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Understanding Ozzy

You can’t. Can‘t understand Ozzy Osbourne. Can’t understand his oatmealy mumbling. Can‘t understand where he’s coming from -- unless, like him, you were raised in the bedbug slums of industrial England and ended up one of Planet Earth‘s most notorious bipeds. Always, though, he’s waving his illustrated arms behind the bars of celebrity, begging you to understand him. Look away? Can‘t do that, either.

With the 2001 CD Down to Earth and the new MTV series The Osbournes, Ozzy has offered the latest opportunities to get under his skin. Maybe. More substantially, he’s deposited another shipment of great entertainment with his face on it -- like a trademark, a seal of quality. Thanks again, Ozzy. Whoever you are. “I‘m a very simple man!” We think not.

One thing we do learn: Osbourne is the world’s most prominent sufferer of survivor guilt. It‘s clear that this unpretentious yob doesn’t think he deserves fame, a family and a house in Beverly Hills. Considering the years of drugs, booze and edge-cliff behavior (he‘s now generally sober), he ought to be rotting in a crypt like Keith Moon, John Bonham, Brian Jones, and so many other idiots who rocked the boat in the ’60s and ‘70s. Also dead or addicted, he realizes: thousands of youths who idolized him, the way he idolized dope-shooting, wife-beating John Lennon. Now, kids will find ways to kill themselves, whether they dig Joplin or Jesus, and mid-’80s lawsuits that accused Osbourne of causing suicides with his anti-alcohol tune “Suicide Solution” got the thrashing they deserved. But an artist with an overactive conscience might write lyrics like “Oh the children sit and listenThe belief was in their eyesIn a land without tomorrowsIn the night you hear their cries.”

The words, from “Facing Hell,” are only a fraction of the instances in Down to Earth and The Osbournes where Ozzy shows that, on some weird level, he thinks the Black Sabbath curse is real: He did install himself as a leader of a children‘s crusade to damnation. He’s “running out of faith and hope and reason.” There‘s a “crushing weight” on his shoulders. He has nightmares, hears voices in his head. As he sang in 1998, in the last song he released with Sabbath, “I’m paying the price for selling my soul.”

But wait -- maybe it‘s not too late to flip Satan on his ass. How to perform the reversal? The American way. Through a TV show.

In The Osbournes, set in his real home with his real family, Ozzy casts himself as an archetypal television doormat dad -- domineering wife, crazy kids, noisy neighbors, dog shit on his floor. Figuratively, he’s raising his hands to heaven like some Homer Simpson version of Job: Haven‘t I suffered enough? His house is packed with (uninverted) crosses, and so is his wardrobe: When Conan O’Brien takes note of the crucifixes loaded around his neck, Ozzy confesses, “I‘m going to need every one.”

Ozzy also hopes to score indulgence from the Deity by televisionally demonstrating, as he sang in Down to Earth’s “Gets Me Through,” that he‘s “not the Antichrist.” No more chomping the heads off avian critters, no more pissing on the Alamo. You never saw a guy so chummy with cops -- he hangs with admiring gangs of ’em in two of the first three episodes. He lectures his teenage kids to abstain from drugs, alcohol and cigs, disapproves of his daughter‘s tiny tattoo. Citizen Osbourne even refuses to change his statutorily mandated water-saving showerheads and let his kindred get a decent hose-down.

On the other hand, he can’t help being Ozzy. It‘s notable that MTV’s vigilant bleeping of obscenities consistently renders f**king the only word contextually intelligible in the speech of these diction-challenged pottymouths. When wife Sharon hires a canine psychologist to housebreak her multipet kennel, Ozzy suggests therapy: “Get a piece of wood and whack the dog right in the back of the head with it.” And when daughter Kelly has a birthday party, it‘s satanically themed.

This isn’t Reality TV. The original concept of using hidden cameras to record candid situations was junked early on; a true-life documentary doesn‘t require three directors and five story editors. (And it isn’t this funny.) The retakes must have been tiresome, though no doubt Ozzy needed little urging to re-simulate sex with a cat or re-sniff a dog‘s ass if it meant he could experience, as he terms it, “The smell of success!”

Success is right, thanks to the continuing entrepreneurship of manager-missus Sharon Osbourne. The first episode of The Osbournes was the highest-rated debut in MTV’s history, the show has drawn a whole new over-34 demographic, and Ozzy gets a star on Hollywood Boulevard Friday. Proof either that Ozzy is a brilliant entertainer who can do no wrong, or that, twist though he may, he remains under ironclad contract to the Lord (Lady?) of Darkness.