Last December, the ex-nightclub bouncer from Argentina scored a knockout by being named TIME’s MAN OF THE YEAR. He followed up a month later with a cover on the ROLLING STONE proclaiming him a new rock star. And to think when the white smoke came out of the chimney, many people, like myself, thought, big deal, just another hard core, extreme right of Jesus, traditionalist. How wrong we were!
Sharon Osbourne made headlines about the same time. It seems like sweet Sharon, at a pre – Grammy dinner, decided she had enough listening to a would-be celeb loudmouth, and she threw a glass of water into his face.
Now what, you might ask, does Pope Francis and Sharon Osbourne have in common? Pigeons! Or rather, white doves.
The same week, the Pope combined two of his favorite things peace and children in a symbolic act After calling for peace in the Ukraine, he had the children release two white doves, to the roar of the people standing below in the Vatican Square. The two symbols of peace were immediately attacked by a crow and a seagull. What a crow and a seagull symbolizes, I don’t know. Only that the thousands of pilgrims gasped at the sight of the attack. There is no record of the outcome, or a translation of what the Pope uttered.
I, did, however, witness the outcome of the doves released, as per the instructions of Sharon Osbourn, at one of her husband’s concert. I can only surmise what she uttered.
The only thing that I disliked more than listening to the music of the ‘godfather’ of Heavy Metal, Ozzie Osbourne, was working his shows, Black Sabbath or on his own. Big and heavy. Roadies were always tired, usually high, and hard to get along with. The music wasn’t just loud, it was instant-headache loud. The special effects were gross. A dummy pushed from a spotlight location, it’s fall snapped short by the rope and the noose around it’s neck. The midget throwing pig intestines into the audience. And the PYRO, the PYRO, the PYRO!!! My favorite part of the show was always when the doors on the last truck were closed and we saw the rear end of the truck heading to it’s next destination.
When Ozzie finally left, or was fired, from Black Sabbath, he signed with Don Arden. Arden commissioned his daughter, Sharon, to watch over Ozzie, in the hopes he would go back to Black Sabbath. Wrong move! It not only changed Ozzie, it put a wedge between father and daughter that exists to this day.
It turned out that Sharon was a management genius and even Ozzie recognized her ability. She further cemented her control over Ozzie by becoming his wife. She curbed his bad habits, which probably added many years to his life: made his solo career more important than his career with Black Sabbath: spurred it on by creating OZFEST, a gigantic money maker: and when his popularity waned, she brought him back to the public eye with the reality show, THE OSBOURNES. And through it all, became a household name in her own right. Like Pope Francis, Sharon Osbourne surprised a great many people and earned herself, albeit with Ozzie and the children, a cover on ROLLING STONE.
On January 20th, 1982, during his DAIRY OF A MADMAN tour, Ozzie bit the had off a bat. This incident occurred at the Veterans’ Memorial Auditorium in Des Moines, Iowa. Even if it happened anyplace other than Iowa, it still would have made ‘entertainment’ headlines.
The next stop on the tour was the MetsSportsCenter in Bloomington, Minnesota. (Twenty some below zero) Ozzie was under a lot of pressure because of his actions. It came out that he had also bitten the head off a bat at a business meeting a few days prior to the concert in Iowa. There were threats of concert dates being cancelled, the recently formed PETA organized pickets, and threats of deportation were hanging over his head if he continued with his geek acts.
Even though it was still six months before their marriage, Sharon was beginning to exert a great influence over Ozzie, both artistically and personal. While Ozzie tried to laugh off the situation, Sharon knew something had to be done. She came up with an idea she hoped would defuse the situation.
During the concert at Met, shortly after the midget pelted the audience with pig guts, a cage was brought to the front of the stage. The cage door was opened and twenty white doves, birds of peace, were released. The audience roared. The birds soared. Trying to escape the lights and the screaming horde of people, they flew toward the darkness above. But in trying to reach the sanctuary of the ceiling catwalks, they had to pass in front of the gigantic speaker stacks. And, as the killing decibels of sound blasted the birds, one by one, they dropped – dead – into the audience, who thought it was all a part of the show, and screamed with glee and passed the bodies of the dead birds around like beach balls.
And as I stood off to the side of the stage and witnessed this disaster, I vowed I would never work an Ozzie Osbourne concert again.
Luckily for him, the death of the doves didn’t make the newspapers; probably because of the hard work of Sharon to kill the story.
And that brings me to the death of a Dove, Pete Seeger. Many people remember his anti-war activism during the Viet Nam conflict and older people remember his anti-fascism activism during the Spanish Civil War. But he was not a dove in all cases.
In his song, MR. PRESIDENT, written in the early days of WWII, he sang: ‘Now, Mr. President, / We haven’t always agreed in the past, I know, / But that ain’t at all important now. / What is important is what we got to do, / We got to lick Mr. Hitler, and until we do, / Other things can wait.’
The other things that would wait were his fights for Civil Rights, the environment, the rights of the working folk, and carrying on the work of his comrade-in-arms, Woody Guthrie.
And, although America, was familiar with so many of his songs, it took his death to really bring the works, the activism, and the life of Pete Seeger into the main stream.
But even his death couldn’t get him the cover of the ROLLING STONE. He got print; but the cover went to actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, death by overdose.
But then, Pete was never one for flaunting himself. His music and crusades were what counted. In it’s piece on Pete’ death, ROLLING STONE referred to him as ‘America’s rebel’. In earlier articles it referred to him as a ‘guerrilla troubadour’ and ‘America’s conscience’. He probably took greater pride in those descriptive titles than in having his picture on the cover.
He was a favorite of mine, both as a musician and as a person. Of all the times I was privileged to work one of his shows, I never saw him, on stage, or backstage, where he didn’t have the lilt of optimism in his voice and exuberance in his step. He was just a joy to be around.
Pete was a trickster. The concert audience bought tickets to be entertained; but some of their money went to benefit Pete’s crusade of the moment, whether they believe in his cause or not. I have seen many singers try to get the audience involved in one of their favorite songs, but nobody did it like Pete. ‘Come on now! Everybody!!!’ And the audience sang, and sometimes even a certain, usually stoic, stagehand would get caught up in the exuberance.
It’s one thing to be entertained as he sang ‘WHERE HAVE ALL THE FLOWERS GONE?’ But when you find yourself, at his instigation, singing the refrain, ‘When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?’, you changed from just being entertained to becoming an activist caught up in Pete’s zeal.
His death brought accolades from the many unions that he fought for over the years; but there is one union that often passes by unnoticed, one that Pete loved above all others. Namely, the union of marriage he entered into with Toshi-Aline Ota. That union lasted 71 years and was broken only by the death of Toshi, who died just six months before Pete. He believed in so many causes, and he believed in love and the vows of marriage.
Pete believed in America, [‘If you love your Uncle Sam, bring ‘em home, bring ‘em home.’ ] [‘We shall overcome.’] [‘I’d hammer out love between my brothers and sisters, all over this land.’]. And of course, ‘This land is your land. This land is my land, from California to the New York island’. Woody Guthrie’s anthem was always included in Pete’s concerts. Pete believed in America’s promise and in the American people’s ability to fulfill the promise. Pete was a dove, but he never stopped fighting his fight.
As the BBC said in his obituary: Seeger never toppled a government with the weight of his banjo.But he was satisfied if his little songs inspired a different way of looking at bigger troubles.