this summer's tour in order to
be at his wife's side as she undergoes chemotherapy for cancer. But then
Ozzy reconsidered. While he initially said he'd miss Saturday's stop at the
Tweeter Center and Sunday's at Alpine Valley, he has apparently changed his
mind (at Sharon's urging) and put himself back on the bill.
According to his publicist, the Ozzman passed out during Sharon's first
treatment, so she decided he'd be better off out on the road.
So now Ozzy is back. But will the Oz that Chicago metal fans get really
be the Oz that they want?
With Ozzy Osbourne, System of a Down, Rob Zombie, P.O.D., Drowning
Pool, Adema and Zakk Wylde's Black Label Society
9:30 a.m. Saturday, Tweeter Center, 19100 Ridgeland, Tinley Park
9:30 a.m. Sunday, Alpine Valley Music Theatre, 2699 Highway D, East
* Tickets, $38.25-$78.25
This year's edition of the daylong metal fest is essentially a victory
lap celebrating the newly ubiquitous incarnation of the singer, marking his
transformation from a venerated rock elder to just another celebrity
commodity. His set opens with a montage of clips from "The Osbournes," the
absurdly hyped MTV show that's been the primary vehicle for turning Ozzy
into a fat, male, middle-aged Britney Spears.
Call me a killjoy if you will, but I have never found "The Osbournes"
Ozzy has pretty much been a cartoon throughout his 35-year career. It was
always impossible to take him too seriously when he was flashing peace signs
with Black Sabbath, leaping about like an epileptic frog and crooning about
Iron Man ("Heavy boots of lead/Fill his enemies full of dread!"). Less
amusing but no more sinister was the famous stunt that found him biting the
head off a dove to launch his solo career.
But Ozzy used to be someone we laughed with . Now, he's become
someone we laugh at.
As the frontman for Sabbath, Osbourne arguably did more than any other
artist to define the nascent genre of heavy metal. And while his early solo
career offered a glossier, more tuneful and somewhat sillier version of the
music, efforts such as 1980's "Blizzard of Ozz" and 1981's "Diary of a
Madman" still stand as great rock 'n' roll.
As is typical for MTV, "The Osbournes" makes nary a mention of these very
real musical accomplishments. Instead, we are invited week after week to
voyeuristically enter Ozzy's home to laugh at the man--a doddering,
foul-mouthed dad shuffling about his house, besieged by errant pets and
offspring, unable to use the TV remote and seemingly devastated by years of
drug and alcohol abuse.
This is funny? Can anyone imagine dropping by an old-age home to mock a
blues great as he gums his oatmeal, or stopping by a rehab center to chuckle
as a troubled jazzman attempts to clean up? Why don't we just visit Brian
Wilson and build him a sandbox, or call on famous acid casualty Syd Barrett
to give him some fresh vegetables?
Music industry insiders who lay claim to having spent some time with "the
real Ozzy" are divided over whether MTV gives us an accurate portrait of the
man. Some say he really is that much of a mess, but others contend
that it's as much of an act as his old Satan's Spawn routine.
So who's to blame for this shallow, new-millennial Ozzy? Diehard
metalheads tend to vilify Sharon as the architect of Ozzy's
commodification--she ranks up there with Yoko Ono and Courtney Love as the
most hated woman in rock--but Ozzy has to be held in some degree complicit
for helping to reduce his public persona from a once-cool cartoon (think
"Looney Tunes" and Chuck Jones) to a pathetic, dumb and one-dimensional one
The motive is clearly the money--MTV paid an estimated $5 million to
renew the show for a second season, with the potential for the family to
make much more if the ratings stay high. Ozzy certainly hasn't made that
much from Black Sabbath of late.
When the singer toured with the reunited Sabbath in recent years, he was
still a fairly ridiculous presence, and his voice certainly wasn't what it
once was. But he helped the band deliver a mighty wallop nonetheless, and
the impact was nearly as potent as it was in the group's heyday, when it
crafted enduring masterpieces such as "Paranoid" and "Sabbath Bloody
This is the legacy that real metalheads honor and that Ozzfest could help
commemorate--if it were used as a vehicle to promote worthy bands from metal
subgenres such as stoner- and biker-rock, or thrash-, black- and
death-metal, instead of being treated as just one more merchandising
opportunity for Ozzy, Inc.
In recent years, the festival has become the prime showcase for the
wretched nu-metal genre, the tuneless, angst-ridden branch of mainstream
metal that Sharon Osbourne has been instrumental in championing (and with
which Sabbath and vintage Ozzy have little or nothing in common). Optimists
point to a handful of promising acts on this year's bill as evidence that
Sharon, well aware that nu-metal's 15 minutes are up, is moving the festival
toward more challenging sounds.
Preceding Ozzy on the main stage is System of a Down, the Los
Angeles art-rock quartet that's strongly influenced by the late Frank Zappa,
and which stands as the most successful aggressively political rock band
since Rage Against the Machine. (Unlike Zack de la Rocha--or Bono, for that
matter--vocalist Serj Tankian avoids overt preaching, agitating instead for
the audience to rise up and think for itself.)
Also worthy are the first band on the main stage, Black Label Society,
the biker-rock combo fronted by shredding guitarist Zakk Wylde, and, on the
second stage, Meshuggah, the much-lauded Swedish industrial-metal
But there is also still plenty of thoroughly generic nu-metal. Rounding
out the main stage lineup are the relatively worthless P.O.D.,
Drowning Pool and Adema. Plus Rob Zombie, who, as a tired,
ever-pandering cartoon caricature himself, nearly out-Ozzies the Ozzy of
Meanwhile, forget "The Osbournes." If you want to know the Ozzy Osbourne
who's really worth knowing, I recommend returning to or newly discovering
the following classic discs:
Black Sabbath, "Black Sabbath," "Paranoid," "Master of Reality,"
"Volume 4," and "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath." Crafted between 1970
and 1973, every one of Sabbath's first five albums is indispensable, a
must-own for anyone who cares about truly heavy but consistently tuneful
rock. Here are the blueprints for much of the heavy metal of the last three
decades, though very little of it has ever topped Sabbath for its sheer
Ozzy Osbourne, "Blizzard of Ozz" and "Diary of a Madman."
Not quite in the same league as Sabbath, the Ozzman's first two solo albums
from 1980 and 1981 are also metal classics, with Ozzy finding a strong
replacement for Tony Iommi in guitarist Randy Rhoads (soon to die in a
tragic plane crash) and delivering gently goofy but ultimately irresistible
metal anthems such as "Crazy Train."
A word of caution, though: For the new reissues of these discs, Sharon
ordered that the parts of original bassist Bob Daisley and drummer Lee
Kerslake be replaced by Robert Trujillo (ex-Suicidal Tendencies) and Mike
Bordin (ex-Faith No More) from Ozzy's current touring band. Daisley and
Kerslake have a $20 million lawsuit pending for back monies they claim Ozzy
owes them, and Sharon didn't want to have to pay them performance royalties
for the reissues.
Nice lady, eh?