There I was, a sunny Thursday afternoon in April – today, actually – doing my utmost to avoid anything resembling what I was supposed to be doing, which was working on my online portfolio. So, furthering the avoidance actions of Weboholics everywhere, I did what I always do when I don’t want to do what I’m doing.
I went to Blabbermouth to see if I could find anything to piss me off. And I didn’t find it. I found something else so shocking, so upsetting, so effing outrageous, I couldn’t even get pissed off about it.
But there it was, in black on gray electronic letters. Peter Steele, lead singer and songwriter/founder of Fallout, Carnivore and Type O Negative, possibly the largest and certainly the longest lasting musical obsession I’ve ever had in my life, passed away some time yesterday, aged 48. Forty-eight!
What started as a rumor very early this morning CET via Twitter, began gaining legs and growing and growing. By this afternoon, there was confirmation from keyboardist Josh Silver, and tributes were crawling out of the woodwork of musicians, journalists and bloggers everywhere.
It can’t be true. But this time, unlike in 2005 when the band pulled a similar stunt (a hoax, as it turned out), many of us had the oh-so sinking feeling that it is – true.
I’m trying to accept it, and I can’t. Here’s another one of those Defining Moments in Music – Where were you when…John Lennon was shot, Kurt Cobain died, Layne Staley, and now…Peter Steele.
But why does it have to be when they died?
Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, I was working as a graphic artist for a Copenhagen cultural institution known as Huset. At Huset, my best friend was the secretary for the Huset booking office, a compleat metalhead with a sharp eye on The Next Big Thing. This day of all days, she was trying to persuade my pregnant self to come to a concert at Barbue that night. “I KNOW you don’t like thrash, I KNOW you hate too much…same old…same old, but THESE guys – are not LIKE that. You’ll dig it, really!”
Huset was and is a rabbit warren of hallways, stairs, sloping ceilings and other hazards to your sense of direction. Later that afternoon, I went in search of coffee. About twenty feet from my office, I walked – literally – right into a Moving Obstacle. Which was about as much as I saw, before I looked up. And up. And..Geezuz fuck, who the HELL was this, this – titanic hunk of testosterone bomb?
It was a very apologetic, scrupulously polite Peter Steele, who had got lost on his way to the Barbue green room and somehow ended up banging his head on the 18th-century beams of the hallway just outside my office. He kept apologizing, poor man, all the way back to the green room and I kept laughing it off.
My friend prevailed. Later that night, I showed up, looking only slightly improved. This time, I was prepared for the impact. I walked up and introduced myself properly, in my native American English:
“Dude! Do ya know, I could have a raging affair – with your navel!”
To his everlasting credit, he laughed, and so did the rest of the band, while I was busy trying to find a small and dark corner in which to hide my own mortification. In person, he had an alarming – and disarming amount of charm, even towards idiot midget half-Danes from the land of tall blondes. Of course, I was a redhead then, and that must have helped.
It was a show not like many others I had seen, just as Type O Negative was a band unlike any other. Beatles-meets-Black Sabbath-meets-gothadelic-hippie-punk-metal-with-a-sense-of-humor-so-black-you-had-to-wear-shades. But even then, even as I filched the office copy of “Bloody Kisses” one day no one was looking, I didn’t entirely…get that voice yet. The time wasn’t right, or my headspace wasn’t until a few years later, I walked into a record store as if pushed by some invisible demon and asked for “October Rust”.
I went home, I put it on, I turned up my amp and then…about three minutes into “Love You To Death”, my brain literally – blew up. I was in the grip of emotions I didn’t understand and had never known before, I was attacked by something I couldn’t even articulate, it was – that powerful. And it was a combination of music so achingly beautiful, produced to luscious aural perfection, and That Voice – asking the question that blew my brain to smithereens: “Am I good enough for you?” The very idea, that someone could sing that, that someone like Peter Steele could sing that so earnestly – that’s what hit my detonator.
Because this was that Band In My Head (if I had that kind of talent, which I don’t), and here was that Voice In The Dark, the guy my Mom would have warned me against, a hopeless, hapless heartfelt romantic who pushed buttons I never even knew I wanted pushed – and bad. “October Rust” guided me through a very nasty breakup, through my discovery that that writing thang was some kind of (bad) idea, through ups and downs and out of controls. To this day – it the only CD out of my entire collection I have had to replace – three times.
I saw them live, a year or so later, I faithfully bought all their CDs on the release dates, and always, the Baritone That Did Me In did strange and wonderful and weird and unspeakable things to my head, things that can’t be mentioned in daylight.
Carnivore’s “Male Supremacy” became the litmus test for potential boyfriends – only a very healthy sense of irony need apply. His voice became such an extended part of me it was a question of “love me-love my favorite band” or else – forget it.
His voice was a voice that followed me through writing The Effing Book (three times), through everything that gave me the written voice I have today, and even into my latest misbegotten project, so much, I took his physical characteristics and gave them to “Saint Peter” in my story, one of the Good Guys. Today, I’m wondering how I’m going to get myself out of that pickle, because Saint Peter is very much alive on April 28th, at least in my story.
But today, on April 15th in the real world is the day my iPod cries. I didn’t know Peter Steele as a person, I don’t have the right to mourn him on that level, but I have the right to pay homage to a musician, a composer and a singer that exploded my head and stole my heart – and never, ever gave it back!
For that alone, a simple “thank you” is never enough.
So these pathetic words will have to do!
Goodbye, Saint Peter. You will be missed by millions, and mourned by them all, but you never entirely left, did you?
You left That Voice behind, and the music with it. Thank you for that, too.