LA Weekly, 8/30/00
by Greg Burk
Dodger Stadium, day after Memorial Day. The security and publicity folks are a little keyed up: They’ve just heard Zakk Wylde torture his electric guitar through the sound check for his imminent rendition of the national anthem. How was the rehearsal? “Definitely . . . different,” says a straw-hatted security watchdog. Eyes to the sky. Thoughtful.
Not everyone in the Dodgers organization has acclimated to the changes since Rupert Murdoch bought the team. One thing they know: Under the O’Malley dynasty, when it came to anthem performers, Mr. Wylde would have been, let’s say, a dark horse.
New Jersey axman Wylde (born Phillip Wielandt) is not what most would consider family fare. He first made the society pages in 1987 with the band of Ozzy Osbourne, the dove-devouring former singer of Black Sabbath. Today’s patriotic solo amounts to a warm-up for a punishing five-month world excursion Wylde calls the Penchant for Violence Tour. The band he’s led for the last couple of years is named Black Label Society, a reference to its members’ zealous devotion to strong beverages. Oh say, can you see?
The group hatched as a studio duo — Wylde and a drummer named Philth. According to Wylde, who played guitar, bass and occasional piano on their recordings, the personnel limitation was a practical decision. “The way I look at it, you get a case of beer, two guys, that’s 12 beers each,” he says several weeks before the game, sucking down pints at Barney’s Beanery on Palm Sunday afternoon. “You bring a whole bunch of motherfuckers in, now you gotta start sharin’ beers. Fuck that. If I wasn’t stiff, I’d end up killin’ about half the fuckin’ band off.”
Pilsner enthusiast though he may be, Wylde is willing to endure realistic constraints, such as Dodger Stadium’s stoppering of the beer spigots in the seventh inning. “You cop a good buzz by the seventh, then you have a couple coffees, you got three innings to fuckin’ chill out, then you go home. Then when you get back to the house, you start pounding again. But you can’t be drivin’ all fucked up. The warrior walks away to drink another day.”
Today, before he pays his respects to Old Glory, Wylde is just finishing off his second 14-ounce brew; you can tell it’s number two because, with true beer-drinker methodology, he stacks the new cup inside the old one to keep track. The stadium organist, having reflected upon an appropriate Wylde introduction, warms up the crowd with “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.” PA announcement: “Ladies and gentlemen, performing our national anthem — Zakk Wylde!” Guitar strapped on, Wylde strides out from behind the center-field fence, plugs in and strikes a pose in front of his four Marshall stacks. Though his loyalties really lie with the Yankees, he’s wearing a Dodgers jersey for the occasion. His arms still bear the fake chain tattoos that he’s sported while acting in the Mark Wahlberg– Jennifer Aniston film Rock Star, in which he plays, basically, himself.
Wylde puts plectrum to strings and lives up to his name. The distorted steel strains of “The Star-Spangled Banner” peal out and bounce around the stands, mightily embellished but quite recognizable, with a touch or two borrowed from Jimi Hendrix’s Woodstock version. It’s loud, it’s crazed, it’s painful. But it’s respectful. Wylde finishes on a soaring chord and unplugs.
The stadium, only a quarter full at this point, buzzes lightly for a few seconds, then surges into a steady round of applause. Fans nod with approval or look at each other like, “Did you hear what I heard?” Nobody boos.
The obligatory jeers have to wait for former Dodgers catcher Mike Piazza as he’s announced in the lineup of the visiting New York Mets. The hometowners don’t know that Piazza, a longtime metal fan, was responsible for suggesting that Wylde make himself available for the nat-anth gig. But the moment for patriotism has now passed. It’s time for competition.
Wylde, though, as he goes through his third or fourth beer in his box seat, is still thinking about the flag. He wasn’t able to do his thing on Memorial Day (“If you’re gonna do the anthem, that’s the day to do it on”), had to settle for the day after. Still, close enough. The occasion means something extra to Wylde, whose 80-year-old father, one of the Allied liberators of Auschwitz, used to tell him about those harrowing days and his other war experiences. “He said there was ash everywhere from burning bodies,” says Wylde. “He was under a tank when a fuckin’ grenade went off, and both he and his buddy got blown to shit. His bud died, and my dad got all fucked up too. He’s got a steel plate in his leg.”
Now, that’s heavy metal.
After his demon days with Ozzy, with whom he made four albums between 1987 and 1995, Wylde released a couple of eclectic CDs — solo and with Pride & Glory — before locking into focus with Black Label Society. And when Zakk Wylde focuses, he focuses.
“It’s fuckin’ tunnel vision,” he grunts from his side of a Barney’s booth, his beady gray-blue eyes lasering all over the room as if he’s expecting a stranger with a violin case. “I gotta get from point A to point B, and I do what I gotta do. Panzer fuckin’ mentality, man. Just fuckin’ crush, destroy, and worry about the shit when you get to the other side.”
That’s what Black Label Society’s music sounds like. Last year’s Sonic Brew may be the heaviest, most hostile record ever made. Lest anyone turn a deaf ear, Wylde made sure that it was also the loudest record ever made: “When you hear it on the radio, it almost squashes itself out. The mastering on it’s so fuckin’ stupid-loud, it’s beyond loud.”
This year came a second Spitfire CD, Stronger Than Death — not quite as loud, but in Wylde’s opinion, “This one just stands up a little bit better productionwise. The difference between the two albums is the first one kicked fuckin’ major ass; this one kicks major motherfuckin’ ass.”
The basic formula is simple. First, some extremely heavy rhythms and riffs, squeezed out with a maximum of intestinal dirt. Add Wylde’s voice, a soulful growl not unlike that of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s late Ronnie Van Zant, a Wylde hero. Lyrics veer from depression to aggression: “Shot my drugs/Drank my booze/Tired of joy and self-abuse” on the one hand; “Just get the fuck out of my way/Forever my stone will be rollin’/No matter what you do or say” on the other. Most impressive are the solos, which rip through your head with reckless energy while plotting a structural course you can follow in the dark. For contrast, he’ll occasionally throw in a meditative acoustic-based number. Layer thickly and mix well. Others may lop off every musical limb in pursuit of radicalism; Wylde uses every digit at his disposal. And he seems to have more than 10.
Wylde isn’t only a musician, he’s a man with a mission. “On MTV, what’s considered cool? Third Eye Suck, Blink 182 and all this horseshit. That’s the reason I had to make Black Label Society. Somebody’s gotta fuckin’ kill these bands. And I’ll be more than happy to do it. I’ll throw not just one shovel full of dirt on that grave, I’ll be pissin’ all over the motherfuckin’ thing.
“If I had to be in a band like Third Eye Suck, I mean, I’d rather be in front of a fuckin’ firing squad. I don’t know what records that fuckin’ asshole was listening to, like, when he was in high school. I mean, didn’t he ever hear of Black Sabbath or Zeppelin or Skynyrd?”
A healthy teenager is pissed off, right? “Well, you should be. I’m pissed off still, man. It keeps everything real. I don’t want to be livin’ in some Walt Disney fuckin’ bullshit world. I don’t mind bringin’ my kids down there, but that ain’t reality.”
Wylde moved to Valencia in 1990, when he was with Ozzy, who’s long been stationed in L.A. “I’d shoveled enough fuckin’ snow to last a while,” says Wylde. In fact, that’s how he earned money to buy Les Pauls when he was a youth. Now he gets his exercise in his own home gym.
When not touring, Wylde lives with a houseful of extended family including, among others, his wife, a rottweiler and a couple of children, ages 7 and 8. What do the tykes listen to? “Um . . . I just have ’em on a steady diet of Black Sabbath and fuckin’ stuff like that.” Not really. “My kids listen to . . . what kids listen to. Disney Channel, Nickelodeon. Backstreet Boys and shit like that. All I gotta do is hear that music for about 10 minutes and I get a penchant for violence, and then I start writin’ riffs. But I’m not gonna have my kids watch the fuckin’ Sopranos.”
Do they complain that he plays too loud? “The kids are cool, man. They know that’s what Dad does.”
Wylde’s penchant for violence linked him temporarily with Axl Rose’s appetite for destruction a few years back; a Wylde-Rose intertwining was supposed to be the axis for a new Guns N’ Roses. So what happened? Wasn’t Axl vicious enough?
“No — Axl, he likes the violence, that’s for sure. I think what happened was you got all the lawyers and all those motherfuckers working together, and all that bullshit. I just saw him not too long ago in the studio when we were doin’ our BLS record, and Axl’s like, ‘Well, Zakk, I heard you wanted $5 million upfront and your own tour bus.’ And I go, ‘Fuck me, what do you think, I’m some kind of fuckin’ whore?’ I said, ‘At least $9 million, motherfucker!’ No, we’re still buds, and I hope everything works out with what he’s doin’.”
Right now, the Penchant for Violence Tour is well into its third month of burning up roads in the USA, Europe and the Pacific islands with support acts Crowbar and Sixty Watt Shaman, playing nearly every day, sometimes as part of Ozzy’s Ozzfest package, “hittin’ as many microbreweries as we can.” Wylde’s favorite suds at the moment: “Sierra Nevada. Tastes good, fuckin’ high in alcohol content.” He says he never gets bored on tour — constantly playing, writing, lifting weights.
But there have been a few land mines in the path. In Dallas, Wylde’s famous black-and-white bull’s-eye guitar, a high school graduation gift from his mom (deceased) and dad, was ripped off. And the BLS expeditionary force, which includes bass player S.O.B. and guitarist Nick “E.T.” Catenese, has a new recruit on the drum stool: Crowbar’s Craig Nunenmacher.
The grind was apparently too much for old pal Phil “Philth” Ondich, the partner who got to split all those beer cases with Wylde in the studio. He collapsed during a show in Japan and was sent home shortly thereafter. But though Wylde proudly claims that road exigencies don’t diminish his own intake — “a beer or two before the show, and a bunch after” — he emphasizes, “If you wanna be able to howl with the owls, you gotta scream with the eagles. No room for bein’ a fuckup.”
The reasons for Philth’s dismissal posted on the www.zakkwylde.com Web site were “lack of enthusiasm” and “alcohol problem.”
Problem. Does that mean too much? Or not enough?
Every third “fuckin’” has been removed to protect the innocent.