Sunday, March 20, 2016

Mac Sabbath's Strange Crusade Against Fast-Food & GMO's

Slayer MacCheez, Ronald Osbourne, Cat Burglar & Grimalice
Since today is the first full day of spring and it's beginning to snow here in New Jersey and a sitting U.S. president has landed in the nation of Cuba for the first time since Calvin Coolidge in 1928, I figured today's blog should be about something unusual.

One of the weirdest things I've heard about recently is a heavy metal parody band called Mac Sabbath that covers the pioneering and influential heavy metal band Black Sabbath fronted by lead singer Ozzy Osbourne.

The members of Mac Sabbath dress in costumes based on characters that once appeared in McDonald's television commercials and who are still seen on materials included with kid's Happy Meals, or on the playgrounds of some of those larger McDonald's restaurants with outdoor areas for kids to play in.

The lead singer "Ronald Osborne" dresses like a demented Ronald McDonald, the guitarist "Slayer MacCheez" plays with a large headpiece with silver tusks fashioned after Mayor McCheese, the bass player "Gimalice" wears a purple costume that looks like a leering Grimace from a bad acid trip and the drummer "Cat Burglar" dresses like the Hamburglar.

Now as far as actual musical ability is concerned, Mac Sabbath's guitarist, bassist and drummer can certainly play their instruments, and they're obviously familiar with (and fans of) Black Sabbath's music, but singer Ronald Osbourne growls and shouts more than he really sings.

Black Sabbath cover band Brown Sabbath
Talent-wise they're never going to be confused with the more well-known Black Sabbath cover band known as Brown Sabbath, an impressive Latin music-influenced jazz-funk collective from Austin, Texas that includes a talented lead singer, two percussionists, a horn section, a guitar player and bass player (who normally play together as the band Brownout) who do some amazing Latin-funk covers of Black Sabbath.

What's interesting about Mac Sabbath is that there is a serious purpose behind their bizarre look.

They play Black Sabbath's music, but they switch all the lyrics to rail against what they see as the evils of the fast-food industry in America and the dangers of GMO's (Genetically Modified Organisms).

Their costumes parody McDonald's characters used to market fast-food to children.

In the fashion of a true showman, the band's manager Mike Odd, a member of the California hard-rock band Rosemary's Billygoat who dress in unusual stage costumes as well (see photo below), is intentionally mysterious and elusive about Mac Sabbath's origins.

He claims that the lead singer Ronald Osbourne contacted him over the phone to request a meeting a burger joint in Chatsworth, California and walked in dressed in his bizarre clown costume to pitch the band.

Musician and Mac Sabbath manager Mike Odd
As Odd told journalist Daniel Kohn in an interview for OC Weekly back in December:

"This clown has told me he's traveled here from a time space continuum from the 1970's to save us from our modern ways and to warn us about government control and how things have changed since the 1970's. That was the last time he says there was real food and music. He goes on and on about how the government uses caffeine and cable for mind control to poison and enslave us. People come to the shows and think it's funny and goofy but this guys has some intensity and a message behind it."

Osbourne later invited Odd to hear the band play and so he decided to manage them.

The band now plays shows all over the U.S. (they played Underground Arts in Philadelphia on Friday night) and the video of their live performance of "Frying Pan", a parody of Black Sabbath's "Iron Man" has gotten almost a million hits on Youtube.

A time-traveling clown who uses costumes and the music of Black Sabbath to preach against the evils of corporate fast-food and genetically-modified fruits, vegetables and animals?

Sure it's a bit strange, but it's also an amusing reminder that one of the powers of art is its ability to use satire and parody to provoke, enlighten, engage and challenge conventional ideas of creative expression.

To me the band is a pretty fascinating and unusual merger of musical expression, live performance art, political expression and social activism.

But it's probably safe to assume the folks at McDonald's are not amused.

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