“I feel like my brain’s just been kicked in,” Ozzy Osbourne says with a laugh. The seemingly unstoppable metal god is promoting his first studio set in six years, “Down to Earth” (released on Oct. 16 via Epic), and has just finished fielding questions delivered in broken English by an Italian journalist. “Ya gotta try to work out what they’re trying to ask you,” he says. “Everything’s got an ‘o’ on the end. Ozzy-o. Down to Earth-o. It’s f**kin’ hilarious.”
Osbourne is in good spirits these days and for good reason. Thanks to the love and guidance of his wife/manager, Sharon, the 52-year-old singer is reigning supreme over the metal nation 31 years since his debut with Black Sabbath.
The Osbourne-headlined Ozzfest, Sharon’s metal answer to Lollapalooza, is still going strong after six years; “Down” has come together; and the singer has not only reunited with his Sabbath pals several times in recent years, but they’ve also begun work on a Rick Rubin-produced studio album.
But what’s possibly the most remarkable aspect of Osbourne’s story is that, of late, the once-reckless, dove-gobbling poster boy for rock censorship has ridden his crazy train of excess straight into the heart of domestic bliss and healthy living. Gone are the days of decadent, rock star parties replete with gallons of booze and pounds of cocaine. Today, the slim singer, who works with a trainer each day, considers cottage cheese “wonderful” and feels somewhat guilty about sneaking in a little sushi every now and then. The father of three teenagers is particularly proud that he has gone more than six months without a cigarette.
This is not the wicked character most of us remember leaping like a demented frog and singing about sweet leaf. In fact, these days, the hard-touring Osbourne has become such the lovable husband and father that being in New York City on Sept. 11, he ended up taking a bus across the country to be reunited with his family in Los Angeles.
He’s just a regular guy these days. And that’s the point of the album’s first single, “Gets Me Through,” a letter of thanks and explanation to his fans, in which he sings “I’m not the kind of person you think I am/I’m not the anti-Christ or the iron man.”
“I’ve had kids come up to me at Ozzfest, saying, ‘Ozzy’s bigger than God.’ I’m not bigger than God,” Osbourne insists. “I’m just a guy whose had a great gift of entertainment bestowed upon him. And I’m just trying to let them know that I bleed too. I worry too. I have my issues, therapy, sleepless nights. I worry about my children’s futures.”
Osbourne titled his new album “Down to Earth” partly because that’s how he sees his personality — and also because the cover shot sort of resembles a “Satanic alien coming down to earth,” he says with a laugh.
A collaboration with songwriter/producer Tim Palmer (the Cure, Tears for Fears), “Down” — which includes songwriting contributions by Foreigner’s Mick Jones — features longtime axeman Zakk Wylde, former Faith No More drummer Mike Bordin, and Suicidal Tendencies bassist Robert Trujillo. Among the interactive offerings of “Down” is rare video footage of Osbourne performing with his famed late guitarist, Randy Rhoades.
The wildly successful Ozzfest (which grossed $36.5 million through 44 shows in 2000 and 2001) is sure to prove a powerful promotional tool for Epic. Print advertising for the tour has touted the release of “Down” for more than a year. The album was mentioned in between sets, and a bus covered with a photo of Osbourne and an ad for “Down” was parked at each stop on this past summer’s tour, which also featured Slipknot and Papa Roach.
Thanks to Sharon’s creation of Ozzfest — born out of failed attempts to secure her husband a spot on Lollapalooza — Osbourne has become a brand, “and the ‘Ozzy’ brand is absolutely at an all-time high,” says Epic GM Steve Barnett, who has worked with Ozzy since the early days of Sabbath. “She should be in the managers’ hall of fame, truly. She’s been able to continue to make Ozzy relevant to a 16-year-old in middle America.”
Ozzfest has not only harvested a new generation of Osbourne fans, but it’s also helped alter the musical climate, making it more favorable to a new Osbourne record today than it was in 1995, when Osbourne’s last collection of new songs, “Ozzmosis” (Epic), was issued. “It’s helped Ozzy achieve some sort of mythological status,” notes John Artale, purchasing director for the 110-store National Record Mart chain.
Barnett says Sabbath’s new record — the band’s first studio set to feature Osbourne since 1978’s “Never Say Die!” — is far from completion; work on it was suspended so Osbourne could focus on “Down.”
Although Osbourne says he often wonders just how long Ozzfest will continue (“I’m constantly asking Sharon, ‘Sweetie, how long do you think the Ozzfest will go on for?’ And she goes, ‘We’ll know. We’ll know.'”), he has no plans to retire from the road any time soon. He begins a 33-city U.S. tour with Rob Zombie, Mudvayne, and others Halloween night. (Originally titled the Black Christmas tour, the jaunt was renamed the Merry Mayhem tour after the recent terrorist attacks.)
“Eventually, the inevitable thing is going to happen,” he says. “Either I’m gonna drop dead, or I’m gonna say, ‘Ya know, Sharon, I don’t really want to do this anymore.’ But it’s not like I have a job. I love music, and I love being around people. I just feel blessed. And I think rock’n’roll has kept me kind of young at heart.”