The Ozzy Osbourne T-Shirt

The Ozzy Shirt. Illustration by L. Steve Williams.

The Ozzy Shirt by L. Steve Williams.

In shop-class on the first day of junior high, the guy across the worktable lifted his head from his folded hands and declared to me, to himself or maybe to no one, “I am going to wear an Ozzy shirt every day until the end of school.” He was not a kid on whom you would exactly pin the term “goal-oriented,” but this guy was resolute in his mission.

This task was not all that terribly difficult to pull off, for my seventh grade year commenced in 1981, during the black reign of Ozzy Osbourne, king of all teenagers. Ozzy was already infamous from Black Sabbath before his solo onslaught, but that incident with the bat (my cousin was at that show) set his mythology into overdrive. I heard one mom explain to another once that Ozzy Osbourne threw live dogs into the crowd and refused to start the show until they were delivered to the stage dead. I pictured him shirtless, tapping his foot, looking at the watch on his studded wristband for 10 minutes, wondering what was taking so bloody long with those dogs.

We’d just moved across town. All my friends the year before went to a different junior high and my mom had just remarried. My world was shaken and I hadn’t heard a note of Ozzy Osbourne, but I adapted, faking it. I’d say I preferred Diary of a Madman to Blizzard of Ozz when the subject was broached, a curious stance to most, one that falsely painted me an aesthete. My painfully uncool interest at the time really was in calligraphy—I had special pens and an inkwell and everything. It turned out to be my greatest asset because I could dash off the Ozzy logo with the broken lines weaving throughout the Superman-raised O and Z’s and Y with ease. I quickly became the go-to Ozzy-logo-on-your-notebook guy. It was like discovering you have a knack for tattooing upon entering prison.

Ozzy Shirt took a shine to me when I emblazoned his unused notebook with a version done up with flames, and he had my back when the nerdy, virgin calligrapher I really was, was in danger of being exposed. “Nah man, he’s cool,” he said in my defense a couple of times over the year. I helped him get through the drafting portion of shop class, and he did all the work when we had to disassemble and rebuild a lawnmower engine.

I inherited a stack of records from my new stepbrother who was 12 years my senior, mostly terrible looking ’70s stuff, but at the bottom was a black cover with a smeary picture of an elf. Black Sabbath’s Paranoid, the key to Ozzy consciousness. Upon first listen, I didn’t get it. All that bluesy boo-hooing about the bomb and war. I couldn’t believe my well-honed calligraphy skills were being put into service of this hippie BS. I was about to shelve it and keep living a lie when I saw “Iron Man” on the track listing. Ozzy had been running low on new product for his dog-killing minions to consume and resurrected Black Sabbath tunes were filling the demand. Ozzy Shirt had imparted to me over the roar of our rebuilt lawnmower engine, “’Iron Man’ is the shit,” so I dropped the needle.

BAWNNN-AAH-AANNNNNN! I AM IRON MAN! BAWNNN-AAH-AANNNNNNNNNNN!

My stepdad came running to my bedroom door looking a little pale. “I was afraid that record was in that stack!” My stepbrother had played this song over and over, as I was about to, as does everyone when they first discover “Iron Man.” Repeated exposure to “Iron Man” and that filthy caveman riff fills a teenage heart with flames. I suddenly could see why everyone wanted Ozzy’s name scrawled on their clothes, their knuckles, their every possession. Nobody wants him. They just turn their heads. Ozzy was us and his mark was a talisman of a brotherhood of the damned.

On the last day of shop class, our teacher was spent. We had proven to be, in his final assessment, one of the worst classes he’d ever taught. Passing out the final exam, he issued strict orders to not turn the test over until he said so or you would get an automatic F. I glanced over at Ozzy Shirt as he absently flipped his paper over, as if his clumsy hands were an idle breeze blowing the paper around. The shop teacher witnessed this transgression and exploded “NO! WHAT DID I JUST SAY? WHAT DID I JUST SAY! AUTOMATIC F!” and wrote his name on the board and circled an F next to it. Ozzy Shirt’s head fell immediately to his desk like he’d been shot, and stayed there for the rest of the hour. He might have cried a little.

As we fled out of the shop, I tried to offer Ozzy Shirt some consolation, but he’d moved past it. “Dude, I have to repeat this year anyway. Shop was the only thing I was passing anyway so whatever.” He shot me some devil horns over his shoulder as he plodded off to fail another final exam, Ozzy’s hands writhing in madness on the back of his shirt, killing the people he once saved.