February 4, 2017, Black Sabbath retired as a touring band, playing their final show at the Genting Arena in their hometown, Birmingham, UK. Whether they play together again or not, I believe it’s fair to say that they exited the stage with grace. They toured for over a year-reaching 1.6 million fans in 26 countries on 4 continents. Make no mistake: it was a lucrative enterprise. They surely didn’t go into it for altruistic purposes alone. But they did chose to commune with fans one last time, and I find it a dignified-perhaps even gracious-note to go out on. Until long after forever (and Bill Ward is included here because he too created the music this tour championed), Black Sabbath will be among those whose genius became a genus. They will forever be the founders of heavy metal.
Black Sabbath exhibits perhaps the preeminent paradoxical property of genius: knowing the best without knowing any better. They were four kids from a decaying society who didn’t realize they shouldn’t try to be what they wanted to be. They didn’t realize that they couldn’t rise from their circumstances-like foliage from humus-and create something completely new all by themselves, without permission, without planning. What they knew was that what they had created was true and that its truth lay in its own properties. And they knew that they may as well make this truth their lives because there was nothing to lose. They knew being broke playing music was better than being broke some other way. They discovered that when up is the only direction left to look, they found beauty waiting for them.
Perhaps this example can lead us to look up as well.
Perhaps we did that when we went to see The End.
When we went to see the end, we went to see the beginning. We went to receive a blessing from The Elders. We went to witness the progenitors of an entire genre of music (perhaps a new philosophy), the iterations of which continue to descend into our consciousness-a magnificent cascade of shimmering perceptions allowing us all to glimpse the deeper beauty of the reality we inhabit. The End gave Black Sabbath an opportunity once again to reach into our less comfortable selves and bring out unsettling fears and feelings. By re-presenting these fears and feelings through their music, Black Sabbath helped us recognize that these emotions are also part of our humanity. The 1.6 million fans who attended The End tour shared that moment of humanity.
And here’s the genius: In The End, it makes us feel happy. We feel purged of our fears and failings. We feel as if we are understood and accepted from the inside out. When we looked up at the stage or the screen at The End, we were all-Black Sabbath included-looking up, experiencing the most salient symptom of the universe: the beauty waiting for us.
Written by Dr. Metal
Vinyl Analysis #6
Special thanks to Michelle Johnson, Carly Carthel and Rick Ossian for reading the draft.
Special thanks to Phil Davies of Global Black Sabbath Convention for sharing his photo for this post.