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Sunday, Feb. 14, 2010

Reflections of a madman


By RYAN McLENDON
The Associated Press
I AM OZZY, by Ozzy Osbourne with Chris Ayres. Grand Central, 2010, 416 pp., $26.99 (hardcover)

"I Am Ozzy" is a true Hollywood story in book format — a ride through rock 'n' roll history with a driver saturated in controlled substances. It's Ozzy Osborne's stumbling, rambling, decadent beyond recognition memoir, as over the top as the author himself. The book would be heartbreaking if it weren't so hilarious.

This autobiography of the indefatigable Prince of Darkness chronicles the often obscene life and times of John "Ozzy" Osbourne. It follows his winding path to stardom from a meager upbringing in Aston, Birmingham, in Britain, where he lived an unremarkable life in a post-World War II house with his parents and five siblings.

His early life was severely troubled. After stints as a mediocre student (he was diagnosed with dyslexia in middle age), a failed day worker and an inept burglar, Osbourne found himself in Winson Green prison. His time behind bars was brief, but it weaned him off petty crime.

Osbourne still itched for stimuli outside the mundane, blue-collar existence that permeated his town. His love for music — the Beatles tapped into his earnest sonic zeal — prompted him to pursue music as a career. Armed with a PA system and ragtag gaggle of local musicians, he began planting the seeds for Black Sabbath, the rock band that would gain notoriety for occult-themed music and drug-fueled antics.

For much of their career, Black Sabbath lived on a diet of groupies, beer and cocaine. The quantity and rapidity of their binges were legendary, and their buffoonery on and off the stage was unsurpassed.

Osbourne's life played out like a rock opera. He started his band, married young, had children, got divorced young and was fired from Black Sabbath. He then built a solo career; married his second wife, Sharon; had three more children; and continued as a force in rock. He operated in a self-professed pharmacological stupor until he was diagnosed with Parkin Syndrome in 2005, forcing him to abandon drugs and alcohol.

His story is told in a Dickensian monologue, replete with British colloquialisms and poor grammar, as he relates tales of debilitating drug-induced paranoia, drunken rooftop orgies and driving drunk to the hospital when his first wife was in labor.

If you're looking for a fine-tuned, poetic, literary gem, look elsewhere. This book is gritty and raunchy. But while Osbourne's memoir is sometimes painful to read, it's also sidesplittingly funny. The narrative is like a bear trap laced with opium; it hurts, but you soon enjoy it.

Osbourne holds himself to task for his run-ins with the law, not financially providing for his parents when Black Sabbath was signed and nearly killing a priest with hashish baked goods. But he gives himself a pass for other actions, such as the forceable removal of cats from his garage by way of shotgun and countless infidelities during his first marriage.

As a storyteller, Osbourne is like an aging, long-winded sage with a pint on hand, and he's not a writer (the book was dictated). But he can certainly entertain.



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