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As 2003 dawned, Type O remained as negative as ever. And they had a new album to prove it. Like its predecessor, World Coming Down, death and self-loathing are the prevailing themes of Life Is Killing Me. The title of the album's only single, "I Don't Wanna Be Me," says it all. But despite its title and lyrical direction, the song is musically upbeat and has a distinct punk edge.
"There was always a bit of that hardcore element there, going back to the beginning of the band," Johnny Kelly points out. "It was very comfortable. And it's a well-written song. The lyrics are clever."
"I didn't think that song was worthy of the intellect and elegance of Type O Negative," Monte Conner counters. "It just seemed a little silly to me. But I see it's their No. 1 song on Spotify right now, so what the hell do I know? Clearly it resonated with people."
The video for "I Don't Wanna Be Me" features future Walking Dead star Dan Fogler dressing up as various celebrities, including Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe, Eminem — and Peter Steele himself. It seemed that Type O's sense of humor had returned with a vengeance, and much of the album bore this out. Exhibit A? A hardcore-charged cover of "Angry Inch," the best showtune ever written about a botched sex-change operation. And that was just the beginning.
On "How Could She?" Steele pays homage to every 1960s-70s TV heroine of his youth from Wilma Flintstone to Weezie Jefferson. "I Like Goils" was a typically un-PC delayed reaction to the unexpected surge in popularity Steele experienced among gay men after his 1995 Playgirl spread.
But it wasn't all shits and giggles. "Todd's Ship Gods (Above All Things)," examines Steele's relationship with his late father, who had worked at the Brooklyn Naval Yards. "Nettie" is a stately tribute to his mother, who would pass in 2005. The title track outlined the singer's intense dislike of physicians, whom he felt had failed his father in his last days.
"I really don't like doctors, because they're supposed to take the Hippocratic oath — which I call the hypocritical oath — and everything, as usual, comes down to money," Steele told Billboard not long before Life Is Killing Me was released. "Sometimes I feel like older people are being kept alive just to increase a physician's income. I really can't understand why we can so easily euthanize beautiful creatures like cats and dogs, but we keep the scum of the earth — mainly human beings — alive and in pain."
As usual, the songs did not come easily. "Writing was always hard, always a fight," Josh Silver told me in 2011. "We didn't just sit there and make these records lightly. There wasn't room for anything else in your life. It was an obsession for six months, a year. It was an enormous undertaking. Everyone was always arguing and pissed off and moody, but that contributed to it."
Meanwhile, Steele's dark phase continued. "He was very disorganized during the making of Life Is Killing Me," Kenny Hickey says. "He was at one of his worst points. He wasn't getting any better as far as his addictions, but I'm not going to say that I was. When I was home, I was sometimes controlled. When I was on the road, I was terrible. And when me and Peter were together, it was even worse."
"I think the record reflects that," Kelly adds. "Overall, it was lacking. That record is the most disjointed of the whole catalog. There was a big question mark over everything."
"The only song I really like on the record is 'Anesthesia,'" Hickey reveals. "That one immediately clicked when we started playing it. And it was one of our favorites to play live. Most of [the album] felt like Peter was writing just to get through it. But even when he was doing that, he would come up with a gem like 'Anesthesia.'"
"I always liked 'Nettie,' too, and those two songs alone justify the record," Kelly ventures. "But the rest of the album feels very disconnected. Peter wasn't really applying himself. But that gives you some insight into how talented he really was, because him not applying himself was still pretty good."
The wheels were falling off, both figuratively and literally. "Peter had this car — it was a Grand Prix with truck tires on it, and they didn't quite fit. They bottomed out on the wheel wells," Hickey recalls. "Josh had to drive with him to rehearsal, and Josh hated getting in it in the first place. And then he had to drive home with Peter drunk. Sometimes after rehearsal, the wheels would fall off the back of the car. I'd drive by and see the car, like, 'What are they still doing here?' And I'd see Peter putting the wheels back on, with Josh leaning on the hood."
Before Life Is Killing Me came out in June 2003, all the band members went through major life changes. Hickey and Silver had kids. Kelly got divorced. Steele hit rock bottom. "Peter was going through rehab, and his girlfriend Elizabeth finally broke up with him," Hickey says. "And then he got arrested."
"She ended up getting married, and she didn't even tell him," he explains. "He got pretty angry about that, and he broke her new husband's jaw. That's how he ended up in jail."
Silver, for one, saw the writing on the wall. "Josh started thinking about what he was going to do next, because he saw Peter wasn't getting any better," Hickey says. "That's when he started studying to be an EMT."
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