There were lots of ways to gear up for a Black Sabbath concert back in the early seventies. The British rockers were in the process of inventing heavy metal with hits like “Paranoid” and “Iron Man.” A swing through town—in my case the San Francisco Bay Area—was considered by hordes of proto-headbangers (before the term was coined) to be a “big F’in deal.” Their arrival brought Halloween in any season, and, like All Hallows Eve, a transgressive excuse to dabble in the dark arts.
One might hold a long-hair séance, pot-fueled, to conjure the buried soul of occultism. The Saturday night before a Friday the 13th Sabbath show would be a good night to visit a cemetery, seeking imaginary spirits amongst the stones and crosses.
One invariable preparation for an upcoming Sabbath show was to listen to their music. They didn’t get a lot of radio airplay, but around the time of a concert at Bill Graham’s Winterland they’d materialize in the rotation, harshing the vibe between post-Brian Jones Rolling Stones and pre-Stevie Nicks Fleetwood Mac. Their records sold, and the early concerts were instrumental in fomenting a subculture that attached itself to popular music like one of Ozzy Osbourne’s vampire bats. I remember extreme heaviosity coming from the stage, people getting way too wasted, and a tinnitus hangover. I remember attending seven specific concerts over the years, but there may be more.
I’m holding two tickets to a September 13 show from Sabbath’s “The End” tour at the ironically-named (in this case) Sunlight Supply Amphitheater in southwest Washington State. I will not be holding any séances, or visiting any cemeteries (hopefully). I probably won’t even drag out my old cassettes, the ones that haven’t rotted out and unspooled. I want the performance to hit me fresh, like it did the very first time.
My preparation for the concert befits someone old enough to have followed the band for forty-six years. I’ve been watching “Ozzy and Jack’s World Detour” on the History Channel. The program follows father and son on the road, with young Jack at the wheel and Ozzy riding a curmudgeonly shotgun. Episodes have included Ozzy’s return to the Alamo, where he incited a flash mob, a properly reverent stop at Mount Rushmore, and a memorable visit to the Druid monument that caused Spinal Tap so much trouble.
What I’m taking away from Ozzy’s entertaining new reality show is a very positive message. It is clear that despite everything, the hard times, the triumphs, the spotlight, the substance abuse, and despite the recent domestic troubles between Ozzy and wife Sharon, rock’s Prince of Darkness appears to have survived with the blessing of a solid, loving relationship with his son. “The End” notwithstanding, their relationship will endure long after the final amplifier is silenced and the last guitar unplugged.
I’ll be accompanying my own son on a road trip: the second Black Sabbath ticket is for him. He certainly knows his metal. Obstetrical science affirms that fetuses start hearing at about six weeks. Therefore he was listening to Black Sabbath long before he came out of his mother’s womb. Now he’ll see them live for the first time, at the end of an era.
It would be remiss not to mention that due to a controversial breakdown in contract negotiations, original drummer Bill Ward did not participate in the band’s final tour. Rumors that Ward would appear onstage at the band’s final performance in hometown Birmingham, England have been quashed by the drummer, at least for now.
Beyond that, there will be no need to write a follow-up report about the concert. For anyone who’s ever been to one of the shows, it’s easy to imagine what will happen at the last Sabbath.