Ozzy Osbourne is going to die.
Probably not today, but eventually, Ozzy Osbourne is going to die. The 70-year-old Brit has spent the past year in and out of the hospital and “Under the Graveyard,” his first single in nearly a decade comes across as Ozzy working through the realization of his own mortality.
The song is excellent. It captures a lot of what I like about Ozzy’s previous work while still feeling new, perhaps on account of his new all-star recording band including Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith with Post Malone producer Andrew Watt on guitar. I’m not going to review the song here, I mention it to provide context for a more personal examination of what Ozzy Osbourne does best and what his work means to me.
Ozzy’s music is and has always been a constant in my life. I’m no musician—I can play a few Ramones and Nirvana songs on guitar but not much else—but whenever I can, I am listening to music. I live my life with earbuds in, and most of the time if I’m not listening to it directly, I am listening to a band whose influences, in some way or another, trace back to early Black Sabbath. I’m on an Alice in Chains kick lately and I can’t listen to the wailing vocals on tracks like “Down in a Hole” without being reminded of Ozzy.
Like I said I’m no musician. I’m a writer though, and when I’m not writing the news I spend my time writing poems, short stories and the like—and when I write I tend to write about the unsettling. I gravitate towards it, and I think my music taste really shaped that. Early Black Sabbath, particularly their first record, is unsettling. Ozzy’s singing voice to this day is unsettling and I was drawn to it long before I started writing outside the classroom.
I was in seventh grade when I got my first iPod. It came with a $10 iTunes card, back when that was enough for 10 songs, and so I had to choose carefully. At the time, the only music I owned was The Essential Weird Al Yankovic. I remember spending hours listening to 30-second previews, looking up Microsoft movie maker lyric videos on YouTube trying to decide what songs to buy. In hindsight, most of the songs I bought were downright awful, but two of the songs I bought with that first iTunes card are in my playlist to this day: “Killing Yourself to Live” and “Mr. Crowley.”
Art to me is an attempt to take an emotion, a mental state, an abstraction and mold it into something solid enough for another person to understand. They won’t understand completely, some meaning is always lost when making the abstract into the tangible, but good art makes the other person understand enough. In this way, despite Ozzy being a writer of songs, not stories, he inspires me. He makes me understand enough, and I want to learn to make others understand.
I use the word “unsettling” to describe Ozzy’s music because as broad of a term as it is it comes closest to effectively describing the mental state that Ozzy tries to convey, an emotional peak equidistant from derangement, disgust and despair. There were a lot of songs written about Vietnam, and I love most of them, but “War Pigs” most accurately captures the feel of watching combat footage. It’s not a fun southern jam like “Fortunate Son” or preachy like “The War Drags On,” it is unsettling. Ozzy’s vocals on the track come across as a wail, almost inhuman and his lyrics double down on this by comparing generals to inhuman witches. The tragedy seen in the Vietnam War is almost incomprehensible. In Ken Burns’ Vietnam, veterans on all sides of the war describe the horrors as being beyond imagination. This is the abstraction that Ozzy has made concrete in his work: inhuman, incomprehensible darkness. Anger, fear, sadness and other negative emotions cannot describe what Ozzy encapsulates in his music, only darkness.
Other artists have their own abstractions. Of those whom I admire, some examples include Raymond Carver, whose prose captures the midpoint between the stress of poverty and the bliss of giving up, and Kurt Cobain whose music captures the midpoint between rage and anxiety. Ozzy captures the unsettling.
I’m still young enough as a writer that I don’t know what abstraction I am meant to express—but whatever it is I hope I do it as well as Ozzy Osbourne.