Sabbath minus Ozzy was of course a different band. Even as we salute Ronnie James (RIP) for his gusto, his pipes, and his occasionally superb lyric writing — Bloody angels fast descending/Moving on a never-bending line! — we must recognize that without Ozzy's uniquely friendless wail, his snarl of loneliness, the collective Sabbath charge was cut by about 50 percent. Drug sponge, piss artist, world expert at suffering-as-hedonism: is there anything, at this point — after his reality show and his memoir — that we don't know about Ozzy? God Bless Ozzy Osbourne, released this week on DVD, is a documentary in the vein of a testimonial, a companion work to Lemmy — shots of the old trouper post-gig, walking unsteadily around an empty room with pulsing walls. All the primary sources are tapped: Iommi's on there, describing their first professional encounter ("I said to Bill Ward, 'Forget it. This is a joke.' "), as are Geezer, Ward, Ozzy's sisters, wife, children, and personal assistant, and roaming herds of Ozz-maniacs bellowing their love. "He's a little twisted but he's ahright!" This is why the people love Ozzy: for his weakness and his madness, his crayzee-ness, his hopeless clowning, his massive tolerance of substances, and now for the fact that he has survived it all. "If it's gonna make somebody's day a little bit better to say 'Wow, I met Ozzy Osbourne today!' . . . I mean that's my job, y'know?"
As a young man he was quite beautiful: pale, strong, and spookily clear-eyed, a refugee from the factories, a vision of escaped horsepower. God Bless Ozzy Osbourne features footage of him bare-chested under a denim jacket, thick hands gripping the mic, his whole body arcing to the power of "War Pigs." Behind him Bill Ward, with an expression of gleeful intentness, is almost popping off his drumstool. Whence the source of this music's enormity? The members of Sabbath are notably disinclined to discuss it in any terms other than the completely non-fancy. "I think it was Tony," remembers Ozzy, "who said, 'How weird that people go to movies to get scared. Why don't we try doing some scary music?' " Geezer reflects on the cocaine years: "With the success of the albums came [sigh] more money, which enabled us to buy a better class of drug — which is basically all we were doing it for at the time."
Indeed. Sabbath might have been the only band in rock's annals to have benefited creatively from sustained excessive use of cocaine. Without coke's nastiness, its shitty white toxicity and grandiosity, we wouldn't have the religious vision of screaming ego-in-isolation (complete with Bolivian mini-rave-up) that is "Supernaut": Don't try to reach me cause I'll tear out your mind/I've seen the future and I've left it behind. "I was fucking king of the world at fucking 23," says Ozzy. "We were very high, high, high," says Bill Ward.