Saving Ozzy Osbourne
The rock legend announced his retirement from touring Wednesday.
Update: On Wednesday, February 1, Ozzy Osbourne announced he was cancelling his upcoming European tour and retiring from touring due to a spinal injury he suffered four years ago and other health ailments. He says he’s still trying to find a way to perform without having to travel.
I’d like to ask Ozzy Osbourne to come to Jesus.
Yes, that reads as a crazy sentence. Osbourne is known as “The Prince of Darkness” in rock and roll. He uses occult imagery in his lyrics and videos, and is famous for biting the head off a bat. Osbourne is also 74 and struggling with some health issues.
I think Ozzy wants to come to Jesus, even if he himself might not know it.
Ozzy Exhibits a Religious Curiosity
For the decades I’ve been listening to Osbourne’s music, there has always been a religious curiosity and, most important, a questioning of the very occult influences that inform Osbourne’s music. In Ozzy’s 1980 song “Mr. Crowley,” the singer examines the life of Aleister Crowley, the 20th century British occultist nicknamed “The Great Beast.”
Crowley, who said “‘Do What Thou Wilt’ shall be the whole of the law,” inspired many rock musicians. He is one of the notables featured on the Beatles’ 1967 album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (he’s positioned next to Mae West). Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page was inspired by “the wickedest man in the world.” In the 1970s Page invested in an occult bookshop named Equinox, after Crowley’s book series, then purchased Crowley’s former home Boleskine House.
In his 1971 song “Quicksand,” David Bowie sings, “I’m closer to the Golden Dawn, immersed in Crowley’s uniform of imagery.” In a 1976 interview, Bowie offered that at the time his “overriding interest was in Kabbalah and Crowleyism.”
Offering Skepticism More Than Admiration
This is dangerous stuff. Yet in his 1980 song, Osbourne offers more skepticism about Crowley than admiration:
Mr. Crowley, what went on in your head?
Oh Mr. Crowley, did you talk with the dead?
Your lifestyle to me seemed so tragic
With the thrill of it all
You fooled all the people with magic
Yeah you waited on Satan’s call
These lyrics could have come from a Christian rock band. Yes, yes, I know — Osbourne’s music and imagery can be an occult gateway to the demonic. It just seems to me that that is not the fate he wants for himself.
Take “One of Those Days,” a song from his recent album, Patient Number 9. In interviews Osbourne revealed that Eric Clapton, who played on the record, was not comfortable with the some of the lyrics:
Disarray and burning nations
Dancing in the smoke
Getting high on suffocation
Better not to know, yeah
Hey, hey, have I lost my mind?
Killing myself but I never die
It’s one of those days that I don’t believe in Jesus
A close reading of this song reveals not a man defiantly cursing the name of the Lord but a would-be believer agonizing over his sin and hoping, indeed praying, for something better. “Killing myself but I never die” is a particularly strong lyric — after all, death is the dark passage we all pass through in the hope and expectation of rising again with life in the Lord. To “kill” yourself without the release of death is a curse.
Occult Imagery and Rock Music
Osbourne has, of course, been responsible for a lot of Satanic and occult imagery in his music, and at 74 it may be time for him to admit that such imagery is not just theater but can lead to a dark place. According to the book Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll by Peter Bebergal, the occult in rock music was more about theater and fun than the diabolical. It’s not a convincing argument.
The change in the 1960s and 70s from the Beach Boys’ odes to surfing to Pink Led Zeppelin’s secret symbols seemed abrupt. But the occult influence on the music, notes Bebergal, goes back to the Occult Revival of the 19th century and the poet W.B. Yeats and experimental musicians like Erik Satie and Claude Debussy, all of whom were influences on 20th century rock musicians. Both Satie and Debussy were members of the Kabbalistic Order of the Rose-Cross, an occult group. Furthermore, at the time the blues emerged after the Civil War, Christianity in the South was mixing with African voodoo, with followers easily treating Catholic saints as stand-ins for African deities.
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“By virtue of not being the music of the church,” Bebergal writes, “the blues were believed to raise the devil in their midst.” Blues great B.B. King often talked about the conflict between blues and gospel music, arguing that the same rhythms used in a lot of blues songs were similar to those used in songs of worship.
Yet while the blues turned out to be a healthy and vital part of American music, other influences were not as benign. Bebergal tends to oversell his thesis, omitting the disastrous results of the occult fascination among so many musicians. He also ignores the life-affirming spiritual euphoria that comes from a band such as U2 or an artist like For King and Country, or Lauren Daigle, musicians who draw on Christianity rather than Crowley. At its best and most imaginative, rock and roll is beautiful, affirming and is rebellious not against love but against the evil forces that result in addiction, violence and death.
Bebergal argues in Season of the Witch that a lot of occult influence on rock was just theater, with performers like Alice Cooper (who these days is now most often seen playing golf) putting on a corny horror show for the audience. But he also explores the musicians who lost their minds and perhaps even their souls.
Syd Barrett, the founder of Pink Floyd, ruined his mind with drugs and became a recluse. The Rolling Stones toyed with Satanic images in their music and then unleashed real evil at Altamont, their concert that ended in chaos and death. Tony Iommi, the guitarist for Black Sabbath, was given a book on witchcraft. He claims he woke up at 3 a.m. to find a dark figure hovering at the edge of his bed. At one point in the early 1970s David Bowie said he thought the devil was living in his L.A. swimming pool.
Jesus is the Way Off the Crazy Train
As a guy who has been listening to Ozzy since I was 15, I say this to the Prince of Darkness: The Jesus you talk about in your song, that you imply belief in even if you have experiences that seem to drive you from him, is real. So is hell. Jesus is the only way off the crazy train.
Mark Judge is a writer and filmmaker in Washington, D.C. His new book is The Devil’s Triangle: Mark Judge vs the New American Stasi.