By Manuel Gemperli
I enjoy reading Peter Steele interviews almost as much as I enjoy listening to Type O Negative records. Generally, reading about music or talking about it is half the fun. The thing though is – and this might be subjective and I won’t be able to prove this empirically – musicians get more and more boring. They think too much about what they say and they receive extensive media training. This usually boils down to being instructed not to say anything even remotely controversial. Don’t piss anybody off. Peter Steele either didn’t have any media coaching or just didn’t give a fuck. That was hugely entertaining. And it poses the question how he would be perceived nowadays in a post #metoo world, namely his relationship to women, one of his favorite subject matters throughout his career. Too many, he was a sex symbol - a rock star in the truest sense of the word before you called your CPA a rock star when he found that awesome tax loophole. He wrote about the joys of sex a lot, but first he had to deal with some heartache. And he didn’t take it lightly, so let’s first take a quick look at some of the lyrics of the very first song on the very first Type O Negative album, catchily titled “Unsuccessfully Coping With the Natural Beauty of Infidelity”. Here’s an excerpt:
His tongue down your throat
His hand up your skirt
Yeah, I'm a man
But it still hurts
Where there's a womb there's a way
With you it's for free
You fucking whore (whore)
You're a cunt (cunt)
I know you're fucking someone else
This seems pretty terrible at first glance, but nothing is black and white and that’s what this article is about. Yes, he’s not beating around the bush and that is precisely what makes it great. This song shows true, raw emotion, the kind of in-the-moment emotion that overpowers any kind of reasoning that might set in later. I’m not interested in condoning or condemning the name-calling. What I find interesting about this song is that he portrays himself as the clear victim in this scenario, something we’re not used to in the male-dominated rock and metal world. Usually, the guys are the ones in power, bragging about their sexual conquests. But here, he was the one taken advantage of and he is not happy about it. The song is his way of fighting back (partially. He allegedly also paid a visit to the guy she cheated with and “smacked him in the face” - as he put it - causing him to serve 30 days in prison). A few years later, it was the mid-nineties now, Alanis Morissette became a massive superstar on the strength of her mega seller “Jagged Little Pill”. The standout song on the album was “You Oughta Know”, a song directed at her ex-boyfriend (which may or may not be Dave Coulier aka Uncle Joey from “Full House”). Let’s look at an excerpt of this song’s lyrics:
An older version of me
Is she perverted like me?
Would she go down on you in a theater?
And are you thinking of me when you fuck her?
Alanis was celebrated for standing up and many listeners could relate to what she went through, causing them to sing along fervently any time it would come on at any bar in the world. That’s a good thing. I wholeheartedly support music that stems from true emotion and that people can relate to who experienced similar things. Alanis found a way to channel her frustration into art and get rich and famous in the process. What’s interesting is that putting herself in the role of the victim fighting back made her appear strong. It looks much different coming from a guy. It’s hard to yell “slut” at a girl and not appear slightly (or very) pathetic. But do these lyrics make Peter Steele a misogynist? Is this just a song about one person showing their anger towards another person that hurt them and does it matter that it happened to be a man being angry at a woman?
Type O Negative’s fanbase had an unusually high female quota for a metal band. I’ve been to a lot of metal shows that have been absolute sausage fests. So what made Type O different? My first assumption might sound superficial, but it’s hard to deny. Peter Steele was a very attractive man (something you can’t say about too many metal frontmen). He was 6 ft 8 inches tall, muscular, he had deep, green eyes – a menacing presence. And he knew it. In 1995, he showed it all in Playgirl magazine. Little did he know that the magazine was predominantly consumed by guys (This led to him receiving many advances from gay men as well – something he answered in his own way on the hilarious “I Like Goils”).
But it wasn’t just his physical appearance. After he got his anger out on their first album, he started writing very sensual songs, albeit in a dark, gothic setting. You may say that some women were attracted to him for the same reason they’re attracted to vampires in novels or movies. Their music portrayed the same macabre sexuality. From “Be My Druidess”:
A blaze so high it lights the night
Long fingernails dug in my skin
Yourself so wet invites me in
Our lust increased feeds desire
As we combust, yeah we on fire
I feel you shake so deep inside
Ooh scream my name and squeeze me tight
I'll do anything to make you come
The most interesting line in this song is the last one. He repeats it over and over. Motley Crue certainly never seemed to be concerned with the female orgasm. They only had ten seconds for love. Hardly enough. In “Love You To Death” Steele asks “Am I good enough for you?” He’s putting himself in a vaguely submissive, vulnerable position again, this time in a much different way. This sensitivity was always an interesting contrast to the doomy, heavy music. The title song of their album “Bloody Kisses” is an over 10-minute long moaning over the passing of his cat. Hard shell, soft core. He was very open about his depressive episodes and his ongoing struggle with alcohol and cocaine. “I started doing cocaine when I was 35 years old. What kind of an asshole does that? I was working out and in good shape. Shouldn’t I have known better?”, he said in one of his last interviews. He was a traditional rock star in that sense.
But he had a sense of humor. At first glance, his music seems painfully serious and depressive, but he often showed that he took himself much less seriously than most of his fans and his chroniclers. Their biggest hit “Black No. 1” is named after a specific brand of hair dye and makes fun of the exact goth girl prototype that supposedly made up a big portion of their fanbase. In “My Girlfriend’s Girlfriend” he sings of the joys of menages-a-trois and he isn’t trying to encode anything.
They keep me warm on cold nights
We must be quite a sight
In our meat triangle
My girlfriend's girlfriend
She looks like you
She's my girl too
Peter grew up with five older sisters, the youngest of them still being eight years older than him. They called him “Oops” growing up. He claimed that it felt like having five extra mothers and that he learned a lot about women in this setting. “I’d rather be around women than men. My best male friends are in the band”, he stated in an interview. When an interviewer asked him how many groupies he slept with, he called it a sexist question, but he was also never apologetic about his sexual endeavors on the road, best documented in his appearance on a Jerry Springer Show episode about groupies. It is definitely a net positive that as a society we have become more sensitive to individual groups, but it has also led to an environment where public figures constantly have to fear that something they say could jeopardize their career and it’s not always clear if there was ill intent or not. A guy like Peter who virtually had no filter would possibly be looked at much differently today. Maybe he could have only had the kind of success he had in the 90’s. Ultimately, the tale of Peter Steele is still a sad one. He had the kind of success many aspiring musicians dream of. He sold millions of records and influenced countless bands, but it never seemed to made him happy. He was 48 years old when he succumbed to heart failure, but he and his music will be remembered for a long time.