Geezer Butler Reveals What Black Sabbath’s ‘Iron Man’ Is Actually About
Into the Void: From Birth to Black Sabbath — And Beyond is the new memoir from Black Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler. Among the countless truths revealed, one of them pertains to what the band's iconic song "Iron Man" is actually about.
Of course, lyrics, even when they have very specific and direct meanings, are open to interpretation by fans, who can apply the words to their own unique situations and circumstances in life. It's one of the magical qualities about music that enables it to have such a significant and everlasting presence in our lives.
It's likely that millions have thought of "Iron Man" as an empowerment anthem, conveniently casting aside lines about vengeance while utilizing the overall concept of strength that can be perceived from the title alone. Couple that title with Tony Iommi's tectonic riffing and it's easy to understand why this would invoke a sense of physical and mental toughness.
But according to the man who wrote the lyrics, it's actually about Christianity's savior, Jesus Christ.
Geezer Butler + Christianity
Butler, who also confirmed with Rolling Stone that he now considers himself retired, writes in Into the Void about his upbringing, "I was raised a strict Catholic and enjoyed the rituals of Mass, Communion, confession and Benediction, as well as that intoxicating smell of incense and everyone dressing up in their Sunday best."
He then notes he now considers religion to be "inherited brainwashing."
During his youth, however, he was a bit of an obsessive, spending his "pocket money" on a multitude of religious items, adding "rosaries, crosses, medals, prayer books, pictures of Jesus" and "anything my pennies would stretch to."
Butler even had a desire to be an altar boy, befeled at first by a long waiting list and later at the age of 11, but when the opportunity finally did arise, he didn't, accidentally oversleeping and missing his audition.
So there's a slice of context for you before learning how Jesus figures into the lyrics of "Iron Man."
What "Iron Man" + Other Paranoid Songs Are About
"Initially, Ozzy would put a scratch vocal line on top of the music, which involved him making up any old lyrics on the spot. Then I’d take over," Butler says, continuing, "There was nothing Satanic about my lyrics on Paranoid; most were still grounded in reality."
Offering examples, he explains, “'War Pigs' was an anti-war song and 'Hand of Doom' was about drug addiction. 'Electric Funeral' was about the threat of nuclear war. 'Iron Man”'was based on Jesus Christ, the notion that he was a hero one minute and persecuted the next. But instead of forgiving his persecutors, in our song 'Iron Man' seeks revenge."
It appears we see two sides of Butler's experience with religion represented here and, with that in mind, the lyrical intention makes a lot more sense. He maintains the idea that Jesus was a savior, but let's his more cynical side take over once Jesus' avowed resurrection finally takes place.
"I’ve seen so many different interpretations of that song, few of them accurate," the bassist assesses.
He goes on to say that the "otherworldly" track "Planet Caravan" is "about two lovers floating through the universe in a spaceship—the ultimate romantic weekend!"
Geezer Butler on Ozzy's Songwriting Contributions
It's well known that Butler was the primary lyricist during the initial Ozzy Osbourne-fronted era of the band and the bassist offers more insight regarding the nuance of the band's songwriting, asserting Osbourne deserves more credit for his creativity.
"Tony would come up with a riff (or occasionally I would), which we’d all work from. While Tony, Bill and I were jamming away, Ozzy would start pulling vocal lines from thin air," Butler writes, "Ozzy doesn’t always get credit for how talented he was at coming up with melodies and kernels of ideas. Sometimes he’d only have to throw out one word and I’d write the rest of the lyrics based on that, and he made my lyrics sound as if they were coming from his soul."
Buy Geezer Butler's Into the Void Memoir
Into the Void: From Birth to Black Sabbath — And Beyond is out now. Get your copy here.