"I went from playing in bars to being behind them. And now I have gold, platinum and criminal records." That's one of the first things Peter Steele said to me when I met him in January 2007 for an interview with Decibel. He and Josh Silver were in Los Angeles to promote Type O Negative's latest record, Dead Again. Unfortunately, it would be their last.
Truth be told, Steele didn't look so good. His once-muscular physique had gone soft, and his quick sense of humor — still sharp — was tempered by distinct strains of regret. He was wearing an ancient New York Jets football jersey, a pair of ill-fitting forest green sweatpants and nondescript black athletic shoes. At least he was maintaining Type O's color scheme.
As he sipped red wine, he began telling me about his misery spree of the past few years. Rehab for cocaine and alcohol addiction. A stint in the psych ward at Kings County Hospital. A 30-day sabbatical in a not-so-deluxe suite at Rikers Island. "I did something violent," he conceded. "It was, of course, concerning a woman. Someone I was with for a while chose to be unfaithful, and I settled it like a Neanderthal. I had to suffer the consequences, so that was a setback."
He went on to explain that the title track of Dead Again was about relapsing. "It's about fucking up," he said. "As you see, I still drink. The other stuff is pretty much a part of my past, but you get three or four months under your belt and then, you know, somebody breaks out a line or what-the-fuck-have-you, and it's like, 'OK, just one line.' Yeah, right. Then you're gone for a week. And I feel like I'm killing myself every time I do it."
Steele said he wrote the song as a cautionary tale. "I'm trying to learn from my mistakes, and I wrote that song hoping that our fans would get something out of it, because I feel it's better to learn from someone else's mistakes than your own. I fucked up, and I don't want you to go through it. There's no rehabilitation going on in jail, either — it's just all the animals in the fuckin' zoo thrown together. It's true what they say about institutions — hospitals, jail — the last stop is the morgue. And I'm really not ready for that."
Dead Again's original title was The Profit of Doom, which is also the name of the album's third track. The image on the album cover is a photo of the highly controversial mystic and con man Grigori Rasputin, who wielded considerable influence over the last czar of Russia in the early 1900s.
"I didn't love that title," Silver told me at the time. "I thought it was a little Manowar-ish. Not that we don't belong with Manowar — but even for us, that's a little much. I'm not saying Dead Again is a piece of genius, but it's appropriate. In this business, you die a thousand deaths, and that's where the Rasputin imagery comes in — they say he couldn't be killed. And Peter is a big Rasputin fan."
"Rasputin is one of my heroes," Steele enthused. "What I like about Rasputin is the fact that he was a mad monk, a womanizer, a drunk, a drug addict, a glutton, but he was able to cure the Romanov boy and he was taken care of by the [czar's] family. And rumor has it, he had a really big dick. I don't have penis envy, but I guess that's kind of where I differ from him. I am a big dick, he had a big dick."
"I also like the fact that they couldn't kill him," he continued. "The Communists tried to shoot him, poison him, stab him, and I believe that he ultimately froze to death. They fed him all these poison pastries and then they stabbed him, shot him and dumped him in the river. Plus, he actually looks like a Type O Negative member."
As usual, the making of Dead Again was an arduous process. In their Rockaway, Queens, rehearsal space five nights a week, practice became a familiar deterioration. "It would start the same every time," Kenny Hickey recalls. "We'd come in with our booze, start with a good riff, it would start developing, and the night would slowly slope downhill as we got drunker. Then it would turn into arguments and threats on each other's lives."
Steele was basically a shut-in at this point — though he seemed to be moving away from coke. "I don't think he was doing drugs then," Johnny Kelly ventures. "He was more of a severe alcoholic. But rehearsal was his socializing. It was the only thing he was coming out of the house for."
"I'd have to pick him up for rehearsal, because he couldn't drive," Hickey recalls. "That was a long winter, man. Month after month of developing this album."
Sometime during the process, they got kicked out of the building. "This is classic Type O," Hickey says. "We're the only band that plays so loud that we get kicked out of a professional rehearsal studio. I remember going downstairs to pick up Chinese food at this place we always went to, and Peter used to torture the lady down there. He tried to pick her up, of course, because he tried to pick everyone up, and then he tried to pick up her 21-year-old daughter. So, I'm down there getting the food while he's playing bass upstairs, and the entire ceiling was vibrating. The drop ceiling fell into the wok. The lady goes, 'I know who it is — it's that big idiot upstairs, isn't it?' She ended up telling the landlord and we got thrown out. They moved us across the street to another building."
Despite the circumstances, both Hickey and Kelly have nothing but good things to say about the music on Dead Again. "I love that record," Hickey enthuses. "It was hard won. Peter was fucked up while we were making it, and he still came out with great shit. It's just another testament to his talent. He couldn't drive, he couldn't socialize, he was being mandated to halfway houses, but he could still write."
When the record came out, tours with Celtic Frost and Hatebreed ensued. "Those tours were even more off the fuckin' rails," Hickey says. "The excess of the band went even further. I was at my worst point. It was bad."
Type O hit their nadir in Birmingham, England. "We played three songs and then Peter walked offstage," Kelly recalls. "This is one of the toughest audiences in the world, and we just pissed them off."
"They wanted to kill us," Hickey says. "Peter locked himself in the bathroom and refused to come out. People were banging on the door, and he goes, 'I can't go out there. I'm not going to have a heart attack for this band.'"
Type O's last show was at Harpos in Detroit in 2009. By this time, Steele had gotten sober. But Silver wasn't with them. "We had Scott Warren from Dio and Heaven & Hell playing with us," Kelly says. "He was a great guy, but if I knew it was going to be the band's last show, I would've wanted Josh to be there."
Still, Hickey and Kelly agree that everyone was in high spirits that night as the tour bus took them back to New York. "We had always thought the band was going to end at any minute, but it felt like we had gotten over this hump and now the band was never gonna end," Kelly says. "I thought if Peter lived to this point, nothing would take him out. If he had died two years before, I wouldn't have been shocked at all. But now he got passed that and was taking his sobriety seriously. He had this optimism, and he was excited about working on a new record. And he never talked like that, in the 20 years that I knew him."
Of course, the new record never materialized. "Whatever ideas he had, he took with him," Kelly says. "I remember calling Peter to tell him we'd found a new rehearsal spot to start working on the new record, but he didn't answer the phone. The next day, I get a call from his girlfriend saying he was sick in bed. I said, 'OK, tell him we found a place and to call me when he feels better.' Then I got a call from his sister later that day, saying that he'd passed away."
At first, it was rumored that Steele had suffered heart failure. It later came out that he had died from the gastrointestinal disease diverticulitis. "If you read the press, Peter was always talking about dying," Silver pointed out to me in 2011. "But it still makes me sad. He really loved music, you know? I just wish he was able to reap more of the practical benefits of his art. He didn't really get the financial stability or peace of mind. Not that we got it, either — but I feel like he kinda got robbed."
"Type O was the most artistic, talented band that I ever worked with at the label," Monte Conner enthuses. "They never made anything that wasn't fantastic. As these records live on, I think people recognize how truly amazing this band is — even more so than when they were around."
Because Steele is no longer here to do it himself, it's Hickey who sums up the band's legacy in true Type O style. "You can't cancel us because we canceled ourselves," he says with a laugh. "But the music is still here."