WHAT DOES Ozzy Osbourne mean to you?
Whether he's the godfather of modern metal, or the rock guy who made the world cackle by duetting with Muppet Show sexpot Miss Piggy, the chances are that you have your own idea of who Ozzy is and what he stands for. Otherwise you wouldn't be here.
Fact is, Ozzy is a genuine superstar. A guy who's up there alongside Elvis, Lennon and Madonna. The fundamental difference between the Double O and other so-called legends is the fact that if he offered to pop round to your mom's for a cup of tea she'd be worried. Very worried.
The reason for that is simple enough: Ozzy's reputation precedes him.Depicted as the Bat Protection League's arch-enemy for years, Ozzy's tales of excess span three decades. Not all of them are strictly true, forcing the man himself to declare "If I'd done everything they'd said I'd done I'd be dead by now!"
In fact, the stories that surround Ozzy are only part of the deal. While they establish Ozzy as a larger-than-life individual, they also obscure the most significant part of the man's turbulent career: his music. Music which has inspired three generation of fans and musicians alike.
OVER THE seven studio albums he's released since leaving Black Sabbath in '79, Ozzy has constantly been one step ahead of the game. There are times when he's been willing to play the fool, sailing dangerously close to the wind and flirting with self-parody. The title track of '83's 'Bark At The Moon' and it's accompanying sleeve with Ozzy dressed as, er, a werewolf are prime examples.
Conversely, behind his public image as the master of mayhemic ceremonies, there lies an intensely personal side to Ozzy's songwriting. 'My Little Man' (from 'Ozzmosis', written about his son Jack), 'See You On The Other Side' (from the same album, written about his wife Sharon), 'Goodbye To Romance' (from 'Blizzard Of Ozz' written about the Sabbath split) or the depression-fuelled 'Diary Of A Madman' (from the album of the same name) are a few poignant examples.
"It's easy for people to miss some of the things that I sing about," states Ozzy. "It's easier for them to try to look for all the fucking Satanic bullshit. When people ask me how I write, I suppose there is a lot of pain during some of it, and from that comes the creativity. There were also the mood swings, the drinking and the madness of it all in the early days, but it worked. Thank god I don't need to go through that now to write music."
Despite the madness that has engulfed Ozzy since he embarked on his rollercoaster career back in '68, the most staggering thing about the man is the fact that he remains possibly the most down-to-earth performer you could ever wish to meet.
"I can't take the rock star shit seriously," he shrugs. "There's a book called 'How To Be A Rock Star'. The first page should say 'Hope you've got talent, good luck'. Instead, it says 'First get a lawyer'. Fuck off! I'm primitive. I come from Aston (a suburb of Birmingham) and I make primitive fucking street level music. That's all I need to know, ya' know?"
OZZY'S STREETWISE suss is another factor which has contributed to his continued success. Somehow, Ozzy's self-perpetuating role as the eternal, mischievious teenager is a constant source of inspiration to fans of the man's music.
Maybe it's the disarming honesty with which he approaches everything he does that makes Ozzy such an inspiring figure. Or maybe it's the naive charm he exhibits when confronted with his own legendary status.
"It's easy to say 'Oh, you're Ozzy Osbourne, isn't life great', but I've made more mistakes than most fucking people," states Ozzy, reflecting on his career. "I've escaped from working in a factory in Birmingham, I haven't had to become a bank robber and I'm grateful for that. I know that I'm lucky to be alive. I'm lucky that I can send my kids to a good school. That's my biggest reward because my education sucked. I was virtually illiterate when I left school."
Ozzy's role as family man is something which has given him newfound stability and curbed his self-destructive streak. At times you get the impression that Ozzy's family extends beyond his bloodline, to his fans. When he declares "I love you all!" midway through a set, you know he's said it a million times and yet you never doubt the fact that he means it.
Ask any member of his current band - drummer Mike Bordin, bassist Robert Trujillo and guitarist Joe Holmes - why they're playing with Ozzy and chances are that they'll tell you that they genuinely love the man, musically and as a father figure. As with so much around the Ozzfest, Ozzy's band are here for the right reasons.
So too is Ozzy.
"Last year people said we were mad when we were trying to put toegther the Ozzfest, and we kicked every other festival's ass. People love this kind of music and they want to come and have a good time. I think we proved our point," he beams.
Ozzy has made a career out of flying in the face of popular and, in some cases, sane opinion. The Ozzfest proves once again that there are some things that you can still believe in. Right now and for the foreseeable future, Ozzy Osbourne is one of them. Thank god.
Back, back I say