Peter Steele, the bassist and singer of Type O Negative died on Wednesday, something that came completely out of left field for me. He was only 48, and apparently died of heart failure after a short illness. It took a few google searches for this to really sink in, since he (or maybe his record label) hoaxed his death in 2005 for an album release, and he’s got a pretty morbid sense of humor. But I guess he had health and substance abuse problems, and it’s been confirmed by many sources, so I guess it’s true.
Type O Negative (and his earlier band, Carnivore) are pretty intertwined with my life in college and in the 90s. When I worked at WQAX, my biggest “get” interview-wise was a phone interview with him on the air. I have a tape of this somewhere, and I ran it in my zine. (You can read it here.) He was pretty hilarious and odd on the phone; I was incredibly intimidated going into the interview, and then didn’t think it was going to happen, because they were late calling, and the manager I was dealing with seemed a bit flaky. But as I sat in that shithole apartment of a studio, I got the phone call from New York, and we went on the air and got started. He was not serious about any of the questions, and gave hilarious answers to everything, even when I started throwing out bizarre questions. It was such a refreshing change from pretty much every other death metal or thrash metal band I interviewed, who pretty much ran through the same ten questions with an incredible seriousness, telling me their influences (always the same list of bands), the reasons their music was heavier than anyone else’s, why they hated Metallica, and how much the PMRC sucked. But Pete was truly entertaining, and realized this wasn’t about looking cool and brutal; it was entertainment.
I remember first hearing Type O Negative in the fall of 1991. Ray came down to Bloomington to visit for a weekend, and I was dating Jo at the time, and the two of them were fighting the entire time, both trying to out-whatever the other and assert control over the situation. I hung out on a Saturday afternoon with him, while she was off doing something. We went to the Fine Arts computer lab, where they had the super-high-tech Mac IIfx computers with giant dual-screen monitors, color laserprinters, and color flatbed scanners, the first time I’d ever seen any of those things in real life. The computers had this brand new program called Photoshop, which you could use to edit images. It came with a sample image of nine babies lying in cribs, a sort of top-down artsy shot of a hospital nursery. We used the clunky 1.0 features of the Adobe program to demonize the kids; one had a severed head; one had a Manson-style swastika on the forehead; another puked blood. We made color printouts, then went out to a dreary-sky campus and drove to Pizza Express on 10th street to get a pizza for lunch. We ate in Ray’s car, and he produced this tape with a grainy green cover that vaguely looked like a poor night-vision snapshot of sexual penetration, entitled Slow, Deep, and Hard. “This is the fucking heaviest thing you’ve ever heard,” he said. “It makes Black Sabbath sound like, fuckin’, Charlie Brown.”
And he was right. I fell in love with the album and bought my own copy of the tape that day. A big part of that love was that I was going through a really rough patch of life then, a caustic relationship with someone who constantly played mind games with me and caused me to go into deep cycles of depression. And here was this music that was both extremely depressing – talking about infidelity, suicide, depression, you name it – but also had a lot of black humor to it, a very clever and dark twist on the darkest part of life. I spent so much time poring over that album, just absolutely bathing in its negative emotion, using it as a soundtrack for this ugly tail-end of a relationship.
I spent all of the summer of 92 listening to Type O Negative, as documented in Summer Rain. I got a Type O Negative pin in the mail from the band, after I did the interview, and I wore it on the lapel of my leather jacket for years, serving as a sort of litmus test for people who actually knew the band. Bloody Kisses came out in 93, and I was thanked in the album (albeit misspelled) and also memorized this one, listening to it constantly on those long walks across campus with nothing but my Aiwa walkman to keep me sane. After my bad breakup in the fall of 93, that album kept at my brain constantly, and it was somewhat ironic that the band actually gained incredible success, with Bloody Kisses eventually going gold and then platinum.
Their 1996 release October Rust also burrowed a permanent position into my brain when it came out. I know it’s stupid that in 1996, I was still morose over a breakup that happened three years before, but I was in such an extreme state of angst about having nothing going on dating-wise and being alone in a new city. The album became this touchstone to that era three years before, and in a way, reopened many of the wounds, splashing them with rubbing alcohol and stinging them back to life. I absolutely loved this album, every part of it, even though the band had almost completely moved away from their original metal origins.
I never got into the band’s later work, but those first three albums are still in constant rotation in the iTunes library, and probably at least once a day, one of them comes up during my drive to work or while I’m at the computer. So it was shocking and sad to hear the news about his death. It’s also weird to go back over his lyrics post-mortem, because they all talk about death and dying and killing and suicide in such a heavy and tongue-in-cheek way.
I don’t really know how to end this post without sounding stupid or sappy, and I keep wandering to my iTunes library to look things up, so I better wrap this up here.