Saturday, April 25, 2015

Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell with Black Sabbath

Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell with Black SabbathIron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell with Black Sabbath by Tony Iommi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Black Sabbath's Master of Reality was the third album I ever bought. I think I was 11 years old. I had somehow developed a liking for rock music, maybe through my dad's penchant for '60s surf-music, I don't know. I had heard about Black Sabbath and was intrigued when I saw the album, I think at a K-mart. I had the money, so I bought it.

Mom was not terribly pleased.

But she didn't do anything rash about it. I just knew that if I wanted to listen to it, I had to do so at a low volume on my little red and white candystriped record player. Not that the equipment *could* be played loudly. It couldn't. But I leaned into it and did my best to damage my hearing with that little record player.

Needless to say, I was blown away. Tony Iommi became a bit of a guitar idol, okay, more like my Guitar God, as a young man plunking away on an old $25 Sears and Roebuck electric P.O.S. I loved the power and simplicity of what Iommi played. There was no need for technical prowess - his guitar simply SEETHED.

Eventually, I became older, though I never grew up. I remained a Black Sabbath fan, especially after Ronnie James Dio, one of the all-time great singers of any genre, let alone heavy metal, joined the band. I'll admit that their music, Dio-era Black Sabbath, that is, pulled me through some hard times. Rather than driving me toward suicidal thoughts as an admittedly depressed teenager, they drove me away from such thoughts.

In 2000, Iommi released his first (official) solo album. It was good, not great. I didn't mind. All musicians have up and down albums. After all, they are writers, too. While touring in support of this album, he came up to Madison, not for a concert, but as a guest of the local hard rock station (which has gone downhill in the meantime, I must say), WJJO. There was a call-in-question period in the middle of the day. I took a long lunch break and spoke to one of my childhood idols.

The conversation was brief, but he was a very pleasant man to talk to. I thanked him for his music and let him know that he might have saved my life as a teen. I asked him about the rumor that I had heard that he had a stint with Jethro Tull, which he affirmed, noting that he had recently gone to Ian Anderson's wedding. I then asked him if he'd ever get back together with Ronnie James Dio,and his response was "never say never". This made me very happy, and I was delighted when, quite a few years later, they did reunite as the band "Heaven and Hell".

So when this biography came out, I added it to my TBR list. I'm not much of one for biographies, honestly - my wife is the biography reader in the family - but I had to eventually pick this one up.

This isn't a beautiful, meaningful book by any means. But I enjoyed the heck out of it. Iommi's writing style is much the same as I discovered in talking with him and in watching countless interviews with him - casual and candid.

Yes, there is a great deal of craziness in there. The accounts of him and the others spray-painting Bill Ward with gold paint (with Ward's doped-up consent) and the other pranks that the band members played on each other were 2 parts hilarious, 1 part terrifying.

That old trifecta: "Sex, drugs, and rock & roll"? Yeah, it's the real deal. And Iommi talks quite candidly, at least about the drugs and rock and roll. Thankfully, he's more guarded about the sex, which is fine - I don't want to know. But to say that his life was anything less than bawdy, raucous, and sometimes downright dangerous would be selling things short. The man and his friends were over-the-top nuts, let there be no doubt about it.

Still, I can sense, both from the book and from my brief conversation with him years ago, that he is, overall, a nice guy!

Besides, Iommi promises, on the last line of the book:

"I will never set fire to Bill Ward again."

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