Dom Lawson: A Tribute To Pete Steele
Oh for fuck’s sake. As if the news that we’re all about to suffocated by a vast cloud of volcanic ash wasn’t bad enough, the news has broken that Pete Steel has died. Whether you’re a fan of Type O Negative (or, indeed, Carnivore) or not, there’s no denying that Steele cast a unique and idiosyncratic shadow across the world of heavy music and we will mourn his passing together, as we always do when people from “our world” make a premature exit. Frankly, this fucking sucks.
I’m listening to October Rust right now, and although I didn’t know Pete personally and only ever spoke to him once over the phone, it’s hard not to feel a strong sense of melancholy about the loss of another great talent and, by all accounts, an extremely intelligent and likeable gentleman who proudly stood apart from his peers, flying the flag for individuality in this often feebly unimaginative world.
The deaths of famous folk brings the worst out in us as human beings. We all like to have something to moan about, for a start, but also we do have a tendency to jump on every passing RIP bandwagon, often spouting on about how devastated we are when, in fact, we’re just a bit gutted and will selfishly miss having any more new Type O Negative albums to listen to in the future. We all saw the astonishing tidal wave of grief that swept this country when Princess Diana died. We saw it again, closer to home, when Dimebag Darrell was gunned down. We all loved Brother Dime, but we didn’t know him or love him as much as his nearest and dearest, and to pretend that we did is disingenuous and foolish. Understandable sorrow easily mutates into something far less sincere and far less admirable.
Of course, depending on who you are, these famous people can have an enormous impact on our lives and can often be instrumental in making our lives demonstrably better, more enjoyable, more rewarding. Particularly when it comes to artistic endeavours, the great and the good have much to offer and we are all enriched by basking in their brilliant glow. That was certainly the case with Pete Steele. Listen to Bloody Kisses or October Rust or any of Type O’s fantastic records…or even the Carnivore albums, if you’re that way inclined (and I certainly am)…and you’ll hear the sound of musicians that plainly never gave a high-velocity, low-flying shit about conforming or fitting in with whichever trend or briefly fashionable subgenre was grabbing column inches at the time.
When I hear Type O I always hear a peculiar cross between Black Sabbath and Gary Numan…doubtless lots of other people hear something entirely different, but either way, they were (and are) one of the most striking and distinctive bands to emerge from the heavy music scene in the last 20 years…or, indeed, ever.
Pete Steele himself, of course, was a man who presented himself as a wilful and wayward Devil’s advocate, with an undeniably smart, mischievous and deeply sardonic persona that oozed from every bit of his music and made for some sincerely hilarious yet truly poignant interviews.
He was a one-off, as much as that sounds like a cliché, and he will be sorely missed, primarily by his family and friends, but also by those of us who love his music, his otherworldly charm and his Olympic-standard sense of irony.
The only thing we can ever learn from losing people we care about or admire is that death comes to us all and life is for living. Stick your religious platitudes up your arse. Pete’s gone and he ain’t coming back and none of us will ever see him play the bass or sing again. But his legacy is a splendid one.
An alarming majority of the bands we listen to and read about have absolutely no desire to stand apart from the crowd. God knows, I love a great number of utterly generic bands and there’s a lot to be said for doing something familiar really, really fucking well, but no one of the genres, subgenres or stylistic detours that we enjoy as music fans would ever evolve in the first place were it not for the small minority of risk takers, mould breakers and perception-shatterers; people like Pete Steele and Type O Negative who wanted you to hear something you’d never heard before, to alter your perspective on music and art and life itself, while entertaining the mad-arsed shit out of you.
Wanting to belong is understandable, particularly when you’re young and daft, and wanting to copy the things you like is a perfectly acceptable first step along the path to creative excellence, but we could do with a few more Pete Steeles and a few less sheep, couldn’t we?
Dom Lawson 15/04/2010
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