Register Wednesday | June 20 | 2018

Ozzy Osbourne And The Legacy Of Metalheads

How Metal Spawned Indie Music (And Vice Versa)

Going to see Ozzy Osbourne at age fourteen was better than church. It was 1992, so heavy metal hadn't yet been rendered entirely stupid, and the scene at the Hara Arena resembled the Judas Priest parking lot in the documentary Heavy Metal Parking Lot-full of drunks banging their heads to shitty car stereos.

My friend and I arrived early. We were too green to shotgun beers in the parking lot, so we hung around trying to look inconspicuous. In retrospect, we probably failed at this-as a member of the geek and doofus fringe groups, I was neither invited to these parties nor confident enough to mumble my way into one. This event was my first concert, and supposedly Ozzy's retirement tour (although his retirement lasted maybe four years between the No More Tears tour and the release of Ozzmosis, with a live album in between).

Nevermind and No More Tears were released within a week of each other in September of 1991 but, after noticing that a really hip scientist in an issue of The Incredible Hulk wore a Metallica T-shirt, I decided to go the metal route. Nirvana would have to wait.

Now, if I were one to revise history, the story would be this: Dave and I finished smoking a doob in the back of Dave's Geo before going to stand by the dumpsters out back of Hara Arena while Nirvana played inside. The concert was sold out and we were totally bummed, but we met a few chicks, made out in the back of the aforementioned Geo, caught up with Kurt after the show and went to a party at Michael Stipe's house. It was awesome.

But that's not what happened. I hadn't yet caught the Nirvana bug. Both Nevermind and No More Tears were released within a week of each other in September of 1991 but, after noticing that a really hip scientist in an issue of The Incredible Hulk wore a Metallica T-shirt, I decided to go the metal route. Nirvana would have to wait.

But I digress-let me tell you about the concert. Prong opened the show and no one cared. After their performance, the house lights came back up and we were left to our own devices for an indeterminable length of time. Then the lights dimmed, the crowd roared, lighters were lit, the dude sitting next to me lost his shit, the curtains parted and we were treated to a video montage of Ozzy's career.

Finally, the moment arrived. Ozzy stumbled out (this was before he shuffled everywhere) and screamed: "Hello, Bikini Bottom! All aboard the Crazy Train!" And they totally rocked out for about three or four songs, after which I realized that everyone had left the stage except for Zakk Wyld, whose guitar solo pushed the forty-minute mark. After a time, he disappeared and the spotlight fell on the bass player who attacked his solo like a party guest who just won't go home and, oh look, he's opened another beer! The rhythm section did a smooth transition from bass solo to drum solo, and the drummer soloed until the woman next to me gave birth. The child she bore grew to be a toddler, a tween, and finally a high-school graduate before Ozzy remembered that he was performing a concert and returned to the stage for a few more numbers and an encore. Then it was off to the tour bus to steal a Eugene Mirman bit and smoke pot off of some girl's tits.

Even so, I bought the T-shirt.

Recently, I dug out a copy of No More Tears and listened to the title track for the first time in over a decade. Two things struck me: First, there are a hell of a lot of keyboards. Second, it's seven-and-a-half minutes long! The length of the song makes the ninety-minute mix-tape I made, consisting entirely of "No More Tears" on repeat, more than a little bizarre. There's also a weird flute thing about four minutes into the track that reminds me of The Beatles' "The Fool on the Hill."

As millions of talking heads on VH1 will tell you, Nirvana's Nevermind sounded the death knell for any form of rock music that might be construed as fun.

As I see it, "No More Tears" is about that feeling you get as you lament the love you had for a woman you've just killed. You're saying goodbye to her corpse while the devil-or, at the very least, one of his valets-is waiting to take you to Hell. It's kind of a bummer, but that metal guitar chug-a-lug right after "the light in the window is a crack in the sky" still gets me. It's an anthem.

But another way to read the song is that it's lamenting the death of metal. As millions of talking heads on VH1 will tell you, Nirvana's Nevermind sounded the death knell for any form of rock music that might be construed as fun. Honestly, I don't think you can blame Nirvana for this as much as all of the metalheads either having to get day jobs or go into rehab. Not to mention the inward reflection of Mötley Crüe and Metallica after all of the band members were sent into therapy to save their recording careers. Nirvana sparked the malaise that spread through the metal scene, to be sure, but in the early days of Kurt Cobain's popularity, metal magazines like Rip put him on the cover; Nirvana was seen as metal's kindred soul until Cobain began to rebel against the machinations of his solipsistic corporate overlords. And all of the metalheads who had worn their hearts on their sleeves saw their album sales plummet.

It's not really metal's fault that it took the backseat while the underground scene nudged behind the wheel. It's just that the next generation of kids who wanted to rock the fuck out-the ones like me-received the metal dregs. As deep as my love is for Ozzy Osbourne, that concert sucked. Dr. Feelgood was way over and Metallica's Black Album was what I listened to while delivering newspapers. Where was the debauchery I was promised?

Today, the indie scene that Nirvana brought to the top of the charts has splintered into metal-loving segments. Dave Grohl's Probot is an example of the mainstream return to metal, Queens of the Stone Age is another. These are the bands that your average rock snob can probably justify enjoying. If you look deeper into the indie scene, you can even find bands that play metal instrumentals-like The Fucking Champs. By hook or by crook, metal has regained a level of credibility-it's enjoyed a resurgence without ever really going away. You can approach it ironically or straight on; it endures. Given a chance to go to that Ozzy Osbourne concert again, I surely would.

Frank Smith has written about music since sometime in the mid-nineties, when he fired off an angry letter to his local independent weekly. Since then, he's written record reviews and essays for the likes of Newsweek, The Dayton Voice (now defunct), the L Magazine, the Black Table, Tiny Mix Tapes and UGO.com, where he contributed to their Bands on Demand database. Robert Pollard from Guided by Voices once bounced an unopened can of beer off his head.