It was June 15, 1997. Meadowlands Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey. Ozzfest was not an ordinary Black Sabbath concert. It was a daylong heavy metal spectacle, featuring thirteen acts on two separate stages.
My best friend Stevens and I arrived at the stadium just as the front gates opened. Security guards were waiting for us, and they frisked everyone and confiscated everything except for your ticket and wallet. It wasn’t any different inside the stadium’s concrete corridors. Wherever you went, whether you were waiting on line for a pretzel or you were waiting on line in the restroom, loudspeakers barked off a list of misdemeanors.
No outside food or beverages. No photographs. No smoking. No running. No re-entry. No illegal drugs. All violators will be prosecuted. Do not occupy seats that are not identified on your ticket.
The mood felt pretty lifeless after Pantera finished their midday set. There weren’t anymore kids storming the stairwells or breaking down the security gates on the ground floor. More bodies collected in the mezzanine, and the crowd has slid deep into a half-drunk, dehydrated stupor by the time Black Sabbath took the stage.
There was no end to the empty beer cups raining down from the upper deck, and it was like watching the dead rise from their graves when Tony Iommi struck the first chords or “War Pigs.”
Ozzy sang the opening stanza—The generals gathered in their masses—and eighty-thousand ticket holders chorused right back at him— Just like witches at black masses!
The kids on the ground floor started gripping the aluminum barricades that separated the crowd from the mezzanine wall.
Ozzy kept singing—Evil minds that plot destruction—and we chorused again—Sorcerer of death’s construction!
The kids on the ground wouldn’t let go and the barricades were rocking on their thin stems bolted loosely to the ground.
Ozzy sang—In the fields the bodies burning—and then we answered him—As the war machine keeps turning!
The barricade broke down in pieces all along the sidelines, one piece after another.
Ozzy called us—Death and hatred to mankind—and our voice returned—Poisoning their brainwashed minds!
Across the field, you could see the faceless bodies spilling over the mezzanine’s edge and dropping down twenty feet to the ground floor. No one stopped them. The state troopers had surrendered. I looked at Stevens. He nodded and we started moving across five rows of bleachers, always balancing with one hand on a stranger’s shoulder. “Make some space,” said a sunburned dude, double fisting plastic cups of Budweiser. “These kids are gonna jump!” The crowd widened and encouraged us closer to the railing. The barricades were knocked down all along the sidelines. I saw the back of Stevens’ head drop below the railing. I swung my right leg over. I was riding the railing, pulling my left leg up, when I felt my shoe disappear below some stranger’s knee. I didn’t panic. I reached down and retrieved my left shoe from the pile of empty beer cups. I raised my left leg over the railing and then I looked back a final time and spotted the thin wiry body hanging by his hands from the top deck railing. The faceless body dropped feet first down into the mezzanine and disappeared beneath the crowd’s shoulders.
The garbage kept falling and I dropped too and felt a short sharp pain in my ankles. I sprang forward and tripped. I crawled across the broken down barricade as eighty thousand ticket holders celebrated victory. A strange hand gripped my shoulder and steadied me on my own two feet. There was no one to thank for that little bit of help. I didn’t see Stevens. It didn’t see any faces. We were a single mass, the All-in-One singing with a single voice, and stomping a single pair of feet against the stadium floor—right foot, left foot, and right again. Ozzy kept singing and Black Sabbath worked their bluesy magic for twelve more songs.
It was only the beginning of summer and I left for the National Boy Scout Jamboree six weeks later.
If you’ve never listened to Black Sabbath, I encourage you to listen to the mix tape featured below. Their influence on rock n roll is colossal and their legacy is incomparable. I’ve included a second mix tape, featuring bands indebted to Sabbath, and it is by no means comprehensive.