Nuremberg's Zeppelinfeld. Image via
It’s amazing to me how many real-life Spinal Tap moments I’ve had. This always leads me to ask myself, “Did that really happen, or was I so fucked up that I just imagined it?” You know, tramping around a backstage construction area with INXS, searching for the stage door for an hour before giving up. Watching a groupie’s face melt after finding out the opening band she’d just gangbanged wasn’t Danzig, the headliner. And my favorite, watching the Ramones demand that me and the staff at Punk magazine cross out, by hand, all reference to them as a punk band in their cover story. They just didn’t think the term was “accurate.”
This month, Black Sabbath released their new record 13, and it shot to number one in the UK after its first week of sales. Now remember, that’s 43 years since “Paranoid” went number one in 1970.
I’m also reminded that some of the dumbest metal moments—some of those Spinal Tap flashes—have landed among the most profound experiences of my life. I had one of those bizarrely significant experiences with Ozzy Osbourne in Nuremberg, Germany, in the same stadium where Leni Riefenstahl made her epic Nazi propaganda film, Triumph of the Will.
I was traveling with Scorpions, a huge heavy metal phenomenon of the 1980s. They were so internationally famous that I had to wonder if the whole world had gone batshit crazy. Not that Scorpions sucked. Far from it—they were a decent band with some great songs, and they put on a fantastic show. It was the ratio of fame to talent that was a bit disproportionate, if not utterly ridiculous.
Still, Scorpions were good guys, even if one time they had their roadies strip my clothes off and strap me into a harness, sending me sailing high above the band—naked—in front of 50,000 commie kids in Budapest, Hungary. Maybe I deserved it. Here’s what happened, and then I’ll get to Ozzy.
It was in the last years of my drinking, when my life was an utter train wreck. The chaos followed me to Eastern Europe, on tour with Scorpions. First, I caused the press junket to miss our flight because I was having too much fun in the airport bar. Then I offended everyone at the reception at the German embassy in Budapest. And then I called a girl back in New York City who I was having an affair with and passed out on the phone, leaving me with a $700 phone bill in the morning. The next night I caused a real barroom brawl—complete with Russian soldiers battling it out with Hungarian draftees—smashing everything in the joint, from the big barroom mirror to the tables and chairs, then I hid under the bar, giggling madly.
That was a lot of fun, actually. It was almost like being in a cowboy movie when the local ranchers meet up with the cattle rustlers and kick the shit out of each other—except that two KGB agents found me, dragged me out, stuck me in a little car, and drove me to what I thought was going to be prison. Since I was so fucked up, and already living in one movie, I just switched the channel to some spy movie and growled, “You goddamn commie bastards, you’ll never get anything out of me except my name, my New York City library-card number, and my blood-alcohol level!”
But instead of a place of torture, they dropped me off at some Roman ruins that’d been transformed into a swanky tourist spa and restaurant. There was a meet-and-greet dinner with Scorpions going on. I was more horrified than if they’d taken me to jail, thinking, Fucking Disneyland? Lenin’s dream of a workers’ state now holds all the charm of a waterslide? Is the entire world turning into fucking Cheese Whiz?
Since the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Ukraine had just melted down in April of 1986, which was only 800 miles from Budapest, and clouds of Cesium 137 were wafting over the Hungarian countryside, I thought it best if I did not order the lamb, beef, or chicken. I ordered the frogs’ legs. When my order arrived, it looked like the frogs had been cut in half, their little hips were still attached—so alcohol told my brain to shove a frog in my nose. Scorpions thought it was mildly amusing, except for the drummer’s girlfriend, who began vomiting at the sight of half a critter protruding from my face.
The party broke up pretty quickly after that, and that’s why they strung me up naked over the stage the next night. I was swung bare-assed over the band. It was humiliating. But even after all of that, as I watched the rest of the Scorpions’ show from the side of the stage, I couldn’t help thinking that Communism wouldn’t stand a chance against the power of rock ’n’ roll.
On the short flight from Budapest back to the West, I was feeling a bit like the boy who gets caught whacking off while watching a fat-lady porn—disgraced. Everyone on the plane was giggling at me. Thank God we were getting out from behind the Iron Curtain, where Scorpions were rejoining the 1986 “Monsters of Rock Tour.” Our first date back was in the charming little city of Nuremberg, Germany. I quickly joined the roadies and guitar techs in the hotel bar to resume drinking and restore my confidence, since I’d realized that the way to maintain my alcoholism was just not to stop. I knew that if I paused for a second in my drinking, I was in for some horrible withdrawal symptoms. The obvious conclusion was to just keep going, and forget about Budapest.
I was sitting in the Nuremberg Hotel bar with all the other drunks when Ozzy Osborne made his first grand entrance. He was dressed in some extravagant bright suit with scarves, gloves, top hat, and other weird shit. It looked like he was about to take the stage in front of thousands of people. We all just laughed, since their were no women in the bar or record company people. There was no one there to impress except for the seven or eight of us lowly rock ’n’ roll drunken functionaries, shaking off last night’s hangover.
When Ozzy didn’t get the reaction he desired, he disappeared back into the lobby and reappeared about ten minutes later, having changed into an even more elaborate costume. What the fuck was he doing? We just laughed even harder and went back to our drinking. It was pretty pathetic really: Ozzy desperate attempt to get a reaction from a bunch of losers like us, and us laughing at such a gross display of drug-induced insanity. We got into it as Ozzy disappeared again, only to reappear another ten minutes later, having changed his clothes again.
It was ugly. Ozzie made about six or seven entrances into the bar for our amusement, before he finally ran out of gas. The whole time we were screaming at him, asking him how many dicks he had to suck to get his shoes or whether or not he could stuff a bit more down the front to draw more attention to his crotch. Maybe it was his preshow warm-up, or maybe did it out of sheer boredom, but I wasn’t expecting much from Ozzy that night at the show knowing how wasted he’d been that afternoon.
It wasn’t until I arrived at the Zeppelinfeld, where the concert was being held, that I’d realized I’d seen the place in hundreds of documentaries on World War II. It’s the famous stadium that Albert Speer had built for Hitler—the one with the giant, concrete swastika on top of it—that always explodes in that dramatic film footage that starts every Nazi documentary.
I was a bit shocked that I was so familiar with this place, since I’d never been there or even knew we were going. None of the road crew had any interest in history, and to them it was just another venue. But I knew what this place was and what it stood for—Hitler's rise to power.
Without Ernst Rohm’s million-man army of National Socialists called the SA, Hitler wouldn’t have had the base of support essential to his early successes and probably would’ve become just another angry guy shaking his fist at the sky, muttering about the “injustices” of the world. Instead, Rohm carried Hitler into power when he became the Reich chancellor in 1935, and then disbanded the German Republic and transformed it into a fascist dictatorship. Once securely in power, Hitler no longer needed his old pal Rohm, and on the week of June 30 to July 2, 1934, had Rohm murdered along with thousands of other SA members in what became known as “The Night of the Long Knives.
In order to unify any hurt feelings because of his liquidation of Ernst Rohm and the SA, Hitler held a rally at the next Nazi Congress in the Nuremburg Zeplinfeild, where 700,000 Nazis’ swore their personal allegiance to Adolf Hitler. The film of this event was titled The Triumph of the Will, and became the most stunning piece of propaganda ever produced.
"When Hitler finally appeared on the balcony for a moment,” William Shirer wrote in Berlin Diary of the Nuremberg rally, “[The people] reminded me of the crazed expressions I once saw in the back country of Louisiana on the faces of some Holy Rollers... they looked up at him as if he were a Messiah, their faces transformed into something positively inhuman."
I sat watching the Monsters of Rock Concert from Hitler’s box seat, right in the middle of the stadium. The giant steps where Hitler and all the high Nazi functionaries stood during the rally had become the bleachers for the concert—everything had been reversed. And I was reminded of the Shirer quote, as the fans looked equally insane, possessed, and inhuman. Maybe it was all that cheap wine, bad dope, glue fumes, black leather, and denim, but the most disturbing thing about them was that a lot of them had the Confederate flag stitched, stapled, or painted on their jackets as an homage to American rock ’n’ roll. This was pretty much the most evil symbol the fans could have used since the swastika was banned in Germany at the end of WWII. I’d never seen it used so unironically.
Just as the crowd was building to testosterone frenzy, Ozzy took to the stage. Somehow the Blizzard of Oz, the craziest fucker in rock ’n’ roll, the man who’d been doing bizarre costume changes just a few hours ago, faced this savage beast of a crowd and began to sing. And not just any heavy metal song, but the most appropriate song ever to be played in this fucking cesspool of evil: “War Pigs.”
And then everyone in the audience began to sing along with him:
“Generals gathered in their masses / Just like witches at black masses / Evil minds that plot destruction / Sorcerers of death's construction / In the fields the bodies burning / As the war machine keeps turning / Death and hatred to mankind / Poisoning their brainwashed minds—OH LORD YEAH!”
Never had I been so moved by a metal song or so grateful for Ozzy’s fucking brass balls as I’d been that night, sitting in Hitler’s box seat, dazed by this confluence of history and pop culture. God bless Ozzy!
Maybe someday Sabbath will play a cut off 13 in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Previously - Happy, Happy, Happy! - A Memory of Arturo Vega
Back in 1975, Legs McNeil co-founded Punk Magazine, which is part of the reason you know even know what that word means. He also wrote Please Kill Me, which basically makes him the Studs Terkel of punk rock. In addition to his work as a columnist for VICE, he continues to write for his personal blog,pleasekillme.com.
You should also follow him on Twitter - @Legs__McNeil