Wednesday, March 15, 2006

My Night at the Waldorf with Ozzy Osbourne

"Though many bands have succeeded in earning the hatred of parents and media worldwide throughout the past few decades, arguably only such acts as Alice Cooper, Judas Priest and Marilyn Manson have tied the controversial record of Ozzy Osbourne." Barry Weber and Greg Prato, All Music Guide

Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this week, which seems a fitting time to talk about my night with Ozzy at the Waldorf Hotel in 1997.

Before you go "Ewww" I should mention it wasn't an overnight. It was just an evening, and Sharon was there too. My role was to produce Ozzy's first public interview of the year--an AOL online chat--to kick off his umpteenth comeback Ozzfest tour and a new CD.

We met in a deluxe penthouse atop New York's posh Waldorf Astoria Hotel. 'Downtown Julie Brown' was the interviewer -- you might remember her as one of MTV's first VJ's. The next day Ozzy would announce the tour and sign The Ozzman Cometh CD's for his fans at Tower Records. But that night he was all mine. So to speak.

As a Boomer and a devoted fan of The Boss, Billy Joel and Motown, the prospect of meeting Ozzy Osbourne was far from my idea of nirvana.

Frankly, I'm an anti-fan of heavy metal and the only thing I knew about Ozzy is too disgusting to repeat.

Oh, okay, I'll tell, but remember, you asked for it.

Ozzy's "people" had only one ironclad stipulation about the interview: there would be no questions about bats. If you know what that means, you're smiling -- or gagging.

If you're shaking your head in confusion, here's the back story: in the 80's Ozzy and the heavy metal band Black Sabbath were serious alcohol and drug abusers. There were rumors of Satanism. During a now notorious concert a fan threw a live bat onto the stage. Ozzy bit its head off. Yes, really. (He supposedly thought it was fake, and had to cancel the show to have rabies vaccinations.)

I was more than a little creeped out by the idea of meeting Ozzy, even 16 years later. Not looking forward to spending time with a bizarre zonked out hard rocker. Yet it was up to me to help Ozzy connect with his fans on AOL. A challenge to say the least.

Expecting the worse, I was surprised and relieved when a pleasant, squeaky clean man in a navy velour Adidas track suit wandered into the room and rather diffidently asked if anyone had a Pepsi and an ashtray.

We'd set up a round table with two laptops. I would type the intro and questions and had recruited a nice kid named Sean from AOL's New York-based Bookreporter to type Ozzy's answers. We quickly added bottles of Pepsi and several ashtrays for Ozzy's omnipresent Marlboro Lights.

While we chatted before the interview I was struck by three things. Ozzy's glossy, glorious mane of hair. His name tattooed on his multi-ringed fingers. And his undeniable charm. Yes, really.

As the online interview progressed it became clear he's not all there. But what remains is a talented man with charisma to spare.

If you've seen him in his more recent incarnation as the befuddled, profane father in the MTV reality series The Osbournes, and paid some attention to the words between the expletive-deleted beeps, you know what I mean.

He is incredibly profane. But he's also smart. And witty. He's totally devoted to--and dependent upon--his wife Sharon. And he holds no illusions about his checkered past, its effect on his children ... and on other people's children too.

He spoke candidly about his former drug and alcohol abuse and urged his fans not to make the same mistakes.

One of his best lines came in the middle of the chat when a questioner asked about the extent of his drug use. "If they dropped a nuclear bomb on New York," Ozzy said. "The only things left alive would be cockroaches, Keith Richards and me."

Not a pretty picture. But as you might glean from the picture above--one of the many he graciously posed for in addition to signing studio photos for us and our kids--Ozzy Osbourne is actually a pretty nice guy.

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