When the boy grew tired of pirate stories before bed, he asked me to tell him a rock n roll story.
But it’s gotta be a little bit scary, he added.
So I told him about Black Sabbath.
Once there were these four lads from jolly old England, I told him, his room dark but for the red flickering glow of a spaceship nightlight. Good blokes, hard working dudes all. They were playing the blues, playing that heavy rock n roll in a band called Earth. But they weren’t having much luck.
After a Saturday night gig somewhere out in the moors or the swamps or whatever they’re called over there—foggy, anyway—their van broke down at a crossroads in the dark, moonless hours of the morning.
Dang this, they said, or something similar but British. They were bummed right out. They thought about throwing in the towel on the whole music thing, going back and spending their lives in the factories, losing the rest of their limbs piece by bloody piece.
If only we could catch a break, the singer, Ozzy, says. I’d do just about anything.
Welly welly well, guess who rolls up to the crossroads just then wearing all black with a funny beard and burning red eyeballs?
You’re dang right the devil! Devil says, I hear you boys could use a break?
You’re dang right, Ozzy and the boys reply. We need a break. Big time.
I can help you, says the devil. But it will cost you…
Done deal, buster, the boys replied and they shook hands all around. Whatever you need.
Pleasure doing business with you blokes, that dirty old devil laughed, walking off into the misty night. All your dreams and more are about to come true.
Ozzy went home and dreamed of a spiteful iron man from another world. Geezer dreamed of a wizard in black. Tony dreamed of war pigs and Bill, he dreamed about faeries in army boots. When they awoke, they changed the name of the band to Black Sabbath and boy, did the devil deliver.
The music they made was so heavy, so deadly, so evil, the world couldn’t handle it. The records they made started flying off the shelves and soon they had stacks of amps that made arena bleachers tremble by the thousands. They became lords of this world. Masters of reality.
But as it often does, the thrill of it all took its toll. Ozzy, he was going through changes. He got paranoid, went snowblind. He cursed, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. At night, those red eyes haunted him.
You said it, bud.
What’d Ozzy do?
Oh boy. Ozzy, contemplated the suicide solution, killing himself to live. But you can’t kill rock n roll, son. Ozzy knew that. So, Ozzy quit the band. Or was asked to leave. Got fired. Whatever. Depends who you ask. Either way, Ozzy was out.
And that caught the dirty old devil by surprise, boy. Never expected it. Course, the other boys kept at it, had their ups and downs. Heaven and hell. Devil kept up his end of the bargain there, and the boys did too—Tony did, at any rate.
Then what happened?
Buddy, the Ozzman was flying high again there for a while. He tries to steal away the night, outrun the devil on a crazy train over the mountain. He’s a madman. It almost worked!
But now the devil’s peaved. He’s real steamed, wants revenge and how. So he sends Ozzy a warning. Bam! Devil kills his buddy Randy in a helicopter crash!
Whoa. But Ozzy didn’t die?
No! Ozzy just keeps on rocking. What else can he do? He pays tribute to his fallen friend. He tries to appease the devil by doing all kinds of wild stuff. Bites the head off a bat, let’s a bunch of live fire ants crawl up his nose. Bids goodbye to romance. I don’t know. Anyway, nothing worked.
Ozzy, he’s tired. So tired.There is no rest for the wicked, son. Finally, the Ozzman breaks down, somewhere east of St. Louis.
No more tears, Ozzy pleads, mascara running down his cheeks. Leave me alone. I don’t want your promises no more!
But the devil? He ain’t no nice guy. He just laughed, and reminded Ozzy of the terms of their bargain. Then he walked off into the night.
The boy was quiet. I thought perhaps he’d fallen asleep. But then, he rolled over.
What happened to Ozzy?
He’s an old man now, I tell him. Sick and tired, mostly.
Does he still rock?
It was my turn to pause. How do you tell a five-year-old about diminishing returns, decades of disappointment punctuated infrequently with brief flourishes that only hint at a return to form? How do you explain the shameless depths of depravity inherent in reality television stardom, or the sprawling excess of Ozzfest? In time, the boy would figure it all out himself. We all do.
Instead, in the silence, I pictured Ozzy as last I’d seen him. Dressed in black from head to toe, singing songs so heavy, so deadly, so evil, that the world still couldn’t handle it, even so near the end.
Hell ya Ozzy still rocks, I told him. A deal’s a deal, after all.
Sheldon Birnie is a writer and dad from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada who can be found online @badguybirnie