If you ever wanted to hop in a very specific type of time machine — say, the kind that takes you back to 1986 stoner culture and nowhere else — you should make every effort to attend an Ozzy Osbourne book signing. There are no Ed Hardy duds or bedazzled jeans, just the black shirtiest, Misfits tattooiest, acid-stained jeansiest, mulletiest show on Earth.
I got to the event early and headed into the bookstore to claim my voucher. The staff was wearing black shirts to fit the Ozzy theme. I, on the other hand, looked like I took a wrong turn somewhere near Vampire Weekend.
The lady at will call gave me my ticket and told me that my voucher entitled me to line up behind a balloon marked ‘AA’ — as in, once you leave the store and walk past 26 balloons marked A through Z, the 27th will be AA. My group would see Ozzy in around two hours, she said, at which point I would be given my copy of Ozzy’s book, “I Am Ozzy,” which I could give to Ozzy for his signature.
Wait, two hours? I thought this was going to be an intimate audience with the Prince of Darkness. I thought maybe he’d read a passage from his book and I’d get to have a quick word with Sharon. No such luck. This was a total cattle call.
And it got better. I would not allowed to take photos with Ozzy. Ozzy would not pose with me or for me. And Ozzy would not permit flash photography.
Yeah, this was going to be awesome.
I waded through the crowd outside the bookstore, looking for balloon AA. I soon learned that my balloon would not be erected for another hour to allow the billions of fans associated with balloons A through L their time with Ozzy. As far as I know, I was one of two people in attendance who received their books and tickets to the signing for free. Everyone else I spoke with purchased the book at full retail price ($25.99) for the chance to meet Ozzy. I had no idea that so many people were passionate about the dude.
At least the fans were totally entertaining.
They didn’t end up putting up my balloon for another hour and a half. The line leading to my balloon wrapped around the entirety of the shopping center, and it was about to rain. Behind my balloon were another 25 balloons marked BB through ZZ. The turnout was just mind-blowing. It was obvious that they were going to blow the two hour estimate, but hanging with Ozzy’s fans made the wait worthwhile.
In front of me were two kids who looked and acted exactly like Beavis and Butthead. They said “ya dude” a lot and giggled at one another’s jokes. They were great and funny line-mates.
Behind me was a mother and her teenage son. Seeing Ozzy was the Mom’s idea. She had been to Ozzfest a few times and was giddy at the thought of meeting the man himself. It would be another three hours before we finally got our chance.
Though it was cold, nobody complained about the wait. They just talked about the concerts they’d been to, the times they’d seen Ozzy with Randy Rhoads, or the memorabilia they’d collected. I enjoyed my time with them.
In fact, the weakest part of the experience was the signing itself.
When we finally made it into the store, we were handed a book, told to keep it open to the title page so that Ozzy could sign it — ever so sloooooowly — then rushed out. Ozzy had a coterie of staff and police officers around him (Sharon wasn’t there). Ozzy didn’t look up as he signed the books and I didn’t hear him say anything to anyone, even his own people. I had hoped to have him sign the book “to Eliza and Chloe” but it wasn’t in the cards. I can’t say I blame the guy, the sheer number of fans made it more of an endurance game than a real meet-and-greet.
Here’s the one decent shot I got of Ozzy as staff herded us by:
While Ozzy was signing my book, some guy behind me shouted, “Ozzy, how do you like Phoenix?”
Ozzy raised his head and smiled crazily, then the smile disappeared and he dipped back book-ward and scribbled his loopy signature for the millionth time. He looked more like a tired attraction trotted out for the curious masses than some rock god. Maybe that’s what I expected.
I walked towards the exit and found the Ozzfest mother wiping her eyes. “I can’t believe I’m crying,” she said. I think she was crying was because she was happy to see Ozzy, not because she was upset seeing him like that. But I can’t be sure.
Suddenly, there was a commotion behind me. The police had grabbed the guy who asked Ozzy how he liked Phoenix. “We don’t need to touch,” they told him. “We don’t need to touch.” I’m not sure what he did. Maybe he tried to shake Ozzy’s hand or something — can’t be sure.
The encounter ended peacefully, and Ozzy went on signing his books.
“Let ’s keep moving, people,” a staffer said, shooing us towards the exit.
I couldn’t help thinking that Ozzy — the Prince of Darkness; the man who bit the head off of bats and doves; the drug-addled psycho who tried to kill his own wife — might have craved a bit of a scuffle, a blessed break in his endless routine.
But I can’t be sure.