Three Imaginary Girls

Seattle's Indie-Pop Press – Music Reviews, Film Reviews, and Big Fun

The wrong-headed legacies of Ronnie and Ozzy

Two scenes from a 1980s elementary school, Wilmington, Delaware:

1986: My best friend Ronnie approaches me in the hallway. "You're not gonna belive what tape I bought last night. Ozzy Osbourne's new album." Shock. Horror. Sure, we were as hardcore as 12-year-olds could be, I thought. But… OzzyOsbourne? The man that eats bats? He worships the devil doesn't he? Isn't his music dark and evil and, and, well, just wrong?

1983: Homeroom. A Monday morning classroom full of nine and ten year olds scared to death. Facing our own mortality. Wondering when the bombs would drop and our faces would melt off, our homes would be obliterated, our families would be left scarred survivors of nuclear holocaust — if they were lucky. We were also tired. The night before, we had all been up just a little later than usual watching the ABC TV-movie The Day After, about the aftermath of a nuclear attack on the United States, starring Jason Robards, Jo-Beth Williams, John Lithgow, and Steve "Mahoney" Guttenberg.

Today, Ozzy Osbourne is a cuddly sitcom Dad. The Cliff Huxtable of heavy metal. 12-year-olds today aren't scared of Ozzy, they laugh at him and buy his bobble-head dolls. But he had a definite image of menace about him then, and not undeservedly. Black Sabbath is still scary, sludgy rock that grinds along like heavy machinery, driven by the Tony Iommi riff engine and a rhythm section that could strip the plaque off your teeth. But most disturbing of all was that wounded-animal howl that crawls underneath your skin, singing of war and demons and madness.

The fear I had of him back in the mid-80s, though, didn't come from his music. I had heard precious little of it at that point. What I knew were the stories. The amazing thing about Ozzy Osbourne, unlike most rock stars, is that the stories tend to be true. He did bite the head off that bat onstage, and he topped that by chomping the noggin off of a dove during a meeting with record execs. He is, or at least was (I have heard nothing of a repeal), banned from the Alamo for relieving himself against its hallowed walls. He did try to kill his wife, the very same wife that now hosts a cloying daytime talk show (I think — has that atrocity been cancelled yet?). And the massive intake of drugs and alcohol — well, what do you think left him the shambling, incoherent Homer Simpson that he is today?

Ronald Reagan didn't technically have anything to do with The Day After. His acting days were far behind him, and none of the quaking kids in that classroom had ever seen King's Row or more than a clip of the monkey film on late-night television. We knew him only as Our President, and his presidency had more than a little to do with the climate of fear that produced nuke-attack TV spectaculars and nightmare-plagued children.

Reagan was the first president that I, and probably many of you reading this, was consciously aware of. I was born a few months before Nixon resigned, lived through Ford and Carter, but have no memories of them. I was six when Reagan was elected and fourteen when he left office. I came of age under Ronald Reagan, and I became a progressive Democrat under Ronald Reagan. Those two facts are not coincidence. I remember when ketchup became a vegetable, facts were declared stupid things, and trees were revealed as deadly pollutants. I may not have known much, but I knew when I was being lied to. And when Iran-Contra came around, and Ronnie's lying, grandfatherly face was all over my television, I didn't understand half of it. But I knew when I was being lied to.

But when Ronald Reagan passed away earlier this month, all was forgiven. Reagan was the Great Communicator, the single-handed Destroyer of the Red Menace, the charming silver screen cowboy who occasionally stumbled and said those funny, funny things that we all knew were out-and-out lies, but shucks, we liked 'im anyways. Nowhere to be found were the Central American death squads, the arms deals for hostages, the record deficits; the press fell into line as if we owe our leaders a myth-making process when they die. Granted, there is a certain amount of respect due, but when the mourning process goes on for a week (as it did here), and there is no analysis, something is seriously amiss.

I will grant Reagan a significant role in the downfall of the Soviet Union, but he didn't do it alone, with a wave of his ten-gallon hat and a cry of, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." Gorbachev himself is due a huge share of the credit, and the USSR's economic downfall was not entirely due to US policy. First, though, he scared that classroom full of kids for years with threats of nuclear devastation. It wasn't until his second term, when he was convinced that maybe he should offer a little carrot with that stick, that his policies yielded any positive results at all. But foreign policy is boring, right? So let's just point the cameras at the casket for the third day in a row and bask in His magnificence.

Ozzy Osbourne will likely be remembered as the loveable lug from TV. Fortunately, we still have the great music which, if you squint, you may be able to listen to with the original intensity intact, not neutered by the new, more popular image. History may take a little longer to properly assess Reagan. For now we'll have to deal with every other building in DC being named for the Gipper, and campaigns to put his face on the ten-dollar-bill and Mount Rushmore. But eventually the more objective bios will come, and history, with any justice, may yet remember Ronald Reagan as the president who should have been impeached.

And in the short term, we're blessed with another president who lies, who mangles the English language, who is seen as a loveable dolt controlled by his Machiavellian underlings — allowing him to get away with all manner of plotting and dissembling, another cowboy running up huge deficits and taking credit for ruinous foreign policy that may look good in retrospect in spite of — not because of — his actions. And if the popular sentiment for Ronald Reagan helps carry G-Dubya to a second term this fall, that, to paraphrase Ozzy Osbourne, would be the Ultimate Sin.

Hooray for Imaginary Shaun! He's our political correspondent for "Election 2004" and we're extremely pleased that he'll be checking in every week or so to reflect on recent events in the political campaigns.

Three wholeheartedly supports this report but opinions expressed are the author's and do not necessarily reflect opinions or policies of the girls {although, as igLiz says, "It doesn't necessarily not reflect our opinions…}"