07 September 2014


I don’t really read lots of books anymore. I read books with information and seem to skim through them rather than read from cover to cover. Movie books and such mostly. But every now and then I like biographies of people I admire. I am finishing up a bio on Bobby Fischer but it is getting a bit depressing as the chess master slips more and more into some sort of madness. A bit on the lighter side were two auto-biographies (for the most part as both had some assistance in the writing area from professional writers) by two of my British rock heroes, Ozzy Osbourne and Keith Richards. These two guys are worlds apart in terms of the type of music they produced and the mark they left on rock history. I was a big super fan when I was a long haired hippie teenager of all the British rock/blues stuff. Still some of the best music ever made came from British lads of the mid 60's to mid 70's doing American blues and rock and roll better than the Americans were doing it. I was a Led Zeppelin nut and leaned more towards what they and Black Sabbath were doing back then than The Rolling Stones. And it is sad, as I saw Black Sabbath with Ozzy in concert, as well as Led Zeppelin, but when the Stones came to town I did not even try to get tickets. Back then if you were a Zeppelin fan you just did not dig the Stones too much, and it is the one big regret I have from my old concert going days. Now I probably like the Stones music more than either led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath’s. I would be in my late 20’s before I started to appreciate what they were doing. But, long before that I was into Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osbourne did a rambling auto-biography with the help of Chris Ayers, supposedly because of Ozzy’s dyslexia.

So, I picked up the book I AM OZZY at the airport in Bangkok Thailand back in 2010 while I waited 24 hours in the airport wondering if I was going to Thai jail because of a mix up on my passport and a missing exit stamp dating back to a 30 minute border crossing visit from Laos back in 2008. Not the happiest day of my life, but I got out okay in the end and got this book, which I bought off a lady boy in the airport book store. I really liked Ozzy and Black Sabbath back in the day and saw them t0ur for the Technical Ecstasy tour in like 1977 or so. After he was booted form Black Sabbath (I always considered the break up of Black Sabbath myself) I liked his early solo stuff but soon lost interest in the guy and eventually came to just dislike him and his gibbering reality TV persona. About the book I will say it is a mixed little thing really. If you are a Black Sabbath fan you will like some of the early anecdotes of Ozzy working in a slaughter house and the band trying to land gigs. Ozzy clears something up many people do not know, and that is that bassist Geezer Butler was responsible for the lyric writing really. He was the wordsmith for all those great songs and Ozzy does not try to take credit away from him for that, and he never has really. Lots of praise for guitarist Tony Iommi, though the two were often at logger heads it seems. I always like reading about how bands formed back in those days, and especially the British bands that had to do all they could to break out playing clubs in Britain and get to America and make it big before time ran out.

There are lots of little getting the band off the ground stories provided and the first half of the book is a cool read, but it is over before you know it. He is out of the band and the rest of the book just did not interest me. Some of the stories around Randy Rhoads were insightful and I did not know the details of his death to this degree before. But after Randy Rhodes and the forming of his solo band the book shifts really from music to his life with Sharon and the MTV stuff and living in California and I just lost interest, though I finished the book as it was an easy read. Basically nothing about guitarist Jake E. Lee and why Ozzy fired him. Very little about Zakk Wylde and Ozzy claims he had to part ways with him because Zakk drank too much! Ozzy does not come off in the end as likable, and is for the most part dismissive of his drinking and drug problems and his abuse of his Sharon, which had him charged with attempted murder in England in one case. All he gets out of it is how people are prying into his private life. He seems to not had a good relationship with his parents and on her death bed she asks him if it is true that he is really a multi-millionaire. He tells her yea, he is. What a guy, right. Of course rock stars are often out of touch with the so called real world and the feelings of people around them. Ozzy is not much different from most others. I still like Black Sabbath (switched over to Black Sabbath Vol. 4 to write this section) and I do not have to like somebody to appreciate their creative output. In the end I just could not like the guy much. I used to really think he was great as a rock singer, but he is violent and dangerous really, and all fucked up. I read an old interview where he killed a bunch of cats he had at his house in England with a shot gun. He skipped over that story here. I don’t why, since he doesn’t skip the one about nearly killing Sharon, who helped him form his new band and mothered his kids. Well, he does confess “it is something I have to live with the rest of my life.” Alright Ozzy.

Keith Richards does admit to killing a noisy parakeet in his book Life. In fact he admits to a lot of things and talks about a lot of things in this much better written book (co-written with James Fox). It is a longer book, of course, and Richard's status as a mythic rock star is greater than that of Ozzy’s of course. Only a few British rockers from that time, very few, can be considered a truly mythic rock god of the status Keith Richards is. Jimmy Page. Robert Plant. John Lennon. Paul McCartney. Mick Jagger. A few more maybe. The list is a short one. While Richards certainly has had his issues and is by no means a saint he comes off as so much more interesting and even likable (most of the time) than bumbling Ozzy. Again, lots of fascinating focus on how the band formed and trying to get record deals, though they appear to have risen much faster than I originally thought. Details on the issue with Brian Jones and the falling out between him and the rest of the  band and his eventual death. My favorite section might be the coming of Mick Taylor and the recording of Exile on Main Street and the albums with him on them. I just love reading about old recording studio adventures, and Life is full of them, as well as lots of details of Keith’s private life and the women in it, like Anita Pallenberg and Patti Hansen. It is all told in an interesting and well written style, that even when the narrative meanders off track a bit it does not get stale or boring. He gets into his drug and booze issues, and the big arrests around. Here he sometimes loses touch with reality when he feels persecuted for getting busted with heroin at the Canadian border, saying if it was anyone else but him the issue would be dropped and forgotten. Keith, if it was anyone else but you with cooperate lawyers working to get your skinny ass off they may still be in prison somewhere.

And of course there is lots of stuff on the famous feuding between him and Mick Jagger, told from Keith’s possibly biased perspective of course. As time has gone on I come to sympathize more and more with Jagger regarding the days when the feuding began (and still continues to this day). In the press I feel Jagger is a built less harsh than Richards and one has to wonder why the more controlled drug using and drinking Mick was doing all those solo albums and MTV videos, when in fact Keith was out of control and facing jail time. Keith does come off at times as a spoiled prima donna rock star and his remarks about the small size of Mick’s dick is totally asinine and in poor taste, as are his remarks about Mick’s over all musical abilities and attitudes, and to me only makes Mick look like the bigger guy in the end. I really did not a story where he walks in the studio while recording one of their later albums (A Bigger Bang maybe – which I am listening to now, a really good album really) and sees Mick with a guitar and brutally insults him, telling him basically there is only room guitarist I the band and it ain’t him. Guess Ron wood may not have liked hearing that either. An argument breaks out and Keith dismisses it in his style (that is often rude and arrogant) and I think he comes off looking worse.

But Keith is Keith, and he is certainly an amazing guitarist and songwriter and survivor. In the end despite his flaws and insanity he is the more fascinating character of the two I wrote about here today. I am looking for the Johnny Depp produced and directed (?) bio movie that is in the works now. A really good read about a real rock and roll legend. 

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