I was one of 60 lucky people who were able to hear the new Black Sabbath album ‘13’ on Wednesday at its premiere in Hollywood. Ozzy and I have been close since we served together in the Korean War and I often get invited to these big Black Sabbath events. I don’t like to make a big deal about it, but I took a bullet for him as the two of us charged up San Juan Hill. Back then, he liked everyone to call him Sparky.
I introduced him to Tony Iommi at a VFW function in the ‘70s. His father and mine were traveling pudding salesman in Yorkshire. Pudding was a huge industry in those days. Tony and I both had part time jobs at the pudding mill up the road from our high school. When the mill closed, Tony considered moving to Pittsburgh and becoming a professional buffalo hunter. I knew he was a good guitar player and Ozzy used to sing really well in the shower in our bunker, so I put the two together. The rest is history.
The event, which took place at the Herve Villachaize Theatre, was attended by some of the top names in journalism. I was lucky enough to be standing in line directly behind former CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite. Old Uncle Walter was sipping off a mug of paint thinner and orange juice and raving on and on about how it was Bill Ward’s fault that we abandoned the Gold Standard all those years ago. Pretty soon, he had gotten completely out of control and was escorted out by security, but not before he had invited me to an afterparty down in Crenshaw at MC Ren’s house.
We were escorted through a long tunnel into the basement of the building. There we were all strip searched by former Sabbath singer Tony Martin and forced to bathe in ox blood in order to make sure we had no audio equipment and were free of what he called “impurities”. It was all quite weird.
Finally we reached a cavernous room filled with medieval torture equipment and a buffet table featuring all sorts of Black Sabbath themed appetizers. I avoided the Rat Salad. Ozzy was in the midst of an in depth conversation with several reporters about which brands of freezer bags are best to preserve the ear wax of small children when I caught his attention. We talked for a minute or two, then he got that far away look he gets that makes him look like he is receiving signals from the planet Melmac. I knew my time with him was up.
I wandered around for another 15 minutes trying to find Tony, but when I finally caught up with him he was locked in a heated debate with former Happy Days star Tom Bosley over whether aerosol cans were actually a technology created by aliens. Tom was getting pretty heated and said some stuff about the breeding practices of the British royalty and Tony stormed off after threatening to have Tom’s legs broken by a gang of soccer hooligans.
After sitting through some opening comments from Ozzy’s son Jack about the importance of proper dental hygiene and watching Geezer Butler pass out face first into a bowl of tomato bisque, they played the album. The whole thing was terribly awkward. A group of strangers shuffling around in their seats watching other people listening to music. Everyone casting nervous glances at Ozzy, hoping they wouldn’t chuckle when he turned some simple lyric into an incoherent noise that could only be deciphered by a team of top-flight linguists or a pack of geese.
The whole experience took a turn for the worse quickly. The album started off with the pseudo-ironically titled “End of The Beginning”. A catchy song that seems slightly longer than director’s cut of Apocalypse Now. The guy next to me began to doze off and was audibly snoring through the last 12 minutes of the song. Ozzy start walking over with his mouth gaping open, pointing at the guy and looking ominously like Donald Sutherland at the end of the 70’s “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”. A security guard instantly grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and jerked him out of his seat. Two other guards pulled him to the back, beating him on the head with a truncheon as they walked.
Next thing I know, the second song lurched forward muffled by wild howling and jeering from the press as the wheezing miscreant was dragged out of the room for some sort of 14th century torture at the hands of Ozzy’s goons. The song was embarrassingly titled “God Is Dead?” and, unfortunately, is not a Carnivore cover. And then came the next song. And the next. And on and on.
It sounds like a Black Sabbath album. What else was it going to be? It’s not like they were going to shift gears in their late seventies and start sounding like England Dan and John Ford Coley. Everything sounds vaguely like Children of The Grave. Tony tunes down to Q flat minor for most of the record and Ozzy’s voice floats its way through hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of production equipment in order to sound like he’s in tune. It’s all assembly line stuff at this point.
The thing about the record that is unique and somewhat horrifying are the lyrics. I was astonished to see a bizarre homage to MC Hammer’s gangsta phase in the song “Age of Reason”. “Pumps and A Bump, I liiiiiiiii-ke the gi-rrrrrrrrls with the Pumps and A Bump” bellowed Ozzy in a hideously uneven chorus that would shame even the most ardent of Sabbath fans. Then, there was the whole part where Ozzy starts mumbling about the dangers of poison sumac in “Damaged Soul”. I can’t begin to explain what he’s talking about there. The albums high point, oddly enough, is the uncredited cameo rap verse that OJ Da Juiceman lays down about halfway through the album’s final track “Dear Father”.
The record ended and a chorus of applause cascaded through the hall. The band said a few things and the press, several members of whom were greedily jamming the remaining trays of bat-shaped chicken fingers into their Sabbath ‘13’ tote-bags, anxiously filed out trying to get home in time for the night’s airing of American Idol. In what felt like seconds the room was empty of everyone but Tony, who sat alone in the corner with his guitar playing notes to no one in particular.