Ok, Pete Steele cannot be defined as a cult thing or an unknown band, i admit that. But this part of my blog is devoted to music and i'm pretty sure that his stuff could be appreciated by far more people than the average Goth/Metal audience to whom it was usually relegated.
I remember the excact moment when i recieved the new about him passing out. I was at a show by the psychedelic band Nachtmystium, during the magnificent nirvana of live music that is the Roadburn Festival. In a wholw life filled with concerts, the Ropadburn experience is still etched in my mind as one of my most fond musical memories. I tried to explain it many times, but you really have to be there.
It's the perfect festival: it has an exclusive, out-of-this-world line up every year, its organized in a perfect way, every show is technically flawless, the audience is friendly, family like and always in a good mood, the zone where it takes place is magical and special. Its like teleporting for three days in a parallele universe of music, vibes and good feelings. So i was in my best mood when Pete Steele's Death was announced. Nachtmystium singer declared it gravely from the stage and dedicated a song to him. Me and my buddy reacted in a weirded out way. Others were sadened. It wasnt the utter tragedy of Loosing Chuck Schuldiner or Ronnie James Dio. But it had a weird, strange sadness. No one knew what exactly happened back then. And while Type O Negative were far from being as popular as they used to, they still were something that pretty much everyone had dealt with.
If you grew, like me, as a teenager with a taste for heavy music during the nineties, in a country that had little to no exposure to any form of non-mainstream music, your only hope was MTV's "Headbanger's Ball". With no internet, basically no "alternative" radio stations and very little money, Vanessa Warwick's show was where we discovered cool, rockin bands. Through their live footage, interviews and mostly through their videos. You discovered Korn, Deftones, Pantera, Machine Head, even some Alice In Chains and Soundgarden. I remember how my only way of putting my hands on singles or new tracks, when mp3 downloading didnt exist, was recording the show on vhs tapes and then record the song on audiocassettes. You barely could hear anything, since i even had a sucky tape recorder witha chessy microphone but i had some sort of idea of what made my heart race.
Back then Type O Negative was causing a fuss. they were at their peak. "Bloody Kisses" was taking the scne like a tank, with its lesbo themed artwowrk, and those catchy yet dark and heavy singles like "Black N.1". And the videos caught my attention. They look cheesy nowadays: lots of posturing and by-the-numbers gothness. Still that RUMBLE that the guitars, combined with the bass gave to my ears was powerful. And you couldnt deny the cvharisma of Pete Steele: a giant with a sculpted physique, a pale skeletal face, long black hair and two piercing insane eyes. With a baritone sounding voice and a penchant for talking about wickedly morbid stuff or sex.
When he was interviewed he seemed like either the ultimate douche, or the most magnetic and inexplicable man ever. Always deadly serious, even when he was saying the most outlandish things. One was never sure if he was really an ass or playing an act. Hard to tell. His lyrics, his actions, the way he moved on stage or acted in interviews., were always more opf a product of a dark twisted sense of humour and a love for shock. He wasnt a Marilyn Manson type. He was self-aware and played up the goth, macho, pervert stereotypes up to eleven.
Take his legendary Playgirl set. The man poses naked, huge dick in hand. Uses the fact to appear on tv shows and magazines and play god's gift to women. Then he says that a firend informed him of the popularity of Playgirl between gays. So he writes a short song called "I like Goils", that sounds like a homophobic, sexist tirade but actually uses lines like "I am quite flattered you think i'm cute / But i dont play well with compacted poop".... Well, lots of people thought he was really a white supremacist homophobe pig. I think He was aware. Notice that in the same album, he did a cover version of the off broadway song "Angry Inch", singing of himself as a botched post-op transexual with a one-inch mutilated penis. He was a smart ass.
And the music? I keep loving it more and more. That rumble gave energy to a combination of Beatles melodies (not surprisingly they did a few covers of the fab four) and Black Sabbath's slow heaviness. And also Neil Yound, Sisters Of Mercy, Joy Division. It was heavu, slow, sexy, funeral melody. With tales of depravity and tongue-in-cheek darkness, sure. But also with some devastatingly sensitive songs, like the heartbroken "Everything Dies". It was clear, to anyone, who really listened that Pete wasnt only a poser or some cartoon satanist. At all. He was dealing with solitude, heartbreak and the fear of life itself. Loved cracking jokes wherever he went but also used excesses, booze and drugs in order to escape panic attacks that were getyting more and more frequent. He came from the slums of NYC and he was still a man. Not some undefined star.
Then he disappeared. After a moemnt of too much coke, he attacked a guy who was hitting on his girlfrien of the time, Beat him to a pulp. Got dragged to court where his own sisters testifiied against him. Got sent to Riker's island for a month of hard jail. Camne out detoxed but physically and mentally broken. No more drugs, and a weirdly renewwed faith in god, Pete reformed his early band, the lovely and neck breaking Carnivore. Did a samll tour with them, which i'll always blame myself for missing. The tried Type O Negative again. They were has beens but could still pull it off, somehow. Still his body was aged, horribly.
He was 48, and writing new material when his heart stopped. When i learned about his death i wasnt even a big fan of his. But lately, i've been listening again. And remembering. He got something. Something special. I think he deserved better.