Monday, May 10, 2010

Peter Steele - 1962-2010

Most of you have probably never heard of Peter Steele, (left) who passed away last month at the age of 48 from heart failure. Steele was the bassist and lead singer from the band Type O Negative, a popular group in the 1990's that was at the cutting edge of the emerging "gothic" music scene and culture - you know, all those whiny, self-pitying teens who dye their hair black and try to look like vampires? Though Type O Negative, as a niche band, never attained a real popular mass market appeal, they did sustain a strong underground following throughout the 90's and into the new millennium. Steele set the group apart by his haunting, baritone vocals in an age when most goth/metal bands looked for male singers who could do alto or soprano. Attempting to sound as "gothic" as possible, the band's music often featured church organs and choirs, as well as slow, creepy rhythms (think of the Addam's Family theme song).

Steele had a typical rock-star lifestyle - struggles with depression, drug abuse and alcoholism that eventually derailed his music career and made him a has-been by the mid 2000's. Last month he passed away of a sudden heart attack at the age of 48.

So why is this news? A rock-star dies before his age? Is this surprising for someone who dallied in the occult (and professed atheism), exulted vampires as role models and sung about sacrilege, fornication and demonology? I recall listening to Type O Negative when I was 14, and this music definitely got me interested and involved in occult spirituality (I even had a brief vampire phase that thankfully proved very temporary). How many other young people were lured into the occult through this sort of music that exalts vampires and everything dark? And why am I bringing this up on my blog?

Because shortly before his death, Peter Steele converted to Christianity and even claimed to be a Roman Catholic. He went on talk shows speaking about how God has a plan for everybody and stated that one thing that helped bring him to Christianity was the conviction that there had to be some justice in life beyond this world; in his own words, that "someone like Stalin or Hitler just couldn't wind up in the same place as Mother Teresa." This sudden change appalled his fans (who thought he had sold out) and amazed Christians, who were once again reminded that nobody is beyond God's grace. His was definitely the most unexpected conversion since the 2005 conversion of Korn guitarist Brian "Head" Welch. Unfortunately, unlike Welch, Steele died very soon after announcing his conversion.

I do not know whether or not Peter Steele ever got himself baptized, nor how true was his union with the Church when he claimed to be a Roman Catholic. Perhaps he was in the process of formal membership, perhaps he had not yet reached that stage. I do not know.But it is not surprising to me that someone into the "gothic" scene should have converted to Catholicism rather than Calvinism or some non-denominational Protestantism.

One thing interesting about the "gothic", vampiric culture among the youth is the degree to which it makes use of Catholic religious symbols and sacramentals. Obviously this use is in a sacrilegious or illicit way, but it is still present. When one makes role models out of vampires, there is a kind of negative sacramental economy that comes into play - Holy Water, for the vampire, as something that is harmful rather than blessed; a cross, which serves the same function (though goth kids will sometimes wear decorative "gothic" crosses); even a perverted form of the Lord's Supper, in which the feasting on God's Body and Blood for supernatural life is substituted for the sucking of human blood for physical life. Some even exhibit a predilection for Latin; one of Type O Negative's most popular hits was entitled "Corpus Christi." All these are of course used out of their proper place, but they are nonetheless part of the vampire/goth lore.

As was the case with Type O Negative and Peter Steele's lyrics, there was almost an obsession with Christianity and themes from Christian theology that can be equated to Flannery O' Connor's "Christ-haunted" character of Hazel Motes in Wise Blood: even as Christianity is rejected, the vehemence of the rejection still ensures that, in a negative way, Christianity is still the driving force of the story. Similarly, Type O Negative, and a lot of "goth" music, keeps Christianity in the fore of its symbolism and content even as it inverts this symbolism.

But at some point I wonder whether the dallying around with the symbols of Christianity leads one on to discover the substance - it is odd that Steele should go from goth right to Roman Catholicism, but it makes sense sort of if perhaps through the gothic cultural symbolism he was acquainted (in a perverse way) with Catholic concepts (sacramentals, etc). Unlike rationalist atheists, many goths are very interested in spiritual matters and even in Christianity in a perverted sort of way. I remember this from my own teenage years - listening to dark metal but being very interested in spirituality, occult and Christian. I doodled pictures of demons and devils, which of course eventually got me thinking about the real devil and brought me into the realm of Christianity. When I first started reading the Bible at age 14, it was as "the enemy's book;" by the time I finished I was a believer. At least in my own personal case, the gothic scene (though I was never that involved in it) served as a kind of preparatio evangelica insofar as it got me familiar with certain concepts that I later learned were native to the Church.

I have mentioned before that there is an obsession with inverted forms of Christian worship in occult rites (see here), which are obviously meant to insult or blaspheme our Lord. We warn people about fooling around with occultism, but I wonder if occultists warn their members against "fooling" around with Catholicism. After all, the Faith is like a lion; if you let it out, even in its aesthetic or purely cultural incarnations, it is possible that one will be drawn by the inherent beauty to reject to seek the Truth.The Lion that is Catholicism has eaten many who set out to disprove or discredit it. I myself am one. Steele is another.

Am I saying that gothic metal or the gothic scene is good and will lead people to Christ? Absolutely, positively one-hundred percent not. I am remarking on the marvelous grace of God that He can take people, like myself or Peter Steele, who were completely immersed in darkness and even in the midst of that darkness draw us out ever so slowly by miniscule rays of truth that grow broader and more powerful the further one follows them, leading eventually into Catholic fullness. I don't know to what degree Peter Steele was able to partake of this fullness before his death last month, but I thank God for His grace in my life that I was brought from darkness into His glorious light.

30 comments:

Kate said...

I believe that the 'goth' movement is the aesthetic inheritor of both the Decadents and the earlier Romantics (more obviously the former than the latter perhaps...) Like those earlier, mostly English and continental movements, Goth culture is a reaction against subverting all to cold logic and reason - it is a movement of emotion and aesthetic more than anything else...so it doesn't surprise me that those attracted by Goth culture might also be attracted to Catholicism, which so thoroughly incorporates the senses into worship and acknowledges the central importance of mystery. After all, many, if not most, of the leading Decadents converted to Catholicism before they died as well.

I have a lot of sympathy for Goth chicks, btw. There's something about that particular aesthetic (a combination of small child imagery, super feminine lace and beads, and hard spiky metal accoutrements) that speaks of tarnished innocence in a very expressive way.

BONIFACE said...

Kate-

Thank you for saying so eloquently in one paragraph what I tried to say on ten rambling paragraphs.

t-o-n said...

This is a really smart, well-written post (that I only partially agree with).

I do think that the majority of kids who mess around with goth and occult (and to a lesser extent, metal) imagery are drawn to it as an aesthetic as well as sort of a weak-willed cry to embrace something larger than themselves where they can have a foundation of belief and feel accepted.

As something of an aside, it makes me somewhat sad that the Catholic Church has gone so far out of its way to avoid mysticism, when it has such obvious appeal, and is so central to the Church's overall aura (to use a very poor choice or words).

I also take some umbrage with your classification of Type O as a goth band, but I get what you're going at.

BONIFACE said...

TON-

Point taken, and ten points for using the word "umbrage" in your response. I know Type O is not strictly Goth - they are some metal, some thrash, some old school rock, but you cannot deny that they have an influential place in popularizing the goth look.

Regarding mysticism, see here:


http://unamsanctamcatholicam.blogspot.com/2010/04/mass-marketing-mysticism.html

Anonymous said...

Hey, great column. I was born into an agnostic family, found protestant Christianity in my teens, converted to Catholicism in my early 20s. For most of my life, I've struggled with genuine depression and was able to readily identify with the goth/punk/metal imagery and mindset.

The thing is, I always felt the substance, the power, of God at the edges of my existence, no matter what dark roads I went down while struggling with life. All roads lead to Rome, I suppose. The thing is, Christians these days don't understand what people did a hundred years ago, that there is evil, dark places, dark people and that these things all pull at you, even if you ignore them. The "Prosperity Gospel" is probably the worst example of all this.

Do we need to look into the darkness to embrace the light? Maybe, I don't know. I tend to think that people who have experienced the darkness in themselves, have sunk into the darkness of the world, are so much better equipped to look at it and ultimately reject it and understand why they do, over those who have never really experienced that worldview and are able to do so with a maturity that will never be matched by others.

And, Peter Steele was an awesome artist, like no other.

stike said...

A little Google searching makes it appear that Peter Steele (note the first name!) was actually born to a practicing Roman Catholic mother and an Orthodox father, so I'd bet he WAS baptized as an infant.

13 said...

waste of internet. wish i could un-read.

Anonymous said...

Peter Steele Ratajczyk from Type o Negative: “After my mother passed away last year and a couple of other things happened, I pretty much got back to my faith. I was born Roman Catholic. Believe it or not, I go tot church on Sunday and I do read the Bible. But I don’t read it as a how to live your life book. I read it as if I have a question I can open any page. If you’re open minded you will get the answer from a passage. And you will get a different answer if you read the same passage but it will still be just as worthy. ““I went to confession for the first time in 30 years. And the priest was very happy that I had come back to church and stuff. I didn’t go into each and every sin otherwise he would have to take two weeks vacation (laughs). I said ‘Father I did wrong and I want o apologize to God for my behavior and I’m going to try for it to not happen again.’ It’s better to pay in this life then in the afterlife. "I have pretty much been instructed to say three things: One is that God will not be the man let the man be the man. That abortion is the killer of angels and I am guilty of that myself. And that peace on earth shall not come until this state of design has been converted to Christianity. And that you are going to fuckin pay for what you say and that’s your ticket to death so. . ." "My mother always told me if I really didn’t wan to do something, if I was really tired, but if I had helped someone and I really went out of my way for them but I asked nothing for it, that I should donate my energy to the souls in purgatory—meaning that to give my goodness to those who are trapped. This is purgatory/limbo. This is a very Catholic thing that very few people really understand." “Ever since I have come back to my faith, such incredibly strange things have been happening. Ten times a day if I ask God for a sign, through numbers and letters I will get it. I believe that God speaks to everyone in a way that only that person can understand, but I have been enlightened…you have to ask to be enlightened. I ask these questions and I get the answers. I don’t hear God’s voice. That satisfies me.” “When I said I have hit rock bottom, it’s not in a bad way--it’s in a good way. I’ve found piece on something solid and now I know what the meaning of life. I’ve always thought that the meaning of life was to try to find something to live for. Now I realize, all this time, it is finding something to die for. It’s been right there all the time I will die for my faith. I am going to. I know it.”

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the last comment...as it pretty much sums up what I wanted to say. Peter's was never a matter of conversion as stated in this blog, but rather the prodigal son finally returned to God before his death. I could not be more happy about that!! I pray for Peter's soul at every mass, and I urge everyone who reads this to please do the same. Also, let's pray for all those who have lost their way to come back to God as well. Thanks, and God bless!

Anonymous said...

Please order a Mass for Peter Steele Ratajczyk. The first anniversary of his death is near..I've ordered a holly Mass for him on 14'th April the day of his death. Im from Poland and Im a Catholic as he was.

Aga Agnes

www.myspace.com/agnieszka_w

Anonymous said...

You people have no.clue what the goth subculture is about. Why don't you do a little research. Peter Steele was an amazing artist and he is missed very much by his family, fans etc. How dare you pathetic people judge this man when it plainly says there is only one judge? I hope you sleep well tonight.

BONIFACE said...

Anonymous-

Who is judging anyone here? The article, if anything, was about how we cannot presume to judge anybody. It said:

I am remarking on the marvelous grace of God that He can take people, like myself or Peter Steele, who were completely immersed in darkness and even in the midst of that darkness draw us out ever so slowly by miniscule rays of truth that grow broader and more powerful the further one follows them, leading eventually into Catholic fullness. I don't know to what degree Peter Steele was able to partake of this fullness before his death last month, but I thank God for His grace in my life that I was brought from darkness into His glorious light.

What is possibly judgmental about this?

Anonymous said...

I had not heard of Peter Steele until a friend with a mutual appreciation for great music in all genres suggested I listen to the song "Wolf Moon." I was so impressed that I listened to the song at least twenty times in two days (yes, I'm slightly obsessive when I encounter great music...). This was two day days of course, btw, and I found myself downloading at least fifteen other songs by Type O Negative. I have also had many issues in life as an ecclectic black woman as I strived to find acceptance against stereotypes. My father is a minister of a southern baptist church...I have sought many denominations in search of a 'home' as a "preachers kid" and all the problems you may associate with a military family. I have never lost sight of my faith, although it has been handled with passive maintenance in my early twenties. I was into everything and yet afraid of what I didn't know...which captivated my interest moreso than serving as deterrence. I recently came to terms about some things in my life that have led me to become serious about my faith as I see many others lack the ability to fathom the afterlife. I have never been inspired to be curious about the occult. But it never occured to me that the music I loved listening to affected my relationship with God. My epiphany led me to begin letting go of any music associated with being against God- this, of course, is what led me to this article in particular. I was looking for a judgement on his music, but found a revelation of multiple truths. I am absolutely overjoyed that this man found his way back to our Father and am inspired that no matter what path we take, possibilities for change are endless. This is beautiful how we are all apart of a plan that mysteriously seems to lack purpose, but it is through our own choices and by God's Grace and mercy, we find divinity at the right time in life. I wasn't asking the right question, but I most certainly received what I needed at the right time in my life. Thank you for providing us with another reason to hold onto faith no matter roads we travel. What an inspirational article!

Anonymous said...

I liked this. I am not even Christian, but have enough sense to understand that belief is internal. I am happy Pete found his peace before his passing.

Pete didn't Die he just took his music back underground.

Lokair

Beth said...

Very good and well-merged article! As someone else before me quoted Peter, when he was talking about the reasons that took him back to his faith, he was baptized, as he was born in a Roman-Catholic family. And the song you've mentioned, the one that contains many Christian symbols (in the lyrics but also in the music video) is actually called "Christian Woman". The phrase "Corpus Christi" is sang by Peter in the song sort of like a chorus.
I'm am a big Type O Negative fan and I will always appreciate Pete's talent. It is so sad that he passed away... He is truly missed. Requiescat In Pace, Petrus.

BONIFACE said...

Beth-

Thanks for the comments!

I do want to set one thing straight, though. Type-O fans keep coming on here and saying, "The song is called 'Christian Women', not 'Corpus Christi.' I beg to differ.

I had the original Bloody Kisses album that was released in 1993. On the back of the disc, this track was titled "Christian Women (Corpus Christi)". Both were names of the song.

This is because the entire song was over 8 minutes long. The radio versus of the song consisted of just the first half of the song and it was billed as "Corpus Christi", a stand alone song distinct from "Christian Women", which was the name for the first and second halves of the 8 minute song taken together. I believe the almighty Wikipedia bears this out as well if you check the entry for this song.

So, yes, this song was known as "Corpus Christi" when it was first released, and as I was a teenager when it came out and actually had the album, that's how I have always referred to it.

Lesther Escoto said...

I haev to say that I am a litt amazed to find myself here and having found what I found. I was born into a family with a strong tradition of Roman Catholicism. However, my nuclear family moved to the states from Nicaragua and my mother started to study with the Jehovas Witnesses. This is how I was introduced to Christianity. I entered adolescence and began to develop a crisis of faith. I began to associate myself with the goth kids in school. Actually, I would say they began associating with me since my understating of Christianity meant that I never treated anyone with anything but love, and especially to those rejected. This is my understanding in retrospect. My mother always warned me about who my friends were and I would point to the passage where Christ is criticized for sitting with tax collectors and the such. To this she retorted that while my intentions might be to influence them, they might lead me away from the truth. If you know little about Jehovas Witnesses, they believe that they alone are the true manifestation of Christianity. But I don't wish to talk about their beliefs so let's move on. Ultimately, she was right and I was led away. I went into a decade of disbelief in anything higher than human reason. Arrogance of youth and pride of intellect. But my life was never devoid of Christian symbolism through the means you describe and through a natural predilection to renaissance art. Like someone said here, I suppose all roads lead to Rome. Who, after-all painted these works of art but catholics commissioned by the catholic church?

My father passed away recently and I had an encounter with God during his mass of an intensity and unmistakable clarity that I have not known since I was 7 and first came to understand, as much as I could, that there was something more than what can be seen. And like Pete Steele said in the above quoted interview, i have been truly amazed to realize how God communicates with us in such a personal way that it cannot be mistaken for anything else. I wish to go on but this is long enough as is...I should write my own blog post about it all. suffice it to say that there was something affirming about stumbling onto this post.

BONIFACE said...

Lesther,

Praise God for the wonderful works He has done! Yes, whenever we mess with the symbols of the Faith, we will eventually come face to face with the reality of which those symbols are only signs.

Boniface

Anonymous said...

HOW DARE YOU!! I AM A ROMAN CATHOLIC LIKE PETER STEELE WAS AND PEOPLE LIKE YOU MAKE ME REPELED FROM THE CHURCH!!! HOW CAN YOU BLAME ANYONE FOR THE WELL BEING OF ANOTHER'S SOUL?!! FREE WILL... REMEMBER THAT?!! OR ARE YOU GOING TO THROW THAT OUT BECAUSE IM USING YOUR OWN RELIGION AGAINST YOU?! PEOPLE LIKE YOU WILL ROT IN HELL!! PETER STEELE WAS A KIND, LOVING MAN WITH ALOT OF ISSUES AND HE WILL ALWAYS BE THE ONE PERSON I LOOK UP TO, AND SEE AS A HERO!! LONG LIVE PETER STEELE!

BONIFACE said...

Wow...all caps, eh? That was one of the most ignorant comments I've ever seen. This article said nothing even remotely condemnatory against Peter Steele, so I don't know what you are all up tight about.

Free will does not mean we do not bear responsibility for each other - we are each our brother's keeper - free will means simply that the interior will cannot be forced by any external agent.

Anonymous said...

I am so glad Peter found his way back to God. I wish i knew what Church he went to , so i can request a special Mass intention for him . Does anyone know?

Nickolaus Pacione said...

I've been a Christian off and on for 20 years and been a fan of Type O Negative since their cover of Black Sabbath on Nativity in Black. The Heavy Metal Community lost a very funny man in Pete; he was one of the funniest heavy metal musicians because he wasn't afraid to take pot shots at himself in his songs. Pete Steele is quoted on my short story, Wandering In Darkness on Nickolaus Albert Pacione Delivers: More From A Library Of Unknown Horrors.

Anonymous said...

It is funny that today I found myself thinking about Peter Steele. I, until today, did not know he professed himself as Roman Catholic. I stumbled upon this article, today, May 10, 2014, and found it fascinating that this article was posted on May 10 as well.

Anonymous said...

Almost all religions are occult and that goes for Roman Catholic in extremo. With this 'drinking of blood and eating from the body' of Christ. While in church, take a look at all the vampires around you. They are just like you.

ignaciagirl said...

We return to what we know. It brings us comfort.

Brad Turner said...

I used to be a huge fan of Type O Negative and still like some of their music. When I first heard the album bloody kisses back in 93, I was blown away! I was 14 when I saw them in concert with Ozzy Osbourne and Filter ( I just turned 34). So 20 years later, here I am, blessed and highly favored as a converted Christian! I had heard of Peter Steele's death shortly after it happened and have been wondering if he died doomed or found Chr I had heard of Peter Steele's death shortly after it happened and have been wondering if he died doomed or found Christ this whole time . Your article is very competent and it put a smile on my heart to hear about Peter Steele's conversion. Thank you for taking your time to post this a it put a smile on my heart to hear about Peter Steele's conversion. Thank you for taking your time to post this &
God bless! <')))>< ♱⌿

Antonio said...

Hi there.
It was really nice to find this article. It is well written and it describes gothic-doom deals with Christianity very well. Especially I liked the passage about "Wise blood", now I'm gonna read the book. I always was interested in relationships of gothic-doom artists (like Aaron from My Dying Bride or Nick Holmes from Paradise Lost) with Christianity. It is really an obsession. Or they just cannot create a good story not based on Christian imagery, so they are condemned to juggle Christian senses, parasiting on them.

Still, I'm a big fan of that 90's gothic-doom-death metal culture. And I was surprised, shocked and extremely happy when Peter Steele suddenly said loud: I believe in God, I believe in Jesus Christ. God's ways are amazing.
And it was great that Peter had znough honesty and courage to declare such unpopular in gothic circles point of view. It's freakenly sad that he passed away soon after his repentance. But it's great that he's repentance came right at time so he passed away to God, not to eternal death.

Hamer Slammer Series Guitar said...

Very deep introspective article that I can relate to growing up a huge Peter Steele fan, to this day, and later converting to Catholicism. Much of Steele's "Goth" lyrics were tongue in cheek, nearly like he enjoyed the aestheticism of Goth, but never really bought into the words. His deeper lyrics were driven by anger towards women or maybe society, he went Prison for assaulting his ex's boyfriend. So much of it was perverted but mockery at a shallow level. Some of his later work on October Rust on was much deeper and dealt with spiritual matter's like death, but again with anger. In the end, his age and ways caught up with him, and I believe he naturally went towards religion, which as you pointed out, was always there somewhere. He found his way to peace of mind, and then died.

Claudio Filho said...

Also,here are part of the lyrics of a song called "These Three Things", in the last Type O negative album, released right before Steele´s death:

"I am the duel of the fisherman Simon
He brought alpha omega yes I'm the one
The twins fell beginning Armageddon
So the whore too who dwelleth in Babylon
All his people gathered round through forgiveness salvation found"

Full of references to the Bible in this album.

someITguy said...

Sure seems like Peter found God close to the end based on interviews I have read, which I was glad to find out. Have to admit I really enjoy his music. Was such a fantastic talent.. Hope he is happy in the presence of the lord now.