Once upon a time, 4 youths from a town in England started a band, and changed the course of music forever. For most people, that would describe the four lads from Liverpool. For the rest of us, it was Black Sabbath. Outside of the Beatles, Sabbath may have been the biggest influence on an entire generation of music. Sure, Zeppelin and The Who were bigger, more talented, more critically revererd, but for fans of heavy metal, it all starts with Sabbath.
The unique thing about Sabbath is that you can’t be luke warm. You either love them, or you don’t. I never “got” the Grateful Dead. I never understood my friends’ diligent obsession with a bunch of leftover hippies. And they in turn, never got us. There were only 5 or 6 of us that listened to hard rock in my crew, and having been ostracized, we were forced to worship in silence.
Well, maybe not silence, but in exile.
Last night, the reconstituted Sabbath came to Brooklyn, and much like church, we attended dutifully. In truth, I wasn’t expecting much. Ozzy has become a bit of a cartoon character in the past few years, and how much energy can you expect from a trio of 65 year old men?
Boy, was I wrong.
Over the past few months, I have become semi-obsessed with the ghost of Christmas past. When we were young, most kids talked about time-travelling to the future, to be able to fly on rocket ships and travel around in hovercraft. I was always thinking about the past. To be able to go back and watch Dimaggio play, or to see The Doors at the Whiskey. Those were my dreams. Even now, I often find myself longing for the moments in my own troubled past. Not to relive them, or change the course of events, but to be able to watch from afar, like some old black and white movie. If I could, surely one of those scenes would be a barely teen-aged version of myself, laying in the grass in Owl’s Head Park, my head resting on my 8-track player listening to Sabbath, while the rest of the world danced barefoot around me crooning about Scarlet Begonia’s and China Cat Sunflowers. That entire life-altering moment can be summed up in one angst filled line, delivered to my impressionable ears by his Ozzness.
“Why doesn’t everybody leave me alone.”
Sabbath was always derided by the mainstream world, and dismissed by the musical press despite the fact that they were selling millions of records without the aid of radio at a time when radio was essential to a bands popularity. They were labeled devil-worshipers for their choice of imagery, despite the fact that they had as many love songs and anti-war songs as the more acceptable outfits.
Last night, about eight songs into their set, the boys came to the greatest Sabbath song of them all, N.I.B.
NIB is an Edwardian tale about how Lucifer falls in love with an earthly woman, promising her “the sun, the moon, the stars”, if she will follow him into hell. And when she rejects his advances, he abdicates his throne to be with the woman he loves.
All you need is love, indeed. Even Lennon couldn’t come up with a tale like that.
Last night, for five minutes, I got to be that kid again.
In 1979, the music world was dominated by disco. Donna Summer and the Bee Gees ruled the charts and the airwaves, and the hard rock world was in shambles. Keith Moon had died, Aerosmith was in tatters, Zeppelin was limping along to a brutal end, and the Sabs had parted ways themselves, to go in different directions.
On the last day of 9th grade, my friends and I ventured into Bensonhurst, a world away for a 14 year old, to try and get into L’amour, a dance club that would soon become the Mecca of heavy metal in this part of the world. A Fillmore East for my generation. While most of my friends got past the bouncer with their older brothers’ ID, I was left out in the cold, gnashing my teeth about how much fun they were going to have without me.
As I walked away, I steeled myself and found my courage. I waited for a moment, and then deftly slipped behind these two gorgeous starlets in their lace and leather and walked in step behind them as they entered the doors of the club. I looked the bouncer right in his eyes and winked as he gave the girls the once-over. He smiled at me and told me to have a good time. I never saw the girls after that, but it didn’t matter. I was on the inside.
That night, Twisted Sister kicked my teen-aged ass. The perils of Rock and Roll.
1980 rolled around and the world changed again. Van Halen and Rush broke on the radio, and the bands I loved were everywhere. Even Ozzy had a hit with Crazy Train. Heavy Metal had arrived.
I hated it.
I loved being ostracized. I hated that the people who two years prior had ridiculed me, were now waiting in line for Judas Priest tickets. I refused to buy the new records. Instead, I went backwards, into the past. With what tiny amounts of cash I could muster, I bought records from the early 70’s, secretly wishing I could go back there.
Coppola put “The End” into Apocalypse, and a few months later I got my copy of No One Here Gets Out Alive. I had arrived. I had found the Rock and Roll messiah that I had been looking for, despite the fact that he had been dead for 10 years. I didn’t need those MC wearing rockers anymore. I was nestled firmly in the past, and loving it.
Eventually, I conceded and came back around. I bought “Fair Warning” and I bought “Number of the Beast”, and despite feeling that they had “sold out”, I listened and enjoyed, albeit begrudgingly.
By the time that Appetite for Destruction came out in ’86, all was forgiven.
Not everyone gets Sabbath, but Maiden did, so did Soundgarden, and GnR, and Metallica and dozens of other bands, and for that, we should all be thankful.
When a band comes to your town, it’s special. Seeing an unmasked KISS play a club-show in L’amour was one of the great times in my life. I still have that show on cassette somewhere.
Seeing Black Sabbath two miles from my home was pretty special too. You wouldn’t think that three 65-year old men could muster the energy to kick the asses of 18,000 saggy-faced middle-aged kids, but that’s exactly what they did.
Maybe it’s best to leave the past in the past, but it’s nice to visit every once in a while.
Here’s to you, Tony, Ozzy and Geezer. Thanks for the ride.