Ozzy Osbourne: The Anti-Brand

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Sadly, a good portion of our recent interview with Ozzy Osbourne won’t make it onto MainStreet.com. The man drops F-bombs approximately every 12 words. So we’ll just edit them out. Obscenity aside, Ozzy had plenty of interesting things to say about his reputation, the music business and, ahem, his bowels. He’s got a book coming out today called I Am Ozzy, which is why we were lucky enough to score 15 minutes on the phone with him -- living legend that he is

I wanted to start off by talking to Ozzy about his current public persona, compared to his image during his rock ‘n’ roll heyday with his band Black Sabbath and going solo thereafter. We write a lot about personal branding on MainStreet and it’s not a stretch to say that Ozzy has experienced a kind of PR metamorphosis. He went from being known as a kind of scary prince of darkness who bit the heads off bats and doves, to a kind of warm and fuzzy prince of darkness, fit for prime time TV (Ozzy, his wife and manager Sharon, and their two kids famously starred in the MTV reality show The Osbournes, one of the network’s biggest hits).

Ultimately, Ozzy rejects the notion that either his former or current public image is or was in any way scripted or contrived, and I believed him.

“What you get up from me is what I am,” he told me. “Believe me. My antics weren’t for anything but the antics. It wasn’t like I thought, ‘I’ll bite the heads off these things and then I’ll be on the front page tomorrow.’ If I had the trick of doing that I’d have made a zillion dollars.”

This is not to say he’s ego-free or totally oblivious to how he’s perceived (who among us is?). He’s admitted to having plastic surgery, telling Reveal Magazine in 2005, “It boosted my confidence no end. I've had a face job and a new nose.”

But for Ozzy, who lived much of his professional life in a drug and alcohol induced haze (he’s been sober since 2005) , the idea of a personal brand is nonsense. Frankly, when I used that kind of marketing jargon he pretty much had no idea what I was talking about, and I sensed he was a little bit annoyed, which in turn made me feel like a bit of a schmuck. He didn’t strike me as pompous or arrogant in any way, mind you, it’s just that he’s lived his life by the seat of his pants, and contends that none of his success or his public transformation was the result of any plotting… at least not on his part.

“I don’t do drugs any more. I don’t smoke cigarettes. I don’t drink alcohol,” he told me. “When you drink booze all the time you do crazy things. I used to think the whole world was drunk.”

Given all that hard living, it may come as a surprise to many that Ozzy has done as well as he has. He and Sharon have been ranked as one of Britain’s richest couples, having amassed a fortune of close to $150 million. Ozzy, however, has very little to do with the family finances. When I asked him what his biggest money mistake was, he couldn’t come up with anything, and told me that Sharon really controls the purse strings.

“She’s the manager. She’s the organizer,” he said. “I’ve been married to her for like 30 years and I don’t have that kind of responsibility. I’m just lucky I don’t have to worry about where the next meal is coming from.”

As for music, Ozzy is still very much in the game. He’s coming out with a new album this summer and he’ll be going on a stadium tour as well. But the music business has changed, he said, largely because of the advent of the computer.

“The days of the bohemian rock and roller who tours once in a blue moon and just makes records and sells records are  long gone. The royalty train is broken forever,” he said. Nowadays, because of digital downloads, musicians must go on tour if they want to bank real cash, but he added that many are shooting themselves in the foot by charging too much for tickets.

“Some of them charge $1,000 per ticket. I wouldn’t pay $1,000 to see God,” he said. “I’m not an advocate of rip-off ticket prices. You work your gigs with the state of the economy, so kids don’t have to re-mortgage the house to buy a ticket.”

He went on to say that some bands might be able to get away with charging an arm and a leg once, but only once.

“They get away with it one time, these big tours, and then the bands want to go again but… no one wants to go back.  It’s pure unadulterated greed,” he said. “You can’t do that.”

Another big difference between today’s music scene, and that of yesteryear, is the impact of digital technology when it comes organizing and producing a show.

“In the ‘70s and early ‘80s we never had cell phones. I have a cell phone now but I don’t use it. I don’t know how to work a computer and I don’t want to particularly,” he said, noting that years ago putting on a show was a much simpler affair. “In the old days all the manager would do is give you a piece of paper the time of arrival, the time we go on stage, and if you get lost, all you do is stop and ask someone. And now you’ve got electronic wires and computers. If the system breaks down, it’ll be chaotic.”

The book, which Ozzy wrote with Chris Ayers (author of War Reporting for Cowards) has plenty of chaos. One of the highlights he shared with us was the story of when Sharon had him taking a colon cleanser (she’s evidently always finding and sampling new kinds of health products). Unfortunately, he found himself at the home of the British crooner Roger Whitaker not long after taking the concoction, and soon enough nature took its course.

“When you pour it in your bowels, you’ve got to go to the toilet fast,” he explained... thanks for clarifying.

“So I was in his house and I used his bathroom. I had no choice. But there was no toilet paper. I had to use his curtains.”

He had to use his curtains. I love this guy.

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