October is an apt month, if any, to write a tribute to a man and his music. Peter Steele, bassist and front-man for gothic metal band Type O Negative, passed on April 14 this year, about six months ago, and it’s taken me all this time to consider exactly how iconic he was, and also just what I wanted to share about what he meant to me.
Those of us who listen to music will always have bands or musicians who are “it” musicians, who sum up an era or a state of mind perfectly. And, while I’ve had an affection for assorted gothic, electro and industrial initiatives since I got over my unfortunate mainstream affliction at the tender age of fifteen (I blame Trent Reznor for this), Type O Negative has always been one of those bands that lurked on the edges of my awareness.
I had a deprived childhood. I grew up during the time when the great World Wide Web was only beginning to put in an appearance in South Africa during the early to mid-1990s. Mandela and De Klerk had just brought our country back from the edge of a bloody civil war and, to put it mildly, years of socio-economic sanctions had us living in a bit of a cultural backwater. Sure, we had some idea about popular culture but pity us alternatives who really had to struggle to find out about new trends.
Hell, the music we were dancing to in our dark, dank alternative clubs was sometimes a decade or more out of date. Not that we cared. It was still better than grooving to the dreck they were airing on radio. Bela Lugosi is dead So what? Too young to have seen the likes of South Africa’s No Friends of Harry live on stage, take LSD at The Stage or lurk in corners at The Playground, I nonetheless grasped at whatever hints of alternative culture came my way, usually in the form of recordings of recordings of recordings of some obscure band (can anyone say Marilyn Manson?) or hours poring over foreign music magazines bought at the local “books per kilo” store.
As my friend Tracey commented to me today on the train, “You missed out on the best times.”
The alternative kids at my high school banded together, whether they were hippie, goth or rasta, spending break times in the quad bragging about various feats of sheer teenage stupidity and generally looking down on the sporty or nerdy types. Me? I was a nerdy type who’d lost interest in being the good girl after two particular bad years in hospital where I’d nearly croaked it. A near-cancer experience after a burst appendix kinda readjusts your outlook on life.
I kept asking myself: there must be more to life than growing up, marrying some doctor or engineer and breeding more little white middle class suburban punks. That’s more or less the time Nine Inch Nails came out with The Downward Spiral, signalling my own, personal descent into the darkness, from whence I’ve never quite re-emerged. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. I never did quite like going out into the sunlight. Skin cancer, UV rays an’ all.
And, before you say it, yes, I’m that old.
I remember the day I encountered Type O Negative quite clearly. I was in my final year of high school that year and a friend of mine had given me a copy of an Alternative Press magazine featuring none other than Pete on the front cover dressed in a cupid outfit and very little else. But it was his eyes that got to me. Something about the eyes. Who the hell was this man? Did he find his way onto my bedroom walls and high school diary? Hell yeah!
Granted, pathetic little munchkin that I was, I only got to hear my first sample of Type O Negative about a year later when I scored a copy of ToN’s Slow, Deep and Hard. I’ll be perfectly honest. The music didn’t quite match up to what I expected the man to sound like. But I gave it a good few more listens and the music started growing on me.
“There’s something there,” I mused. “There’s something about this music I could really grow to love.”
The first Type O Negative album I bought was October Rust, and I remember hating reaching the end of the disc and wishing there was more where Haunted came from. Many late nights in my parents house, wondering what on earth was to become of me... That album is an anthem for that time of wondering.
But sadly I wasn’t ever able to kindle a full appreciation of ToN’s music. I dated some sad gothboy who didn’t approve of my musical inclinations (no more ToN, okay?). Granted, I got into Bauhaus, The Cure, Siouxsie and a bunch of other bands I’d never have listened to otherwise. (Music at least ten years out of date, hey.) Then I completed my tertiary education, got a job, bought a house.
Yeah, the whole white suburban middle class punk thing kind of happened anyway. I’m thirty-two now but thank freck I’ve something to show for the crazy-arse kid I used to be. I’ve written two novels, sold others, and I’ve lost track of how many others I’ve completed. I’m finally living one of the dreams I set for myself. Granted, I no longer play in bands but I still have my bass. I’ve recaptured some of that madness I had when I was seventeen.
And by freck, I’m glad I’ve not bred. I don’t have that hanging around my neck. I do have a husband but I’m happy he doesn’t force me to do anything I don’t want to. I can still let my hair down and plug into that current that drove me all those years ago. Because you know what? I’ve found it again. It never went away. It was just mired in more than a decade of trying to live life according to society’s rules.
So I’ll remember Peter Steele. I’ll remember what his music represents, which is a big “eff you” to the rest of the world. I’ll live my life according to my rules and screw everyone else. I’ll have no regrets.
Hey Pete. wherever you are, thank you.
And while I live and breathe, I will speak your name and drink a glass of red wine for you on Halloween each year. Your music has always been there, a spirit of the age to which I belong. I never even conceived your time would come to an end so soon.
That’s the problem, we still believe we’re immortal.
It would be nice to close with something intellectual, but at heart I’m just a thug.