“I’ve Always Got Demons”: Ozzy Osbourne on Patient Number 9

The week before last, the headlines should have belonged to one renowned English subject alone: Birmingham-bred Black Sabbath/Blizzard of Oz firebrand Ozzy Osbourne, who, at 73, was returning with a solid new solo album, Patient Number 9, packed with cameos from some of the greatest guitarists in rock, like Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Mike McCready, Zakk Wylde, and his old Sabbath cohort Tony Iommi. To celebrate the set, the banshee-throated rocker even performed its title track—plus the catalog classic “Crazy Train”—live during half-time at the Rams/Bills NFL season opener, broadcast on NBC. And it was a triumph on many levels, especially given the man’s personal travails that plagued him over the past few years, like a battle with pneumonia, a Parkinson’s diagnosis, a serious debilitating fall he took at home, major neck surgery and a positive Covid-19 test earlier this year. But sadly, all media outlets were suddenly busy covering another prominent English resident, easily its most famous, the Queen Elizabeth II, who passed away at 96 the day before Patient Number 9 hit shelves.

Osbourne humbly took a backseat to the entire world mourning such a charismatic woman, who led her country for a truly remarkable 70 years. And naturally, the Prince of Darkness got the chance to swear fealty to her in person over the years. “And the Queen had a good sense of humor,” he’s pleased to report. “She saw me and came over and said, ‘Oooh! So this is what they call variety, is it?’ She kept the country together, really, and she was a very special person.” What’s in store for Britain in the future? He’s not sure. “But Prince Charles is a very, very nice man,” he elaborates. “So I hope the Royal Family survives, because I like having a Royal Family. But it was certainly the Queen who held it all together.” The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and his equally high-profile wife have even been considering a move back overseas from their adopted home in an increasingly violent America. “Sharon wants to,” he sighs. “I’m American, I love it here, but where mama wants to go? Daddy ain’t far behind, you know?”

For now, Osbourne has a great record to promote. Produced by Jack-of-all-instrumental trades Andrew Watt, Patient Number 9 plugs each axeman in where appropriate—Beck on “A Thousand Shades” and the title track; Clapton on the bluesier “One of Those Days,” McCready on a grungier “Immortal,” Iommi on the duly bone-crunching “Degradation Rules” and“No Escape From Now”; and old associate Wylde coloring in the rest. David Campbell orchestrates the strings, and late Foo Fighter Taylor Hawkins handled a good deal of the drums. The sessions proved the perfect pandemic distraction, and kept Osbourne’s mind off a lot of the physical pain he was experiencing, he says. “Especially since I’ve stopped tying to kill myself—I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t do any of that anymore.” Belatedly, now that the monarchy-in-mourning newsfeed has slowed down a notch, he had some time to talk to Paste.

Paste: Last time we spoke, we talked a lot about your paintings. Are you still doing them?

Ozzy Osbourne: Yeah! I was just doing one today! I do it just to pass the time—it’s just a hobby of mine, since I was always into design, you know. Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of circles—shapes made out of circles, and I just spend hours doing them now. I usually do them on a big giant sketch pad, and I’m actually working on one right now.

Paste: You sing a lot about nightmares on this album. Do you, personally, actually experience any recurring ones?

Osbourne: Well, I haven’t had them in awhile, but I have had nightmares. I used to have these dreams where I’d be running down the corridor, and this corridor’s got doors on it. So then when I’d run past these doors, people would run out and chase me. And every time I’d walk past them, more people would join them—it was crazy!

Paste: What’s your take on mortality now? I have Parkinson’s, too, and I’ve been through so much, I’m pretty much “Meh” about it now.

Osbourne: Welcome to the club! But you know what I found out about Parkinson’s? It’s more common than people want to think it is. The only reason is, if we hadn’t been diagnosed, we still wouldn’t know any different.There are so many people out there with some form of Parkinson’s. I mean, I haven’t got the form like poor old Michael J. Fox—my Parkinson’s is the mildest one they’ve ever had. But then, it’s nothing to get cocky about, because I could wake up tomorrow morning and be paralyzed. That’s still a possibility, and it freaks me out, you know?

Paste: I only recently learned that you’re supposed to do constant neck exercises—turning your head side to side, up and down, to keep Parkinson’s in check.

Osbourne: Yeah. What I find is, I walk up three short steps, and I have to consciously walk with bigger steps and then walk down three. But with the surgery that I’ve had on my neck and the Parkinson’s, it’s really hard getting back to where I was. I mean, I don’t think that I’ll ever get back to where I was. But do you do shakes? Have you got the shakes?

Paste: Not exactly. In August of 2017, I flew back to the Midwest as an only kid to deal with the passing of my mom. I single-handedly emptied my family estate, sold the house and flew home after two horrible weeks. But when I arrived, my (now-long-suffering) girlfriend informed me I was walking slower and more stooped over, but I hadn’t noticed. Then my left hand started to shake, and my handwriting on the right grew smaller and smaller. Finally, in January of 2018, I finally got the diagnosis I was expecting—Parkinson’s.

Osbourne: I know what you mean about the writing. If I’m writing, it depends on my mood—if I get pissed off or I’m feeling down, my writing goes from big to small to smaller. Are you on Sinemet?

Paste: No—a cool new time-release one that works, after two nightmare years on an OCD-inciting drug called Mirapex, which had me, as a diabetic, compulsively eating sugar until I lost over a hundred pounds and nearly died.

Osbourne: Well, Sinemet fucked me up bad. But they’re coming out with new medications all the time for it, aren’t they? But I was on that drug from 2003 on, and my memory went! I would go onstage, and I would forget what the fuck I’m doing—I’m going, “What song are we on?” Or “Where the fuck am I?” I did a speech one time at the Grammy Awards, and I said everything twice! People were cracking up, and I was like, “Why are they laughing at me?” But your memory just disintegrates. But to be honest with you, I don’t think about it much now—I just get on with it, you know? If you go on worrying about it, it can really spoil your day.

Paste: How did Parkinson’s affect you putting this album together? Did it light a fire under you?

Osbourne: Well, because of the pandemic, plus the fact that I can’t walk properly, I thought, “What can I fucking do to get my head going?” So I did a couple of albums—I did two albums in four years. And the last album? It took its toll on me, but I had to do it. But working with [producer] Andrew Watt on this was great—he’s a young kid, and he doesn’t like to mess around. He’s very energetic, and I call him the Double Monkey—he never sits still for five seconds.

Paste: Plus, he plays almost every instrument and he sings.

Osbourne: Yeah! And we got some great players on this album—Jeff Beck, Tony Iommi, Eric Clapton …

Paste: And the late, great Taylor Hawkins on drums.

Osbourne: Taylor Hawkins! And it was so sad when Taylor died. Very, very sad. He was a really nice guy.

Paste: This can’t be the first time you met Jeff Beck, though, right?

Osbourne: No, I’ve met Jeff Beck a few times. But as we were doing this, Andrew suggested him. He said, “It would be so cool if you could get Jeff Beck to do this!” But it turned out that my business manager in London was managing Jeff Beck. And I said, half-joking, that I wondered if Jeff Beck would take a regular day job and play on my album. But he agreed to do it! And then we did another song, and Andrew said, “Well, what about Eric Clapton?” And I said, “Oh, no—you’re stretching it now.” But he agreed to do it, too!” And they played amazingly. And the thing you learn from them is, you realize just how much masters of their craft they are, but Eric Clapton is just a genius, and so is Jeff Beck.

Paste: How was going back to your old English hometown of Birmingham in August with Tony Iommi for the Commonwealth Games? You’re pretty much Prince of the City now, aren’t you?

Osbourne: Oh, that was such a blast! And then last week, I did the NFL thing, and that was fun. It was good to be back on the stage, you know? I couldn’t do much moving around, but it got me on the stage. But where that Commonwealth Games was was literally less than a quarter of a mile from the school I went to with Tony Iommi, and as we drove past it on the way back to the hotel, I remember I was thinking, “If you’d have said to me when I was 14 that I’d be doing this, I wouldn’t have believed you.” And I’m going to be made a Doctor of some sort of Birmingham University, and they’re on about making me a knight—I dunno. But for my wife’s sake, it would be nice. So I don’t think about it, but it’s another notch on my belt, if you like.

Paste: Who is Patient Number 9, exactly? A composite?

Osbourne: I wrote that about somebody in the crazy house. And it’s not boy-meets-girl, but it’s fun. And he’s fun. Well, I suppose despite being in a mental hospital, he’s fun. But it’s kind of like my version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, you know?

Paste: I think the crux of the record lies in the “No Escape From Now” line, “Are you my enemy or are you my friend?” You may never get a true answer until the end of your life.

Osbourne: I think that this world we live in, this life, until you get it right—or until you realize what you’re doing wrong and start getting it right—you’re gonna come back until you get it right, and then you can move on. It’s a weird philosophy I have. But you’ll come back, even if you have seven visits back, and then your spirit moves on to a different plane. I don’t believe in organized religion—I’m a spiritual person, and I have to be, because starting my life the way I did, and where I am now in my life, it’s just incredible, my journey.

Paste: In “One of Those Days,” you mention a day when you don’t believe in Jesus.

Osbourne: Yeah, but that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in Jesus. It’s like, I’ve had one of those days, and I don’t believe in Jesus. It’s like you’re angry with everybody, you know? So it’s like, “Don’t tell me to believe in Jesus when I’ve been like this.”

Paste: What gets you through each day, then?

Osbourne: The love that I have for my wife, the love that I have for my friends. I mean, the education that I received out of the system was minimal. But the love I have for what I’ve been able to do with people is unbelievable! I mean, I’ve affected people’s lives, you know!

Paste: In one track, you discuss wanting to be “Immortal.” But you already are—your music will live forever.

Osbourne: Well, actually that song is about a vampire, and vampires are immortal. So it’s all about being a vampire. And I suppose I will be [immortal], or at least my voice will. And when I die, I’ll leave my records, so in a hundred years’ time someone might be reading a book about Ozzy Osbourne, and they might be able to buy my records somewhere, you know? I dunno. I’m still listening to The Beatles!

Paste: Obviously, your dream is to get back onstage again, full tilt. But was there a part of you that went into this album thinking, “Who knows? This just may be my last.”

Osbourne: Oh yeah! Every time! Every time I do an album, I’m desperately trying to get back my armor. And I will get back onstage to a certain degree, but nowadays there are things you can do, you know? Someone was telling me about this suit thing that you can wear which works from your brain. I don’t know what it’s about, but it’s some kind of skin suit you can wear that works with your brain. There are all kinds of things now!

Paste: You seem to have laid a few demons to rest with Patient Number 9.

Osbourne: Yeah. But I’ve always got demons. I can’t sit still—I’ve gotta be doing something, you know?

Patient Number 9
is out now on Epic Records.

Listen to a 1992 Osbourne performance from the Paste archives below.