Can we all just give thanks for Brian, epically everyday Englishman, wherever he is? For his thin moustache and his steady concern, and for the inspiration that persuaded him to play a Django Reinhardt recording to a crippled Tony Iommi? Because under the spraying notes of the gypsy jazzman, who twanged prodigiously despite his digital deficit, young Tony's spirit revives. "I thought, bloody hell, there has got to be something I can do." He gets up, and with amazing resource begins to fashion for himself — from a melted dishwashing soap bottle and some swatches of leather — a set of prosthetic fingertips. These are the legendary "thimbles," representing in our story the impaired sensitivity of the metalhead, the numbness against which he must always fight. They define the Iommi touch, without which — what? No heavy metal at all? That would be to overstate it. Guitar tones were thickening, riffs tightening, and lyricists bumming out all over the place at the close of the '60s. Metal was going to happen. But let's say this: minus the touch of Iommi, his dark-fingered, leather-fingered delving for heaviness behind the blues, High on Fire would sound a lot more like Cream.

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It's not always easy, flipping the pages of Iron Man, to remember that you are reading the words of a genius — a man upon whose fretboard the death-urges of the 20th century announced themselves as Beauty. "Meanwhile, this bloke who had shot Albert went to hit Ozzy on the head with a metal bar. I put my hand in the way and it hit my fingers. 'Argh!' Fucking hell, that hurt." Or: "I had set Bill Ward on fire before, but this time things got out of hand. While he was rolling around the studio howling, I was laughing my head off. But when he continued screaming and writhing . . . "

That's actually one of the steadiest themes in the book — the terrible things his bandmates keep doing to Bill Ward. Alps of cocaine, endless financial hassle, one near-murder, Ozzy continually peeing himself, and Bill Ward getting covered in shit/painted gold/set on fire. Success blows their minds. Iommi, a band leader of the old school, doggedly keeps it together, doing perhaps slightly less cocaine than everybody else. History turns against him. "Punk coming in threw us a bit. The Stranglers were No. 1 at that time. I remember Geezer saying: 'We're a bit old hat now with all these riffs and stuff.' " But so what? Ozzy leaves/is fired, Iommi hires Ronnie James Dio. Dio leaves, he hires Ian Gillan. And so on.

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