Black Sabbath’s Paranoid, Friendship, and Lyrical Context
I guess I’ll get flak from the heavy metal community for this, but I’ll say it anyway: Black Sabbath’s song Paranoid is one heck of a danceable tune. The opening riff has my body moving like it’s Saturday night from the Disco era, and the rhythm section makes me want to do a jive. Lyrics-wise, its howling description of the woes of a man hopelessly doomed to insanity is not far-flung from the blues; the casual delivery of the words, spitted out with a hint of abrasiveness resembles that of a punk anthem, and although its rhyming scheme is probably weak (“finished with my woman cuz she couldn’t help me with my mind, people think I am insane because I am frowning all the time”), there is a rawness to its poetic simplicity that renders it genuinely heavy.
The first time I heard the song was on youtube. A music video featuring the band performing on a backdrop of psychedelic images instantly gave away the time period when the song was released. The video was old, scratched, and skipped during the beginning: it really sounded like Ozzy sang “spinach with my woman…” which to my immature 15-year old self is hilarious. I sang along, bobbing my head up and down, rocking the devil sign on both hands not long after. I was in the process of puberty back then, the dreaded teenager phase where hormones and rebelliousness are all the rage. Heavy metal became the rock upon which my angst was built, the gonfalon under which I shouted the cri de coeur: “Valhalla, I am coming!” but alas that’s another song.
And then there’s that one time I introduced Paranoid by Black Sabbath to one of my best friends. The year was 2005. My idealistic 15-year old self was convinced that Heavy Metal was my newfound religion, and that by spreading the word about it, I became one of its prophets. So I printed the lyrics of Paranoid (in the comic sans font) in order for me and my friends to sing it at school. “…can you help me occupy my brain?? Oh yeah…” We were hanging by the corridor as I taught Anna Marie the proper way to sing the tune; we waggled our shoulders and hips like it was Black Eyed Peas and not Black Sabbath (again, my apologies), ignoring the looks from our classmates- those cornpone peasants are never able to appreciate greatness when they hear one anyway. Inappropriately dancing to an otherwise dark song there on the corridors of Pirit was and still is one of my fondest memories.
“Think I’ll lose my mind if I don’t find something to pacify…” Our dancing now bordered on theatrical. We didn’t give a damn about the world watching us, that is, until Anna Marie suddenly quipped “Eww, what exactly does he want to pacify?” If this was set in the anime world I would have stiffened and fallen to the ground — but it’s not, hence I decided to play along, telling her that it’s Sister Guieb’s nipples (our school principal, a nun) that Ozzy wanted to ‘pacify.’ By pacify, I meant to suckle on like an infant to a Binky. Obviously, Anna Marie understood the word in a different context when what it meant in the song is rather a cry of desperation by the sufferer to have peace of mind. The sufferer, lugubrious and lamenting, bemoans his inevitable descent into madness — and we, the listeners, are left unable to do so much as console him. Taken in the wrong context, it sounded like Ozzy is in dire need of a wet-nurse.
However, this mistake of Anna Marie’s is forgivable. The word ‘pacify’ or ‘pacifier’ denotes in the Philippine setting images of teething toddlers and/or nipple-shaped rubbers. With a teeming population of a hundred million, a huge portion of which are newborn everyday, it’s easy to see why the average Filipino would think first of a Binky when he encounters the word ‘pacify.’
The bell rang. Breaktime is over. Anna Marie and I were still reeling from the dizzying plethora of laughter we shared over the dancing and the thought of a grown man teething. If I had been a better friend, I would have rectified her mistake. Nonetheless, I’m not just a friend, I’m kind of an asshole and a bit of a troll, and I always find a way to turn every situation into a funny one. So I left it as it is. Let Anna Marie revel in her wild imagination, she is after all a youth back then just like me. Let her live out her repressed sexual urges in the form of showing disgust via a scabrous misinterpretation, she is after all going through puberty and self-discovery during that time. Let her dance unhampered in the corridors, who cares if the song was not intended for dancing? I as her friend, will gladly dance along.
Years after that anecdote, I am no longer a metalhead and Anna Marie is no more than a Facebook friend nowadays. But I still love that song. Moreover I still think it’s danceable. I do wonder sometimes if Anna Marie still remembers Ozzy Osbourne ‘pacifying’ on Sister Guieb’s tits. If she does, does she stop to think of the friend who suggested that image to her — me? I’m bordering on sappy, forgive me, but sometimes the past visits us and reminds us of the good times we will never have back again. On the upside however, recalling the past shows us how far we’ve come, and I surely have gone past the days when I found bawdy humor to be funny.
Tonight I’ll be opening Spotify. I’ll be listening to the song (and the band) that was such a huge part of my teenage years. Anna Marie may have known by now the various contexts of ‘pacify’, particularly on Black Sabbath’s Paranoid, but that doesn’t take away anything from it as a tchotchke displayed in the shelves of my memories. Celebrating youth, life, laughter, and pacifier — perhaps for a little while I’ll get to relive the shits and giggles all over again.