peter steele

Hey Pete

“I’ve lost myself again
It’s a nightmare
But it’s clear
It will end
But when?”

– Type O Negative, “White Slavery”

Peter Steele came into my life through dumb luck.

My high school buddy Nathan and I were playing “Magic: The Gathering” at his place, listening one of those satellite TV stations that does nothing but play a certain category of music. I was probably 16 or 17 at the time. We’re sitting there, and this thundering, brooding rock came on, and I asked what it was.

“Oh, that’s Type O Negative,” Nathan said. “Their frontman is a giant, seven-foot-tall guy with that deep voice. They sing mostly about sex and death.”

Sold, I thought. What more do I need to know?

But actually I forgot about that encounter for a few months, until later that summer I was browsing through the CD section of Jackson’s Circuit City when I found the Type O Negative section. Browsing through the albums, I took a chance on the newest one – October Rust.

It turns out I picked the right one, because October Rust changed my life. It has since risen to the top two or three albums I listen to, and it introduced me to something I had been looking for. Here, I discovered, was a perfect blend of lush, methodical, brooding music. It was funny, heavy, and catchy as hell. I remember “Burnt Flowers Falling” being stuck in my head for months, and after repeated listens the whole thing became a classic.

From there, I caught up on the rest of Type O’s catalog, with the (what I felt) uneven Bloody Kisses, the album that gave Pete and the band their first big hit with “Black No. 1.” I had to wait two or three long years until World Coming Down came out my first year of college.

That was the thing with Type O. You had to wait Tool-long periods of time, usually four years, between albums. What you had, you had to stick with, until some other life-altering event in Peter’s life made another album necessary.

For me, World Coming Down was almost too much. It was their darkest album yet, dealing with death and suicide and – for the first time that I can think of – Pete’s cocaine habit. And from that album on, Type O albums weren’t immediately grabbing. Hell, I didn’t like WCD after the first few spins. It wasn’t until I spent a year or two with it that it began to grow on me.

Same with Life is Killing Me. Same, amazingly, with Dead Again.

When you give them enough time, however, they become a part of your standby list. Need a CD to get you to work in the morning? Grab Dead Again and skip to “Profit of Doom.”

I remember printing out reams and reams of Type O guitar tabs in my high school computer class. I’d get done with my work so early that the teacher gave me permission to dick around on the Internet. So I’d head to a Type O site and print off all the guitar music, and learn those dead-heavy chords in dropped-B tuning.

I remember walking to my first in-college job, at Lincoln Elementary in Adrian, rocking World Coming Down as the maple leaves fell around me, and thinking that Type O was the soundtrack for fall.

I remember “Anesthesia” getting me through a few breakups.

Are a thousand tears worth a single smile?
When you give an inch, will they take a mile?
Longing for the past but dreading the future
If not being used, well then you’re a user and a loser

Type O drummer Johnny Kelly, in the After Dark video, called what Pete did “sonic therapy.”

For Pete, is was for himself more than anyone. Over the years, the music became less about girls and sex and more about family and addictions.

During the interim between Life is Killing Me (2003) and Dead Again, Pete faced all kinds of wacky stuff: incarceration at Riker’s Island, a stint in rehab, the death of his mom, coming back to Catholicism. Through all that, he never lost his sense of (dark) humor. And I can’t speak highly enough of the end product: Dead Again fucking rocks, and I’ve listened to it constantly since 2007. Constantly. It’s now right up there with October Rust in terms of rotation.

That got me thinking a few days ago. Dead Again was released in 2007, and we usually wait about four years between albums, meaning new Type O was due to hit in 2011.

Turns out I was right. The band’s statement on the Type O web site put it best:

Ironically Peter had been enjoying a long period of sobriety and improved health and was imminently due to begin writing and recording new music for our follow up to “Dead Again” released in 2007.

Now he’s gone. But as Don said, there’s bound to be some music in some deep, dark crypt that has yet to be released. Let’s hope.

And maybe this is all one big frigid’ joke. Pete faked his own death in 2005, and once spread a rumor that Type O may call it quits:

With a recent trip to Iceland to “clean his mental health” behind him and The Profits Of Doom ahead (an early summer release is planned), Steele is non-committal about Type O’s future. And if he did return to making music as a hobby? “Maybe I can start my own website and send out CDs for free to fans, who could send me a donation for what they feel it’s worth,” says the former NYC Parks Department employee. Then he adds – with the slightest hint of self-deprecation – “So I guess I could expect a bag of shit in the mail.”

Pete and his humor. Man, to count the time the guy made me laugh out loud. I remember nearly pissing myself in the Adrian library reading interviews from the guy. As a journalist, Pete would have been a dream interview, full of those “did he really just say that?” moments. His personality was a big as his giant, hulking frame and as deep as his voice.

Hell, the guy did a Playgirl spread. Now that’s having a sense of humor about yourself.

I had no pulse last time I checked
I’d trade my life for self respect
So I say with my ass whipped
There are some things worse than death

I can’t believe I died last night – oh God I’m dead again.

Pete worked for the New York City Parks Department. He tried to instigate a Vinnland uprising. His favorite venue to play? Harpo’s in Detroit. Don and I saw the band there twice. He said all kinds of crazy things. He did all kinds of crazy things.

Eventually, all that stuff – the cocaine, the drinking, the giant frame – catches up with you. Yesterday, it caught up with Pete.

He joked about dying all the time. When his mom died, he started taking death seriously, and tried to turn his life around.

Now he’s gone. Again.