OZZFEST OR ROCK'N'ROLL JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL?

Commentary by R. Scott Bolton
August 2005


Iron Maiden was just about to take the stage when the recorded voice (later identified as Big Dave) began chanting, "Ozzy! Ozzy! Ozzy! Ozzy! Ozzy!" over the loudspeakers. I thought it was a little strange at the time. Why chant Ozzy's name when the mighty Maiden was about to come on? But then I realized that, yes, this is Ozzfest and, yes, they had done the chant earlier, so maybe it was just another moment to pay tribute to the man and the legend.

And then Bruce made some comment about the Ozzfest people asking them to play only a 55-minute set instead of their planned 60-minute set. "I told them that if we couldn't play the full 60 minutes," Bruce said, "that we wouldn't fucking play at all!" 

It was shortly after that the first egg hit the stage. It was the first of many. At one point, the band had to stop so that Nicko could wipe off his drum set. Then, during "The Trooper," in which Bruce runs across the stage waving a British flag, someone tried to crawl onstage with an American flag, only to be dragged down by security. Then, during "Run To the Hills," "Hallowed Be Thy Name" and "Number Of The Beast," the band's sound system was turned completely off, ruining the live performances entirely.

Grumbling about this "bullshit" and questioning the timing of someone climbing onstage with an American flag, someone managing to smuggle 36 eggs in to throw at the band and the three apparently well-timed power outages, Bruce more than insinuated that someone at Ozzfest was responsible. 

Finally, when the band came out to perform their encore, they got through two songs before they were cut off again, this time by the Ozzy chant, "Ozzy! Ozzy! Ozzy! Ozzy!" Somehow, Dickinson's microphone remained on, and he began chanting "Maiden! Maiden! Maiden!" The crowd was pretty well divided but I'd have to say that Iron Maiden had the majority of support. 

Iron Maiden finally left the stage but the lights didn't go out. Instead, Sharon Osbourne took the stage. She said she wanted to thank Iron Maiden for being on Ozzfest and that she loved the band. But, she added, "the lead vocalist, Bruce Dickinson, is a prick and had disrespected Ozzfest since they began their stint with the tour."

The crowd, still divided, screamed back, "Fuck you, Sharon!" and "Ozzy! Ozzy! Ozzy!"

It was a dramatic finale to a bizarre performance by Iron Maiden and a black mark on a strained but otherwise enjoyable day. And, frankly, I think that both Bruce Dickinson and Sharon Osbourne are to blame. 

"Bruce Dickinson is a prick," Sharon told the 45,000 fans there that night. And you know what? He can be. I speak from first hand knowledge. When I first met Bruce during an interview for his brilliant "Chemical Wedding" solo CD, Dickinson was a true gentlemen. He answered the questions I had with intelligence and genuine interest, he played several tracks from the forthcoming CD and we had a very enjoyable afternoon. Just a few days later, however, at a live performance at the House of Blues, Dickinson singled out my photographer, Lou Moreau, doused him and his $400 camera with a water bottle and called him many a colorful name. Dickinson's publicist at the time tried to explain that Bruce was ill and that the flu had made him cranky. Later, I was told that my photographer's flash was annoying Dickinson and that was the reason he stopped the show to douse Lou. But it wasn't Lou's camera with the flash at all ... it was the other, non-media fans who had smuggled in instamatic cameras. So that explanation ... you should excuse the expression ... didn't hold water.

Later, when Dickinson re-joined Iron Maiden, I had a pair of review tickets and a photo pass set up through opening act Soulfy's publicist. When I arrived, I was told that I had no tickets nor a photo pass. After hanging around for hours, I was told by the member of another big name band that Dickinson had cancelled dozens of media passes ... not only of Iron Maiden's but the other lesser-known bands as well. In fact, a few moments later, I met up with Soulfly drummer Roy 'Rata' Mayorga who told me that Dickinson had even cancelled Roy's parents' passes. Thanks to Roy, however, I managed to get into the show. When Maiden took the stage, Dickinson took a solid three or four minutes to bad-mouth and insult the members of the press. I'm not a thin-skinned person but Dickinson's comments that evening pissed me off. They were insulting, misguided and stupid. 

But I never let my thoughts for Dickinson get in the way of my love of Iron Maiden's or even Bruce Dickinson's solo music. They are one of metal's great bands and, no matter what his attitude, Dickinson is one of metal's great singers.

Which brings us to Sharon Osbourne. Sharon is ... shall we say ... a strong-willed individual. Which is why she's been able to turn Ozzy Osbourne the rock'n'roll singer into an Ozzy empire. I wish she was managing my career. She created Ozzfest and she's kept it being one of the top concert draws in the country year after year not to mention the fact that it's obviously the greatest metal fest of all time. So it's no far stretch to imagine that Sharon has a bit of an ego herself. Yes, Ozzy's unique and unmatched talent had a lot to do with it, but Sharon molded it into what it is.

Two such giant egos just had to bump heads and I imagine with no difficulty that's exactly what happened  on this year's Ozzfest.

Recently, Sharon admitted in a statement that she was the one pulling the plug on Iron Maiden's sound system. "Was Dickinson so nave to think that I was going to let him get away with talking shit about my family night after night?" she said on the Ozzfest website. "I don't think he realizes who he's dealing with. I will not endure behavior like this from anyone." Sharon did not cop to the eggs or other problems but, with her admission about the sound, it's not much of a stretch to get there. Even if she didn't, messing with Maiden's sound system was dead wrong. (Sharon later admitted to Kerrang! that it was indeed she who was responsible for the eggs and everything else that night).

If Sharon had a problem with Iron Maiden, or just with Bruce Dickinson as she indicated in her appearance that night and on the Ozzfest website, then she should have dealt directly with them. She had the power. Simply banning Iron Maiden from touring with Ozzfest  in the future would have been an effective response. When I last saw Iron Maiden on the "Brave New World" tour, the venue had to give away about 2,000 tickets to charity in order to fill the house. Even then, the place wasn't full. I'm not saying that Iron Maiden needs Ozzfest; I'm just saying there's no way they're going to play to 45,000 or more people in America without it. Bruce would be wise in remembering that the event is called Ozzfest and not Maidenfest for a reason.

Still, Sharon fucked up. Instead of dealing directly with Iron Maiden, she wound up taking the problem to the fans. The fans were the ones who suffered when Maiden had to stop to clean up splattered eggs; the fans were the ones who suffered when the PA went out during three of Maiden's best songs and the fans were the ones who were howling in anger and frustration that the show they had paid good money for was being destroyed by petty politics. I agree with Sharon that most of the people there were not there simply to see Iron Maiden. But Maiden was a big part of the show. I was looking forward to their performance, my friend and staff writer Keith was looking forward to their performance and thousands of those present that evening were looking forward to seeing the band live. Ruining their live performance was not a strike against Bruce Dickinson; it was a strike against the fans.

Ozzfest is supposed to be a celebration of a music genre and a lifestyle. This year's Ozzfest, at least in Devore, California, felt more like rival high school football teams trading insults, playing pranks and stealing mascots. 

I hope this kind of nonsense is kept behind the stage next year.

Of course, there is another possibility as well: That the whole thing was done for publicity. In this day and age of guerilla marketing, I suppose anything is possible.


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Copyright 2005 by R. Scott Bolton. All rights reserved.
Revised: 23 Aug 2016 22:57:09 -0400
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