Mars attacks and people are getting paranoid, but one true band could still prevail. Black Sabbath: Can you help us? MAGNET’s Mitch Myers reports, Ozzy Osbourne decides.
It wasn’t just another terrorist threat; this one had the country completely in its clutches. Aliens indistinguishable from humans were unleashing deadly clones into the population. The White House had reverted to a shadow government, sequestered in bunkers and communicating to the nation from undisclosed locations. At first, there was panic in the streets, but the president gave a speech telling people to go back to living their normal lives or else they’d be giving into alien terrorism. The president admitted reluctantly that the nation’s security forces were baffled as to how to identify the new enemy but vowed to find and destroy the alien terrorists by any means necessary.
The aliens’ weakness might never have been discovered if not for chance coincidence. The first break came at Forest View High School’s reunion for the class of 1973. At the reunion party, a DJ was playing a bunch of old vinyl records. Everyone was having a good time until the DJ put the needle down on “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath. Suddenly, class president Terry Diferio began shaking violently and changed form, revealing his identity to be a hideous alien before he disintegrated into a bubbling mass of protoplasmic goo.
Authorities were on the scene within minutes. The police were there as well as the FBI, the CIA, the NSA and several other federal agencies. Witnesses were interviewed and media coverage was intense. It wasn’t until the same thing happened a few days later at another class reunion, this time in Spokane, Wash., that scientists determined it was the analog vinyl version of “Paranoid” that turned the aliens into mush. Despite the government’s effort to control this information for the sake of its covert war on alien terrorism, news of the discovery leaked onto the internet and was picked up by the mainstream press.
People tried downloading “Paranoid” as mp3s and burning CDs of Black Sabbath’s famous second album, only to find that digital reproductions as well as online streaming services were useless in destroying the aliens. It was then confirmed that beside vinyl records, first-generation analog copies on audiocassette could also be used to kill the alien enemy. The market for audiotapes surged, and the sales for old-fashioned cassette recorders quadrupled overnight.
It was not clear why the vibrations of Ozzy Osbourne’s keening voice combined with Tony Iommi’s scorching guitar, Geezer Butler’s booming bass and Bill Ward’s tribal drumming were deadly to the creatures from outer space. The fact it was just the one song—and all other Sabbath tunes were ineffective—provided some clues, but tests on alien detainees were inconclusive. The government began performing experiments around the clock, gathering old vinyl LPs, commandeering hundreds of turntables and tape decks, demanding revised production schedules from several manufacturers.
Vigilante groups began to take action. Some drove through the city streets with their windows down, blasting “Paranoid” at full volume in hopes of nailing a stray alien. A number of concerned citizens fastened down turntables in the back of rental trucks and attached mammoth speakers to the roofs, driving from town to town and playing the song nonstop in public. This strategy actually worked in Cleveland when an off-duty cab driver melted a couple of space geeks posing as urban street vendors.
By this time, there was a mad rush for old copies of Black Sabbath vinyl. People were buying everything, not just the Paranoid album, but the entire Sabbath catalog. Well-known record collectors were forced to protect themselves from panicky neighbors and friends who tried to steal their vintage LPs. Domestic disputes erupted as family members turned on one another. In an ironic turn of events, teenagers begged parents to quit blasting loud music on their home stereos.
Industrious bootleggers began selling the song on eBay at outrageous prices. The original album was soon worth $20,000, and first-generation cassettes went for as much as $500 apiece. DJs who owned a copy of the record were hired to spin in public places in an effort to reassure patrons that malls, restaurants and sporting events were alien-free zones.
Music became a high priority all across the nation, and people began having anti-alien dance parties. Aging hipsters bonded at heavy-metal raves, and you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing Black Sabbath. Old-fashioned drugs like marijuana, Quaaludes and LSD became more fashionable than they’d been in decades.
Then, a grass-roots movement accelerated the sense of urgency in America. It all started when somebody forwarded a chain email stating that everyone in the entire country should play an analog version of “Paranoid” at full volume on July 25, precisely at midnight EST. In a matter of days, the word had spread, and people began synchronizing their efforts to destroy the alien terrorists.
The sonic countdown had begun.
Government officials initially discouraged the plan as dangerous and ill-conceived. But as public-opinion polls displayed overwhelming support for the idea, as well as a mounting concern that the White House was soft on alien interests, politicians rallied around the impending target date and came out in favor of the plan.
Radio, television and podcasts adjusted to the latest news; talk shows were filled with celebrities eager to prove that they were loyal humans. Late-night programs pandered to Middle America with anti-alien monologues. The Daily Show changed its theme song to the Sabbath tune. Fox News programming explored conspiracy theories—blaming the alien problem (and the proposed retaliation) on evildoers of earthly origin. Daytime TV preyed on the fears of the simpleminded, pitting friends and loved ones against each other in every conceivable alien/human combination. VH1 quickly produced a Behind The Music episode of “The Making Of ‘Paranoid,’” which they ran 12 times a day.
Leaders of the religious right held a big press conference condemning the use of “Paranoid.” The conservatives insisted that Black Sabbath wasn’t just a pop group, but actually agents of the devil. They suggested the public try alternative anthems by color-coded heavy-metal groups like Deep Purple or Blue Cheer. It was at that moment a protester disrupted the event with a cassette player blasting “Paranoid.” Three staffers standing near the stage were revealed to be aliens, dissolving into protoplasmic goo in a most repulsive fashion.
Numerous public figures were being exposed as clones. The aliens had replaced politicians, business executives, movie stars and even newscasters, but the tide was turning thanks to “Paranoid” vigilantes. Two prominent members of the Catholic Church were melted down after a Sunday mass in Boston. Rumors that Tom Cruise and Jennifer Lopez were aliens had to be disproved after smear campaigns designed to discredit them were amplified in the tabloids. A list of sports figures including Tom Brady and LeBron James began circulating, challenging the famous athletes to publicly endure the Sabbath tune and authenticate their earthly status.
The nation had gone totally “Paranoid.” There were “Paranoid” T-shirts and “Paranoid” American flags. A lascivious beer commercial coined the phrase, “Girl! You’re so paranoid!” Three Sabbath tribute discs were rushed-released as well as a collection of top electronic and hip-hop artists remixing “Paranoid.” Sabbath tribute bands were popping up everywhere, and teenagers started dressing like early-’70s Ozzy. One married couple in Minneapolis even named their newborn baby Geezer. People were putting “Paranoid” on answering machines, and businesses played Muzak versions for customers on hold. Only adamant protests prevented “Paranoid” from supplanting the national anthem before a Cubs game at Wrigley Field, and violence erupted when it was decided not to play the tune at a bar mitzvah in Cincinnati.
MTV immediately brought back The Osbournes, and the show’s ratings skyrocketed. Fascination with the lives of Ozzy and Sharon was unparalleled in the history of television. Ozzy was on 20 different magazine covers and all over the internet as they braved their way through the media frenzy. The first episode of the show’s new season was a two-hour special. This program featured Sharon brutally negotiating with a group of millionaire baby boomers who’d formed a virtual corporation in hopes of persuading Ozzy to appear at a special concert with Black Sabbath. The consortium wanted Sabbath to perform on the same night as the “Paranoid” countdown. (P-Day, they called it.) In a gesture of on-camera solidarity, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and even original drummer Bill Ward were all flown in, and the three committed to play if Ozzy agreed to the gig.
Just a week before P-Day, the deal was made. Per Sharon Osbourne, the concert date would occur at Citi Field under the auspices of an Ozzfest for the amount of $50 million. While Iommi, Butler and Ward were only getting $3 million bucks apiece, they were contracted to receive backend money for streaming, television, movie rights and soundtrack royalties. The concert would feature Sabbath performing at midnight, timing its live version of “Paranoid” to coincide with the original recording being played across the nation.
Myriad heavy-metal groups volunteered to come out of retirement and appear on the second stage or open directly for Sabbath. Scheduled bands included AC/DC, Uriah Heep, Deep Purple, the Scorpions and Blue Öyster Cult. Jimmy Page and Robert Plant promised to reunite with bassist John Paul Jones and perform as Led Zeppelin. Even Spinal Tap was booked to appear. There were countless press conferences, and everyone involved was completely exhausted. When Sharon and the members of Black Sabbath took turns fielding questions with “Paranoid” blasting in the background, Ozzy was a trembling mess who could barely speak. The show was four days away.
As P-Day loomed closer, an uncertain panic set in across America. Airport security began guiding travelers past imposing sound systems before they were allowed to board flights. Although “Paranoid” continued to destroy aliens, people were now deemed suspicious just for not liking Black Sabbath. An elderly man who got sick to his stomach after being exposed to “Paranoid” at an extremely high volume was beaten by a group of skinheads. Bill Maher was actually shot at in front of his home after stating that aliens had rights and deserved to be tried in a court of law just like anybody else.
With two days left, anyone who spoke out against P-Day was branded an alien sympathizer. Some experts predicted the decibel levels would cause earthquakes in California. Doctors warned families to protect small children and pets from the sonic assault. These concerns were discounted by the “Paranoid” masses. Police and armed services were strongly suggesting that all citizens attend the countdown in public. People declining to commit to one of the many “Paranoid” rallies were being reported to the authorities. Informants were everywhere.
On the afternoon of P-Day, three self-confessed aliens ran into the Chinese embassy begging to be given soundproofed asylum before the supersonic moment occurred. Media coverage was relentless from coast to coast, but especially surrounding the Ozzfest in Queens. Traffic all around Manhattan was jammed. There was pandemonium in New York City, and the entire country watched nervously, anticipating the night’s events.
Monstrous sound systems were set up in rural and urban settings alike. Free earplugs were handed out at banks, supermarkets and gas stations. Nightclubs, bars and outdoor music venues had events planned for the countdown, as did community centers, health clubs, sports arenas and retirement homes. Speaker manufacturers engaged in desperate last-minute promotions, eager for brand recognition after the fact.
With only a few hours to go, sound levels were already rising. People began testing their audio equipment, and the noise in certain cities was completely overpowering. Those who didn’t own an analog version of “Paranoid” went to neighboring house parties or headed off to publicly sponsored events. Others stayed home and listened to radio stations promising huge giveaways to the umpteenth “Paranoid” caller. The bedridden, stranded in nursing homes and hospitals, cranked up boom boxes provided by absent relatives.
In an unusual alliance, Greenpeace and the Teamsters co-financed an event in Tucson, Ariz., featuring Joan Jett, Iggy Pop and Twisted Sister. The president was in Austin at a “Paranoid” fundraiser with 5,000 wealthy party loyalists. Chuck and Amy Schumer were traveling in a motorcade to Citi Field along with Hillary and Bill Clinton, Howard Stern, Spike Lee, Barbara Streisand and Liz Cheney.
It was the 11th hour and unprotected eardrums were bursting across the nation. There were already hundreds of premature births and miscarriages. Emergency rooms filled beyond capacity, and even the deaf were feeling the deleterious effects of immense volume. Power companies sent out frantic requests for citizens to shut off all unnecessary electricity. Windowpanes cracked, and old buildings shifted on their foundations. Aliens hiding in insulated basements wondered if they would survive the aural onslaught.
Meanwhile at Ozzfest, the Who had just finished a thunderous set, and Pete Townsend lost what was left of his hearing. Security was tight, but the capacity crowd of “Paranoid” fans was uncommonly aggressive. Fights were breaking out all over.
Backstage, Ozzy Osbourne was having troubles of his own. “I can’t do it,” he cried. “It’s too much. Won’t this ‘Paranoid’ business ever stop?” Sharon looked at him and screamed, “What? Just get out there and sing the freaking song! It’s five minutes to midnight! Every television station and news organization in the world is waiting for your entrance!”
Sure enough, the moment of truth was at hand. The rest of the band was already onstage, but Ozzy stood frozen in his dressing room blubbering like a child. Sharon finally reached into her bag and pulled out a large vial of cocaine and a small handgun. “Here!” she shouted. “Have some of this you bastard. It’s all you’ve wanted to do for months anyhow. And if you dare come back off the stage before you’re finished, I’ll kill you!”
Ozzy Osbourne snorted up two grams of cocaine in an instant. Holding back the tears, he took a deep breath and marched toward his destiny.
You can imagine what happened next.
The original version of this story was first published in the book The Boy Who Cried Freebird: Rock & Roll Fables And Sonic Storytelling (HarperCollins, 2007).