I feel guilty about this headline. If Ozzy Osbourne sees this (he’s a fan of mine, I can feel it) he might think this just happened. But, no: today is the 30th anniversary of the mistake that came to define one of the weirdest men in rock and roll history. On January 20, 1982 a fan in Des Moines, Iowa, threw a live bat onstage. Osbourne, claiming he thought the bat was a rubber toy, bit off the little critter’s head.
Now, Ozzy Osbourne was already famous in 1982, thanks to spending the 70s with Black Sabbath. But the bat-biting? That made him an icon.
The stunt has largely been written off as a wild myth. Did Ozzy think it was real? Did the fan throw a dead bat? Is Iowa chock-full of weirdos?
The myth birthed little baby myths, not the least of which was Ozzy biting the head off a dove in the office of his future father-in-law’s record label. Obsourne has spent the last 30 years vascillating between ignoring the myth (implictly giving it cred) and amping it up. He even claimed in his memoirs that he required a series of rabies shots from the bat biting back. The rest of his general Ozzy-ness has helped fuel the idea that this is a man capable of chewing on little furry creatures: tats, drugs, literally pissing on The Alamo mere weeks after Bat Day, calling himself “The Prince of Darkness.”
Ozzy Osbourne neither delights nor offends me. Idon’t listen to metal, but I thought The Osbournes‘ first reality TV season on MTV was a riot. I applaud his ability to poke fun at himself. What makes me a little sad that 30 years have passed since Ozzy bit the bat is that…well, 30 years have passed. Sure, rock stars still do assinine things, but it feels like the 24-hour news cycle has sort of killed the Wacky Rockstar Myth. Rumors that someone is a bitch, sleeps in a Cryo chamber, or will only eat orange M&Ms. Bo-ring. Give me a weird story involving the Rolling Stones, a teenager, and a chocolate bar (ew). Tell me Michael Jackson tried to buy Joseph Merrick’s bones. Give me some legends. But you can’t: because any wild myth can be tested, photgraphed, and proven/disproven in the space of a day. There’s a positive side to that, sure, but it means we’ll never again have an Ozzy. Someone rumored to be so bizarre and gross and possibly dangerous that probably isn’t but who knows?
For me this case is made not by Ozzy Osbourne but by the Alice Cooper Chicken Debacle of 1969. A a chicken made its way onstage at an outdoor show. Cooper tossed it into the audience, assuming chickens could fly. The crowd may or may not have made it into chicken hash. The next day rumors were flying that Cooper had bitten, eaten, or sucked down the blood of the chicken. In more rock mythology, professional musical weirdo Frank Zappa called Alice Cooper to ask him if he murdered a chicken. Upon Cooper’s denial, legend has it Zappa replied, ”Well, whatever you do, don’t tell anyone you didn’t do it!”
Enough time has passed. We now know that Alice Cooper is smoke and mirrors (and eyeliner and golf pants) so we understand that Chickengate was a myth. But for a few decades when we couldn’t really be sure, it was so much more fun.
Maybe not for chickens, but for me.