Sunday, August 2, 2009

Zakk and Ozzy Make a....Mistake

Like a lot of people, I happen to find the current age of celebrity obsession to be completely vapid and soul-destroying. I don't even know who most of the hot actors and actresses are anymore, or why they're famous. Or why we care who they are breaking up with.

As everyone can see by now, there's no better example of the shallowness of this culture than the dignity-shredding circus surrounding Michael Jackson's death. People keep tuning in for story after story about the newest absurdity of his strange death, and I can't help to think that we are somehow trying to distance ourselves from some sort of implicit participation we all had in his sad life.

All of that said, it would be wrong for me to try and deny a lifelong Jackson devotee of his or her grief. Because regardless of any actual relationship that we have with our favorite musicians, the fact that they scored and/or performed the soundtracks to the best times of our lives means that we will always feel personally connected to them on a level that is flawed, but very forgivable.

Which brings me to the big news of the past few weeks in the metal community: The celebrity break-up of metal godfather Ozzy Osbourne and axe-man Zakk Wylde. And why it makes me so, so sad, despite having no personal connection with either man.

Long story short, it looks like Ozzy has sacked Mr. Wylde. And by telling him through the press.

Now, it's not a surprise when Ozzy switches guitar players; throughout his career he's gone through them like Peter North's costars went through boxes of Kleenex.

But it always made news anyway, perhaps because so many of us have always felt that Ozzy spent the second and third chapters of his career searching for his next Randy Rhoads: It's no secret that he was absolutely devastated by Rhoads' death, and that no matter how much of a lunatic Ozzy had always been, the Rhoads tragedy seemed to be the fulcrum for the full out insanity that became Ozzy's cocaine-fueled lifestyle in the mid-80's.

(The obvious flaw in this, of course, is that Ozzy didn't "discover" Randy Rhoads: Rhoads was already a known name in guitar circles long before Ozzy poached him from Quiet Riot, which makes one wonder if his quest to be come a guitar kingmaker was somewhat doomed to begin with).

All the same, one can never deny that Ozzy's taste in guitar players was damn near beyond reproach: He cut his teeth with the single most iconic guitarist in heavy metal history; he flirted with the mighty George Lynch and academy award winner Steve Vai, wisely avoiding a committment with either (both are undeniably too ego-centric and visionary to be anyone's side-man for long); he gave Rhoads a platform to introduce to the masses a Robert Johnson-styled approach to simultaneous rhythm and lead guitar playing; and he debuted the maligned would-be wonderkid known as Jake E. Lee.

(Those who spent their teen years tearing through drugstore copies of Circus magazine - or perhaps Hit Parader in a pinch...but never Metal Edge -- received constant updates about Ozzy's frustrations about Lee, Lee's feelings of abandoment over their tattered relationship, and nearly gleefully tepid reviews of the flop that was Lee's next project.

Ironically enough, though, Ozzy's albums with Lee have aged surpisingly well. "The Ultimate Sin" in particular is astonishingly good when you consider how much of a mess Ozzy was at that stage of his life. Conversely, "The Blizzard of Ozz" showcases some of Ozzy's best work with Rhoads, but the record is absolutely plagued with terrible early-1980's production hallmarks that devalue songs like "Goodbye to Romance" to nearly complete unlistenability).

And, so, when Ozzy announced in 1987 that he would be introducing a 19 year old viruoso for his upcoming record, all eyes were on one Zakk Wylde. Would this be the new it-kid in heavy metal, or was Ozzy going to dud out once again?

No matter what you say about the album that was "No Rest for the Wicked" (certainly not a classic), one thing was for certain - the media unanimously gave Wylde their full endorsement on his debut. His obnoxious, rude, hyper-macho style gave Ozzy's music an ass-heavy feel that had not been associated with Ozzy since Sabbath. (...maybe on "Suicide Solution"?)

And although Ozzy had a long road todwards sobriety ahead of him, the rumor was that he was nearly paternal to Wylde, even roping him in when Wydle got out of control on the road.

Wydle would stick around on and off for the next twenty years. And over those next twenty years, Ozzy's life would finally see some seblance of balance for perhaps the first time: Not only did he begin giving some thought towards his obligation as a parent, but he also experienced a renewed level of success: "No More Tears", in fact, would mark the apex of his late-career artistic output. Ozzfest would prove to be a critical and financial success, and a launching pad for many a nu-metal sensation. He would even soon participate in an overdue Sabbath reunion.

All together, the events of 1990s should have firmly cemented Mr. Osbourne's legacy for once and for all. And the contributions of Mr. Wylde were very much a part of that. Those of us who rooted for Ozzy over the years were happy to see it.

Of course, the mastermind of his resurgence - his career manager and wife, Sharon -- also began a most shameful manipulation of Ozzy's image at about this time, most infamously by pimping him out to MTV in a truly repugnant display of exploitation.

No longer was Ozzy a visionary madman; he was now just an overmedicated nincompoop, and it was all laid out there for an entirely new demographic of viewers to see, who now may never know him as anything but a puttering old fool.

Ozzy seems to be on his feet again these days. His medication intake seems to have leveled off and he seems to be at his most lucid point since about 1991.

But I can't say that I trust his judgement. And I can't say that I trust his manager's judgement. And the manner of his dismissal of Wylde seems very much in line with Sharon Osboure's failed dealings with the likes of Motorhead and the Smashing Pumpkins:

It's rude, and it's unprofessional. And its sad for me to see, even though I have no good reason to care. None at all.

But I do recommend that this would be a good time for Wylde to reintroduce "Losin Your Mind" into his set-list.

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