Welcome to Tales From the Metalnomicon, a new twice-monthly column delving into the surprisingly vast world of heavy metal-tinged/inspired literature and metalhead authors. Enjoy! And if you have suggestions for future Metalnomicon columns, feel free to make them known in the comment section…
Despite the prophecy issued more than forty years ago by Black Sabbath, the vast majority of us still do not achieve Children of the Grave status until at least late adolescence. It is a societal failure veteran New Jersey metal journalist Brian Aberback attempts to correct with his “educational unauthorized rockography” Black Sabbath: Pioneers of Heavy Metal, the “only Black Sabbath biography written for middle and high school students.”
Well, high school might be a bit of a stretch: A grade schooler with an average vocabulary and at least a passing familiarity with the first season of The Wire should have no trouble comprehending the Black Sabbath text — sheltered youngsters can check the book’s handy glossary if, say, subpoena, sabotage, geezer, flower power, or sheet metal stumps them — and a high school student interested in “rockographies” would probably be better served hitting up absurdist classics like Hammer of the Gods or The Dirt.
Nevertheless, Aberback does a splendid job condensing the story of Birmingham’s greatest export down to its most important highlights and tastiest anecdotes, from Tony Iommi’s pre-Sabbath playground love of bullying Ozzy and the legendary “Ozzy Zig Requires Gig. Owns own PA” ad to the strangely serendipitous circumstances surrounding the loss of Iommi’s fingertips in an industrial accident and the serpentine path to a iconic band name. He manages to make the band’s music irresistibly tantalizing for rebellion-hungry newbies (“The song ‘Black Sabbath’ starts slow, building up to a sense of impending doom as a man realizes he cannot escape the evil demon that is after his soul”!) without skimping on some of the important morals of the story — e.g. when you get so wasted you bite the head off a bat, the rabies shots are extraordinarily unpleasant — or, as the press materials prefers it, “not glossing over any details while staying age appropriate.”
Here, for example, is Aberback on workaday, pre-Sabbath Ozzy:
Osbourne’s most infamous job was at a slaughterhouse, where he helped prepare animals for the butcher’s shop. This job contributed to Osbourne’s image later on in his career as a rock-and-roll wild man.
And here is Osbourne’s slightly less “age-appropriate” account from I Am Ozzy:
[T]he guys in the slaughterhouse would fuck around with each other, like they always did. They’d cut the strings on your butcher’s apron while you were leaning over the tank, so you’d get this spray of blood and shit and fuck-knows-what-else all down your clothes. I got sick of them doing that to me, and I got a bee up my arse about one guy in particular. So, I’m leaning over the tank and this guy sneaks up behind me and cuts my apron strings. Without thinking, I just turn around and whack him over the head with one of the fat poles. I just lost my cool, man. It was quite a heavy scene. I whacked him a few times and there was blood spurting out of his face. They had to send him to the hospital in the end.
That was the end of the slaughterhouse for me.
“Fuck off and don’t come back,” said the boss.
That’s why I became John the Burgular.
Wild man, indeed!
Black Sabbath contains welcome hippie-slagging ammunition for tykes who want to learn how to hate on the budding Beatles and Grateful Dead aficinados in their class (“Everyone else was into flower power,” Aberback quotes Ozzy saying. “It really made me angry and sick. It was all right for rich hippies living in California to sing about things like that, but what did we, living in Birmingham without two pennies to rub together, have to do with any of that?”), slightly obscured advice on how to deal with a Satan-phobic parent (“While ‘After Forever’ does mantion the pope in a negative light, it also talks about God’s love as a positive influence”), and even a little prepubescent, what-are-you-a-‘fraidy-cat? ribbing of Sabbath over the band’s belief that the castle where they recorded Sabbath Bloody Sabbath was haunted:
Whatever the explanation, Black Sabbath, the scariest band in the world, was too scared to stay overnight in Clearwell Castle. They still wrote andrehearsed there, but drove home every night at the end of the day. Today the castle does not appear to scare people. It is a popular site for weddings.
Anyway, Aberback’s wonderful little edu-tome got me thinking about how to best organize an accompanying soundtrack…without resorting to the obvious and way-too-sissy “Changes.” My initial playlist, open to further suggestion, is below…
1. “Children of the Grave” Master of Reality (1971)
This is natural choice for an opener, not only because of the song’s galloping earworm riff, but also for its pint-sized call-to-arms, perhaps the greatest this side of “School’s Out”:
Revolution in their minds — the children start to march
Against the world in which they have to live
And all the hate that’s in their hearts
They’re tired of being pushed around
And told just what to do
2. “Snowblind” Vol. 4 (1972)
Sure, Sabbath thanks “the great COKE-Cola Company of Los Angles” in the liner notes, but was this song really about mountains of blow…or the greatest snow day ever? The lyrics, as you can see, do not make this entirely clear…
Let the winter sun shine on
Let me feel the frost of dawn
Fill my dreams with flakes of snow
Soon I’ll feel the chilling glow
…but there is no doubt the Chevy Chase/Chris Elliot Snow Day would have been a much, much more interesting film if it followed Sabbath’s example.
3. “The Wizard” Black Sabbath (1970)
Might as well harness and direct the remnants of Harry Potter mania — a phenomenon that had some of the same enemies as heavy metal — into something darker and more interesting…
Evil power disappears
Demons worry when the wizard is near
He turns tears into joy
Everyone’s happy when the wizard walks by
4. “Killing Yourself to Live” Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (1974)
“Children are smarter than any of us,” the late Bill Hicks once said. “Know how I know that? I don’t know one child with a full time job and children.”
This wailing cautionary tale features Sabbath making a similar point — might as well instill the idea of finding a way to not hate your life into young minds early, for whatever good it’ll do…
You think I’m crazy and baby
I know that it’s true
Before that you know it I think
That you’ll go crazy too
5. “Heaven and Hell” –> “Mob Rules” Heaven and Hell (1980)/Mob Rules (1981)
Man, in two relatively short tracks Ronnie James Dio sure did explain a lot about the ridiculous mechanics of the world, no? I definitely wish I’d had this sort of a warning back in sixth grade,
They say that life’s a carousel
Spinning fast, you’ve got to ride it well
The world is full of Kings and Queens
Who blind your eyes then steal your dreams
…it’s Heaven and Hell
And, of course…
If you listen to fools,
The mob rules
6. “Fairies Wear Boots” Paranoid (1970)
Okay, things have gotten kind of dark. Let’s lighten it up for a few goofy, less-jaded minutes…
Goin’ home, late last night
Suddenly I got a fright
Yeah I looked throught the window
And surprised what I saw
A Fairy with boots on dancin’ with a dwarf
7. “Country Girl” The Mob Rules (1981) ; “Devil and Daughter” Headless Cross (1989)
Whatever your gender, young love is the ultimate bitch! So for our young coming-of-age men, we have this smoldering image of girl trouble personified, fit to be projected on any young heartbreaker laughing at you from behind the locker door…
Fell in love with a country girl, morning sunshine
She was up from a nether world, just to bust another soul
Her eyes were an endless flame, holy lightning
Desire with a special name, made to snatch your soul away, yeah
We sailed away on a crimson tide, gone forever
Left my heart on the other side, all to break it into bits
…and for the jilted young ladies, here is a liberationist anthem for those days when some insensitive aloof four-foot-five bastard ruins the Friday night dance, as is so frequently their wont…
Baptised with fire, too wild to be tamed
She’s hot, evil and ready to take any man
Let no one put assunder the power of the pain
He is the master of hell riding again
8. “Die Young” Heaven and Hell (1980)
Yeah, we all have to pretend to bemoan the nihilism of youth, but if we’re being honest there is something very beautiful and freeing about the bravery a lack of experience can bestow. Why not let them embrace it to some degree? They have the rest of their lives to cower in disappointment!
So live for today
Tomorrow never comes
Die young, young
Die young, die young
Die young, die young, young