Tours from the Crypt: Ozzy Osbourne, 'Speak of the Devil'
Speak of the Devil holds the sad place of siphoning off an unfortunate moment in the past for any additional revenues it might yield.
"I don’t know how we did any of those gigs after Randy died. We were all in a state of shock. But I suppose being on the road was better than sitting around at home, thinking about the two incredible people we’d lost, and how we’d never get them back." Ozzy Osbourne, I Am Ozzy 244
Out of his nearly 400 page book I Am Ozzy, Ozzy Osbourne dedicates just one paragraph to what would become known as the 1982 “Speak of the Devil” tour. Earlier in the tour guitarist Randy Rhoads and seamstress Rachel Youngblood were killed in a drunken airplane crash. Due to contract pressures by CBS records for Ozzy to complete one more album, he released Speak of the Devil in 1982. The album held only Black Sabbath covers. Ozzy has since denounced it as filler and doesn’t even mention it by name in his autobiography.
Yet for those of us introduced to the album during its year of release, it sparked a renewed interest in Black Sabbath for hordes of teenage head-bangers by updating the music with more stylized riffs and an even heavier sound. The album condensed some of the best songs throughout the Ozzy years of Black Sabbath onto one piece of vinyl. It teleported the listener from the band’s origins with “Black Sabbath” to its near demise with “Never Say Die.” And its cover held Ozzy with fangs as some jelly-like substance that was supposed to simulate blood dribbled from his mouth. It was high kitsch: used, gimmicky, and loud. In many ways, it anticipated the zeitgeist of Metal shtick to come from such bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. We loved it.
But it was Thomas Wolfe who warned decades ago that “you can’t go home again.” One gets this distinct feeling when watching the recent video release of the “Speak of the Devil” tour. For sheer documentary purposes, the video serves an important purpose in capturing a 1982 Ozzy show. We watch him clapping while dressed in blue spandex with black kneepads and a studded belt sweating, singing, and inciting the audience to “go crazy” as the band wades through the songs of Ozzy’s first two solo albums and ends with a few Sabbath covers.
But the entire production is uninspired. It consists simply of four camera shots of one show. There are no interviews or behind-the-scenes material. The sound quality varies radically throughout songs. Even the show’s most dramatic moment, when Ozzy hangs the little person John Allen, who is decked out in black-and-white makeup and black hooded robe, is missed. The cameras ignore all the drama leading up to the hanging and instead catch his lifeless body hanging from the rafters while Ozzy sings to “Goodbye to Romance”—a strange song to pair a hanging with.
The songs sound adequate. But the newer material only reminds one constantly of the absent brilliance of Randy Rhoads and to unintentionally resent Brad Gillis’s presence in his thankless position of allowing the show to continue on. At least with the original Speak of the Devil album, the Sabbath covers shielded one from the recognition of the death of Rhoads since it harkened to a musical past before his presence on the scene. It became a temporary break and throwback to another age as if summonsing it onstage ten years later.
The video, on the other hand, holds the sad place of siphoning off an unfortunate moment in the past for any additional revenues it might yield. Unlike the original album where Ozzy made the best of an unfortunate situation by harnessing the past to move beyond the trauma and greed of the present, the video seems a shameless ransacking of the tomb for any additional loot that the original raiders might have missed.
With all this said, Ozzy fans will nonetheless appreciate this piece of memorabilia. Many will probably even vigorously defend it, just as they defend Heavy Metal in general even though it seems to have long lost its bewitching power to conjure the Devil and black magic in order to temporarily cast adolescents from the overwhelming blandness and entropy of the adult world. Or perhaps a new generation of Metal fans will find inspiration from the video in ways that I did in 1982 with the release of the album to the bewilderment of the middle-aged adults around me.
Make no bones about it: the video is poor quality. But, then again, poor quality has never gotten in the way of a true Metal fan’s ability to transform the most shamelessly brash and cliché object into pure inspiration. Maybe we all have a bit of the wizard in us, after all.