Diary of a Madman
I Am Ozzy reads like every great rock ‘n’ roll bio ever written. From Ozzy’s near-Dickensian upbringing in a bombed-out suburb of post-WWII Birmingham to the bestial hedonism he indulged in as a rock star, and even on to the surreal spectacle of reality TV, Ozzy’s memoirs come across as a modern-day fairy tale, albeit one in which the fairies wear boots. Like a fairy tale, I Am Ozzy is unsubtly imbued with a disarming sense of wonder, not just as in, “I wonder how this guy is still alive,” but in the classic sense as well—“could such a life ever exist?”
Apparently it could, at least for hard rock pioneer Ozzy Osbourne, who himself seems thoroughly mystified about the whole thing. The idea that a dirt-poor Brummie lad who grew up sharing a room with four sisters and a bucket for a toilet could have bumbled and drugged his way to the top of the pops is the apotheosis of the rock ‘n’ roll dream. Most rock bios attempt the Cinderella angle in some way, but none have nailed it as satisfyingly as I Am Ozzy.
The reason for this, and no doubt the reason for Ozzy’s success in general, is that no matter what kind of booze-and-coke-inspired atrocity he commits, it is simply impossible to dislike the guy. (Although his ex-wife, animal lovers everywhere and a few patriotic Texans would no doubt disagree.)
It isn’t as though he glosses over his excesses or tries to make himself look noble, either. Far from it. Whether he’s choking his wife, pulling a gun on his drummer or biting the head off a dove, Ozzy has a knack for telling stories in that classic, down-at-the-pub style, in which all the details come spilling out in a wonderful, lager-scented jumble. He doesn’t shy away from his darker episodes, but neither does he wallow in them, and he always invites the reader to judge if they’re so inclined.
Capturing Ozzy’s dialect is a major accomplishment for co-writer Chris Ayres, whom I suspect did a bit more work than just “organizing my life stories into book form”, as Ozzy puts it in his acknowledgements. (Ozzy is dyslexic and barely literate, meaning he’s written a book which he admits he can’t even read.) In public appearances, Ozzy is almost completely unintelligible, his speech consisting of stammered mumbles and slurred variations on “for fuck’s sake!”
In print, however, Ozzy’s voice is that of the profane but lovably batty old uncle whose stories leave you shaking your head for days. “Tell us the one where you stood on the table and put your balls in the record company man’s wine, Uncle Ozzy!” “No, Uncle Oz, tell us about when the cow at the slaughterhouse kicked you down the blood chute!”
Getting arrested for pissing on the Alamo while wearing his wife’s evening dress was all in a day’s work for Ozzy, so rest assured that while he’s forgotten at least half of what he’s done, the half he does remember is still pure gold. Sabbath fans will especially enjoy the early accounts of the band, complete with the requisite tales of broken-down-vans and STD-ridden groupies. Just don’t look for any deep analysis of the lyrics to “Iron Man” or a search for Sabbath’s place in the rock canon. Ozzy would be out of his element discussing such bollocks, and besides, bassist Geezer Butler wrote most of the lyrics, anyway.
For all its jaw-dropping shock and depravity, there are subtleties at work in I Am Ozzy, as well. A thread of regret runs through much of the book, as Ozzy seems to genuinely love his family, yet he realizes he was horrible to them for much of his life. His infamous chemical intake and dodgy sense of self destroyed his ability to be a father and husband for most of his early years, and it’s something that, as he puts it, “I’ll take to my grave.”
Perhaps this is the reason that, while Ozzy’s drugged-soaked adventures provide most of the action in the book, the real protagonist is not Ozzy at all, but his tough, stage-managing, second wife, Sharon. Without her to drag him in a stupor from show to show and contract to contract, Ozzy would no doubt have frozen to death in a gutter by now, a fact he is acutely aware of and sensible enough not to try and hide. His tenderness and gratitude toward Sharon are touching, and while they don’t make up for any of his wrongdoings, they help show a side of Ozzy that takes him beyond his usual typecasting.
Displaying neither the doddering drug casualty of MTV’s The Osbournes nor the fangs-and-spandex madman from his solo days, I Am Ozzy shows the rocker in his proper light. An aging addict and accidental success? Sure, but also a caring husband, rock ‘n’ roll raconteur and somehow, a decent bloke.