We Won’t Forget You, Ozzy

Reflections on mortality with Mr. Osbourne

Posted Feb 26, 2020

The drinking, the drugs, the accidents, the illnesses. Ozzy Osbourne should have been dead many times over. He knows this, and we know this. The Prince of Darkness has flirted with faux-Satanism as a way to shock and critique, and his lyrics have often revealed the sadness and insecurity that underlie his clownish persona. But with his latest album, Ordinary Man, Ozzy reflects on the darkest topic of all: Death.

The album begins with “Straight to Hell,” a song that features no lakes of fire or dens of demons. Instead, Ozzy takes us on a tour of internal terror, the kind that results from addiction. “Deeper in the darkness you will hide,” Ozzy sings. The only escape he sees is death. As the voice of addiction says, “I’ll plant my bitter seed / You’ll kill yourself and I will watch you bleed.” Osbourne knows whereof he speaks, and this is not the first time he has sung about it. “Suicide Solution,” from Ozzy’s first solo album, is a song about drinking yourself to death, inspired by the untimely passing of Bon Scott, the legendary AC/DC frontman.

The difference now is that Ozzy seems to be taking the warning seriously himself. Currently seven years sober, he claims that Ordinary Man is the only album he has ever recorded while not under the influence. Still, sobriety is fragile, and he sings that he is “One sip away from everything I fear.”

Of course, at 71, even if Ozzy manages to stay sober, his days, like all of ours, are numbered. Sidelined with injuries and infections, Ozzy has canceled his farewell tour more than once. The depths of his depression during convalescence come through in another lyric from the new album, “Today, I woke up and I hate myself / Death doesn’t answer when I cry for help.” Though Ozzy may not have wanted to put a gun to his head, it sure sounds like he would have been glad to die in his sleep. He sings of “Sitting here in purgatory” and laments, “Mother Mary, Jesus Christ / I wish you heard me cryin’ out for help.”

Well, maybe they heard him or maybe they didn’t. But Post Malone of all people seems to have answered Ozzy’s prayer by asking him to contribute to the song, “Take What You Want.” Much to everyone’s surprise, the collaboration so invigorated Ozzy that he embarked on recording a new solo album, his first in 10 years. As always, he gets a lot of help from a crew of talented musicians and writers, but Ozzy’s own lyrical point of view is as distinctive as his haunting voice.

Often brutally honest with his lyrics, Ozzy in the past has described himself as a “Secret Loser” and a “Liar.” Now, he reveals the fear that his time is short and his legacy won’t last, “I’m runnin’ out of time forever / I know I’m someone that they won’t remember.”

The realization that the clock is ticking can be a catalyst to action, as making the new album attests. But confronting death can also make you wonder what it all means. Hitting the coffin nail on the head, Ozzy sings, “It’s cold in the graveyard / We all die alone.” Even if, on our deathbed, we are fortunate enough to be surrounded by loved ones, no one can accompany us for the final step of our journey. Nor does anyone know what awaits. It's no surprise, therefore, that many of us hope that memories of us will live on and that some of our contributions will continue to make a difference. 

For Ozzy, life has been bound up with his relationship with his audience. John Lennon may have been the original working-class hero, but Ozzy plays the part, too, and does a moving rendition of the song. Sidelined by Parkinson’s disease, Ozzy misses the interaction with his fans and fears that he will be forgotten, singing, “Don’t forget me as the colours fade / When the lights go down, it’s just an empty stage.”  More significantly, though, he fears that he will be forgotten after the final curtain call, predicting, “No future, no, no, no future / Replace me, now I’m gone / Black dresses, black roses / The world keeps turning on” and pleading, “Cry for me, cry for me / It’s what I really want.” But maybe he should want something else.

Because there could be an afterlife, Ozzy covers his bases, singing, “Tomorrow is my last goodbye / So I’ll be holy for tonight.” Recognizing that he has been no saint, Ozzy implores, “Pray for me, father, for I know not what I do / I am the monster, yeah, you must have read the news”.

Hopefully, Ozzy has many more days and much more music to give us before he finds out what, if anything, awaits him after death. Certainly, fans like me won’t forget him anytime soon, but there is only so much comfort in that thought. As Woody Allen once quipped, “I don’t want to live on in the hearts of my countrymen; I want to live on in my apartment.”

In the end, one thing is as certain as death and taxes: Despite his fears, Ozzy will not die an ordinary man.