I found this eulogy to Peter Steele on my old desktop and wanted to share it with the masses.
None So Negative: A Eulogy for a Heavy Metal Icon
I was only 12 years old when I first heard Type O Negative on a local radio station in Baltimore County. The station, 98 Rock, would air a top 6 countdown of the most requested songs for that day. Every evening for about a month, the song Christian Woman was played over and over, and although it never made the number 1 most requested song (at the time I believe there was a terrible Aerosmith song from the Get a Grip album that was dominating charts) it was always the 2nd or 3rd most requested song that day. It was catching on to a demographic that included me.
Every evening for about a month I listened to this song and it completely blew me away. There was absolutely nothing I could think of that sounded like it. When I was 12 the most exposure I had to music was whatever I saw on MTV or heard on the radio. The two big heavy metal albums at that time were The Black Album by Metallica and Countdown to Extinction by Megadeth. Those two groups, at the primes of their popularities, stole the most airplay on broadcasts. Yet to me, the heaviest, grungiest, Metallica song was weak in comparison to how downtrodden and low-pitched Christian Woman was.
The song clocks in at nearly 9 minutes, which is an average for Type O Negative, a band whose longest songs peak at the 13-minute range. The radio version of the song is cut to about 4 minutes; there are three parts to the song, and the latter two were removed for radio play. The lyrics of the song (which I didn’t realize at age 12 because I was a completely sheltered virgin) are about a woman who fantasizes about having sex with Jesus Christ (A cross upon her bedroom wall, from grace she will fall/an image burning in her mind and between her thighs). Looking back now, it boggles the mind how it got airplay without being heavily censored. But, kudos to 98 Rock for playing that song as much as they did, because if it weren’t for them I most likely would have discovered the band much later in my life, and they wouldn’t have had the impact that they did when I was just beginning my adolescence.
But the song itself: it’s absolutely beautiful. It opens with a very soft keyboard line played in a chorus setting. Peter Steele’s vocals join this with as much care to the delicate nature of the song’s intro, and the sacrilegious nature of the song is offset by its almost choir-like handling. It all feels like you’re praying in church, but then the distortion kicks in and the entire band comes in with a lullaby-like roar: a paradox from a band full of paradoxes. The synth nestles comfortably behind the domineering, thick, palm-muted strumming of the guitars and bass, and the drums keep an incredibly slow, yet calculated beat in common time to keep everything anchored as slowly and soul-crushing as possible. The most commanding presence in the song, of course, is Peter’s, whose vocals dip down to terribly low bass octaves. I remember hearing him drone the words “Corpus Christi” like a Gregorian monk and thinking, “does he use any voice modulators?” The song is absolutely entrancing, and twenty years later I can listen to either the radio version or the complete epic and enjoy it as much as I did when I was a kid.
After the song’s hype initially died down, the requests for airplay diminished, and the band dropped off my radar. It wasn’t until age 14 that I had rediscovered them.
I was raised in a Roman Catholic family and community, and attended private school for many years of my life. When I was in 8th grade I received the sacrament of confirmation (which I never understood its importance; from what I know and gather, it’s a big celebration over getting an extra middle name, or something). I received several gifts from my family from the deal, and one of them was a gift card to a local music store. With that gift card, given to me for completing a Christian sacrament, I committed heresy and bought my original copy of Type O’s most well-known album, Bloody Kisses.
I still own my original copy of Bloody Kisses, and even though it’s been played and scratched to hell, it still plays perfectly in my CD player without skipping once.
I played that album to hell growing up. It’s what I consider to be a perfect recording. There is nothing boring on it. Every song is unique and fascinating to me. To make a rough comparison, I regard Bloody Kisses and their latter album, October Rust, as the Revolver and Sgt Pepper of the heavy metal catalogue. They are flawless albums that are structured so intricately they feel like an experience, rather than a collection of popular songs strewn about with B-sides.
When I was 14 everyone in my class was listening to Nirvana, and because I was one of the only metalheads at my school, I was somewhat alienated for it. Type O, along with Sepultura, Life of Agony, and Pantera, were the first heavy metal bands I listened to and grew up with.
The cover of Bloody Kisses, strangely enough, was one of my first exposures to human sexuality. The front cover, in a palette of dark green colors, is a close-up of two beautiful women making out. It was my first discovery of lesbianism.
For years of my life I was absolutely obsessed with the group, and my obsession stretched throughout my adolescence and into my college years. I owned all of the group’s albums and listened to them religiously. And by religiously, I mean daily. I would usually fall asleep most nights listening to a Type O Negative album while I was playing a video game, or surfing the internet for girls to meet in my area (I admit to being one of those guys who used chat rooms and dating sites for a few years of my life). They were a band that was always there in my life; I always had a song of theirs stuck in my head, or lyrics that I quoted when speaking with other people.
My obsession with the group was surreal, even to me. Much like the towering, gothic-like band members, I would wear black tank-tops (or wifebeaters, whichever you’d call them) and grew my hair out very long and died it black (No. 1). As a tribute to my fanaticism, I even have the band’s logo tattooed on my arm: a black circle with a minus/negative symbol in the middle, colored in with the band’s signature dark-green tint. People who knew me would tell me that I looked like a midget version of the group’s mammoth frontman. And at 5’8” and 125 pounds, I was undeniably dwarfed.
I played in several bands during my early 20’s. Most of my metalhead friends and bandmates shared my passion for the group, and they were a direct influence to our own music.
One hot Summer day my friend and I were hanging out in his upstairs bedroom. We spent the entirety of that day watching a bunch of heavy metal music videos that we had taped from MTV or VH1. We also watched my friend’s VHS copy of After Dark, which was a collection of Type O’s music videos and live performances, and clips of the group doing downright silly things. By the time the VHS tape was over, both my friend and I looked at each other and came to the consensus that these guys were the types of dudes we aspired to be, and that one day we wanted to be on the stages they performed, playing the same type of music they did. And although the two of us went our own separate ways in life, we played several shows in several bands, although neither one of us came even close to the level of stardom our idols achieved.
Now we’re all older. My hair’s cut short and back to its original color: dark brown. It will begin to grey roughly a decade from now. My tattoo of the band’s logo is etched into my arm for the rest of my life, and will never separate from me. And very soon, finances willing, I will have to tattoo these words above the O-Negative symbol: “None so Negative: 1962-2010.”
Part of the difficulties of growing older is that as you age, so do the heroes you grew up with. Some die before others. Yesterday I received news on my Facebook account that Peter Steele died of a heart attack at age 48. His death hits home the same way Dimebag Darrell’s untimely death did, in that one of my idols growing up had passed away young.
At first I thought his death was another practical joke. On April Fool’s Day in 2005, Steele had posted his doctored tombstone on his band’s website, which threw many fans off. He’s always been very tongue-in-cheek about the subject of death, as well as his own, and when I read that he died I had only hoped that this was another one of his notorious pranks. Sadly, today is April 16th, today isn’t April Fool’s, and Peter Steele really is dead.
Peter Steele was larger than life in both a figurative and literal sense. At 6’7”, his frame was huge and muscular from his days of working out in Ferrigno’s Gym in his hometown of Brooklyn, NY. His chiseled physique, his chiseled jaw, and sunken cheeks made his appearance almost cartoon-like. The man’s stature was physically imposing, and for someone who was built to look virtually invincible, it was psychologically juxtaposing that his only enemy, most times, was his own depression. This depression was the subject of nearly every Type O Negative song ever written.
Yet despite his menacing looks, both Peter and his band were regarded as some of the nicest and most down-to-earth people in the heavy metal community. Many years ago I had met an employee at Guitar Center who told me that every time the band did a show in Baltimore, they would take him out to dinner and would modestly chat about like everyday guys. He invited me out with him to one of these dinners the next time Type O had made it to town, and told me to get in touch with him the next time they were doing a nearby show. Sadly, I never had the courage to go back to Guitar Center to talk with the dude about meeting the band and one of my lifetime heroes, and now it’s too late to ever get an opportunity to meet him. I regret not doing this.
Peter Steele was a guy that my friends and I aspired to be. He was tall, muscular, attractive, and had women falling on top of him by the armful. One of my close friends laughably compared him to the character Gaston from the Disney film, Beauty and the Beast.
I spent most of yesterday evening talking to people on Facebook and over the phone who were, and still are, rabid Type O fans like I am. We shared our experiences growing up with the band, and many of them were similar to one another. We may have discovered new groups that came and went capriciously, but Type O had never fallen off our radars, and those of us who listened to the group followed them like complete fanatics.
I had only seen the band perform live once in my life. I was 19 and it was during the time their album World Coming Down had came out. They had done a show at the Recher Theatre in Towson, MD, on Valentine’s Day, which was an awesome coincidence, given the gothic, romantic undertones to their music. It was a ruthless winter that year, and I remember going into the venue wearing this ridiculously huge (but warm) dark green overcoat. It was an absolutely awesome experience to see them play live, but one that was haunting. At the time Steele was battling through alcoholism and several deaths in his immediate family, which was the topic of several songs on the World Coming Down album. During the band’s set he had looked like he’d been through a war. I knew a few people who worked as his crew during that show and they told me he had a nervous breakdown after the performance. I can only imagine.
While Peter will always be remembered by many as a womanizer and a stud (many of my female friends owned a copy of the Playgirl issue he posed for, and no, I’ve never looked at it), most of us remember him as being an overlooked genius. He was a hell of a vocalist and a bassist. The man was a pupil of rock music, and by listening to one of the albums he’s recorded it’s very obvious. There are countless nuances and references to the Beatles and Black Sabbath in virtually every Type O Negative song. The intricate care that both he and his band had taken with every song is on the same level that those two aforementioned groups had taken into consideration when they recorded their opuses. His sense of humor is uncanny, as well. To this day, Type O Negative is the only band in memory who’s recorded a live album that really isn’t live, but performed to a fake audience who mocks and jeers them. Much like the Beatles and Black Sabbath before them, they’ve been a group to march to the beat of their own drum, yet they’ve recorded countless melodic classics that have made their music accessible to a large demographic of metalheads and non-metalheads alike. And in a genre that had alienated listeners with extremities most commoners were unwilling to brave, their presence as an anchor to the heavy metal world was critical.
I suppose this is a very scatterbrained eulogy but I can’t exactly formulate how I feel right now after hearing that he really is dead. People make football players and politicians their personal heroes. I had my heavy metal music, and to me Peter Steele was the John Lennon of what I idolized.
It seems almost fitting to a guy who’s made a career out of singing about his own death that he would die in his middle ages of heart failure. In all honesty, I’m not sure if I can say Steele had personal demons that severely affected his lifestyle, and it really isn’t my place to make that decision. Yet, I do know that he suffered from depression (the anger turned within) and it must have affected his morale to continue living at some point. All I know is that with his passing, the likeliness of another Type O Negative tour, or a studio recording, is decimated. And a genius in the heavy metal community has passed.
Rest in peace, idol.
–April 16th, 2010