April 18, 2010

Reflecting: Peter Steele - Dead at 48

Peter+Steele+42This past Thursday morning I turned on my computer to find some saddening news. My Twitter feed has a link to a story at Bloody Disgusting that said Peter Steele had died. At the time, it was still something of a rumor, although there as word that bandmate Kenny Hickey had confirmed that Peter Steele, 48, had indeed died of heart failure on April 13, 2010. I hoped it was a rumor, I prayed that it was a hoax, similar to the one in 2005 when Steele's death had been rumored, but ultimately (and obviously) not true. Sadly, it became apparent this was no hoax and that Peter Steele would no longer provide the world with his music.

The 6'7" Peter Steele was born Petrus T. Ratajczyk January 4, 1962 in Brooklyn, New York. He came to form a number of bands including Fallout, Carnivore, and the more famous Type O Negative where he served as vocalist and bassist. It has been reported that Steele suffered from clinical depression for which he received treatment, including a stint in a mental hospital. This goes along with periods of heavy substance abuse, which led to a stint in Riker's Island and a probationary period.

Type-O-Negative-sp17It was with Type O Negative that I came to be a fan of Steele. The gothic metal band provided a distinctive voice on the musical landscape from their debut Slow, Deep, and Hard in 1991 through Dead Again in 2007. I did not become a fan right away, I was not even aware of them until their third album had been released. However, since that moment, I have loved their music, their sound, everything.

I was working in a mall electronics store in the mid-1990s, it must have been 1994 or 1995. One of my friends, although for the life of me I cannot remember her name (I want to say Rebecca), told me about this group that I had to check out. She then lent me her copy of 1993's Bloody Kisses, which she had originally bought based on the cover art alone. I took it home, gave it one listen and bought myself a copy the next day. The dark, somber songs, gloomy catchiness, Steele's impossibly deep voice, and the freshness of the sound (at least to me at the time) held me in awe.

I went back and picked up the first two Type O Negative albums and then every one since. Each album brought with it its own surprises. The slow heavy churn of the music always familiar, yet always different with each release. Peter's lyrics always playing out like some sort of therapy session for whatever issues ailed him during the writing. To this day I find them mesmerizing. The world has lost a unique voice.

peter_steele_241As if the albums were not enough, I was lucky enough to witnes Type O Negative live on a few occasions. They never failed to deliver a solid show. The crowd was always into just as Peter always had a bottle of red wine on stage. They were loud, heavy, and precise without exactly duplicating the album. I recall one particular night, my then girlfriend was making her way through the crowd when she bumped into a living wall. That wall turned out to be Peter Steele. She looked so small next to his 6'7" frame, seeing as she was not quite 5' tall. She looked up, speechless, he smiled and went along his way. It was just a moment but it was a memorable one. The closest I got was catching half a roll of toilet paper that was among the handfuls the band was using to TP the audience at a late October show.

Peter Steele was only 48 years old, died of heart failure, and left a legacy that will be long remembered. I cannot claim to know all that much about the man, but what I have read is pretty interesting. I am not sure if he ever found genuine happiness, although I suspect the search or lack thereof aided in his ability to write. Beyond that, his belief system went through drastic changes late in his life. The professed atheist began identifying with the Roman Catholic Church. It was noticeable in some of the lyrics on Dead Again that something had changed. Whatever it was that spurred him on, I hope he found solace.

Type O Negative will always have a place on my shelf. I am just sad that we will not get anymore new music or have the opportunity to attend a live performance. Peter Steele was taken away too soon and my thoughts go out to his friends and family.

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t-o-n said...

Just wanted to stop by and tell you what a well-written entry this is. Although I really liked Type O Negative and recently did quite a bit of writing about how very affected I was by Peter's music, I have to admit that I find a whole lot of the over-eulogizing to be a little weird. I fel like your approach was much more appropriate and aligned with my own perspective on the guy. Well done.

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