Negative Creeps

Oh, sure, nowadays everyone likes Black Sabbath. You know, there used to be rules for this sort of thing. Black Sabbath at one time was viewed as a joke by most folks. The only people who liked them were kids so completely stoned all the time they were mesmerized for hours watching cigarette smoke emit from their mouths. These sloths were considered bottom-rung, jobless losers who liked this horrible sludge because it was the only thing slower and stupider than they were.

Of course, this view isn't fair. And God knows the alternative back then -- James Taylor; Elton John; Crosby, Stills, and Nash -- was far more disgusting. Who could blame these kids for not wanting to be a part of the "mainstream"? Just imagine, if you will, walking into a party where everyone's sitting around cross-legged singing "American Pie," then tell me "Paranoid" doesn't make just that much more sense. (Fact is, I grew up in the Eighties when things were worse. Kids danced to Huey Lewis and the News, who told us the heart of rock and roll was still beating, and Starship, who supposedly built a whole goddamn city on the stuff but played nothing of the kind. Sabbath's loud, primal guitar riffs and cloddish rhythms worked as both a fuck-you to the masses and as a complementary soundtrack to the loserville we knew literally inside out).

For people who consider rock music to be a social function, harder-edged music is alienating, as intended, every time. Why? Who knows? You'd think after years of living through all this musical junk and seeing that Western civilization is still standing, people wouldn't be so quick to cry foul when some lame form of debased entertainment shows up at a corporate amphitheater near them. But then again, if it weren't for these reactionary doomsayers, half the acts they decry wouldn't have careers in the first place, so we're back where we started. The honchos at the New Jersey Sport and Exposition Authority tried to halt Ozzfest from appearing there. Marilyn Manson apparently create "safety concerns." Fortunately, the law reminded them we have a constitution we use from time to time.

Black Sabbath came together at a time when values were shifting as audiences expanded. The lame white-boy English blues they had developed as Earth transmogrified into slower, modern blues, just as bands like Led Zeppelin were making it louder and raunchier. Sabbath got their shtick down fast. Their Halloween motif completely overtook their debut album, from cover art to subject matter, and set the pattern for subsequent releases. But conceptually sound though they began, no one could have predicted the actual grand noise they would make.

In today's sweepstakes, where rock seems to go through its own rough version of Darwinism -- pruning the weak, the out of tune, the hesitant to tour -- groups like Black Sabbath are anomalies. If a band is only as strong as its weakest link, then Sabbath is not the pillar of power it's been trumpeted as, but rather a mass of dysfunctional, maladjusted, social 'tards without a single clue of what correctly played professional music is.

Let me put it this way: Would you form a band based on the following qualifications? First, a drummer who sees no need to keep time, who can't swing in the current fashion, who plays entirely too many fills, and who within those fills hits too many drums. Second, a bass player who cannot lock with the bass drum in the traditional fashion, who solos whenever the mood strikes, and whose bass fails to stay in key above the fourth fret. Third, a guitar player who lost several fingers in a factory accident, who as a result can play only two-string chords, and who insists on extended solos regardless of the fact that he misses every third note. And finally, a singer whose voice wavers on and off pitch and has the tonal quality of an untrained seal and who writes lyrics about Satan, whom he claims to know intimately.

You see, times have changed. No one can play now, but everyone's technically deficient in the same way. Back in the old days, you had leagues of incompetents, from the Doors to Iron Butterfly to Big Brother and the Holding Company, who had no idea of what they were actually doing, but they all managed to make incredibly diverse noises. (It's much like cars. Today, every damn car looks like a big bubble. Back then, you had the Beetle, the Chevy Nova, the Firebird ... all crap, but distinctive crap).

Black Sabbath made a powerful noise. That they've now re-formed without original drummer Bill Ward is a true shame, since it took all four to crank out the trademark sound. Ward's replacement is Mike Bordin, formerly of Faith No More; no matter who they got, it wouldn't be the same. Heck, even if they had gotten Ward it wouldn't have been the same. Fun, for sure, to watch these ol' bad boys so near to collecting their social security checks crank out the fodderstomp for the crowds one more time, but Sabbath -- like all great art -- was truly of its time and place.