Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Thoughts on the Black Sabbath Meltdown

August 20, 2005. Devore, CA. I’m one of thousands of concertgoers enjoying Iron Maiden’s set at Ozzfest when, out of nowhere, the sound goes dead. After a few moments, the sound is restored, allowing an obviously angry Bruce Dickinson to mutter something about “asswipes” before the band kicked into the next number. If memory serves me correctly, the sound went off on Maiden a few more times after that (with more than a few eggs thrown at the stage for good measure), with Bruce delivering similar vitriol each time. Shortly after Maiden’s egg-pelted set, the unmistakable voice of Sharon Osbourne informed the crowd that, “Bruce Dickinson is a prick!” Now, I don’t know if that’s true, but one thing I do know for a fact is that, on a warm August night in California, Sharon Osbourne ripped me off.

While it remains anyone’s guess as to why Bruce Dickinson and Ozzy’s better half really got into it, there’s no doubt at all that it was unspeakably unprofessional to pull a stunt like that in front of people who bought tickets to see an Iron Maiden show. Ever since that moment, I’ve been suspicious of anything involving Ozzy Osbourne and his…representatives. And let’s be honest…was Ozzfest ’05 really the first time we’ve had to put up with such mindfucks? Nope…and anyone who doesn’t agree should have a chat with Bob Daisley about his bass tracks sometime.

With the above incident in mind, I wasn’t the least bit shocked (just deeply saddened) when the War of the Press Releases began in the days leading up to Black Sabbath’s long-awaited gig in Birmingham this past weekend. Soon after Bill Ward announced that he was not performing drums for the band’s three scheduled reunion shows, Geezer Butler – historically the quietest of the four Brummies – shot back at his now-former drummer with uncharacteristic bitterness. Now, I’ve been in enough bands to know how ugly a split can be, but the following passage in Geezer’s statement really got to me:

The O2 Academy was available in Birmingham, where we were rehearsing, so we decided on that, and to make a donation to Help For Heroes Charity, since we’d be ironing out any glitches we may have. Then Bill put out a further statement saying he’d been ready to play the Birmingham show,, but he was expected to have to do it 'for free'- well, I think that’s basically how you raise money from gigs for charity – you play them 'for free'.

Butler’s above statement is a true head scratcher in light of the fact that: 1. Ward, in his own statement on the matter, said he would have done the show for free, and 2. Ward has spent the past decade supporting a slew of charities through the sale of his solo CD, Straws (http://www.billward.com/discography/straws). When considered in this context, Geezer’s statement was as curious as it was sad. Well...at least he didn’t call Bill a “prick.”

But enough of this…I certainly wasn’t in the room when any of these press statements were written, and I’ve already made my feelings on Bill Ward known in a previous post (available at http://www.bravewords.com/news/178063). But here are some things I can offer as a fan:

1. I’ve seen videos of Tommy Clufetos’ performance with Sabbath, and the guy simply doesn’t cut it in this band. Actually, Tommy’s a great player, which is exactly what makes him so wrong. He’s a metronomic player, not a groove player. Without the groove in Sabbath, this might as well be a cover band. Tommy’s one of those exceptional session-type guys who can blend into virtually any situation – but ultimately offers very little that’s memorable. When I spoke with Eric Singer a few years ago about his time in Sabbath, he mentioned how challenging it was to play songs like “War Pigs,” since Bill was “all over the place” on the original recordings. It’s that looseness that gave Sabbath their swing and soul. There’s very little life in the drumming in the videos I’ve seen. (But hey, Tommy’s drumming with Sabbath and I’m not, so what do I know?)

2. In the future, if/when I’m tempted to spend money on any new Sabbath show, album, etc. that doesn’t feature Bill Ward, I’m skipping it and making a donation to one of Bill’s charities (listed at http://www.billward.com/discography/straws/) instead.

3. That band that played in Birmingham was NOT the Black Sabbath it should have been.

4. I’ll always look at any press statements made by/on behalf of Ozzy Osbourne and the remaining members of Black Sabbath with very skeptical eyes.

5. Get well soon, Tony

EMAIL JOEL at gaustenbooks@gmail.com