“Forgive her… for she knows not what she does.”
I’m not catholic, but as soon as those words are oozed out at the beginning of Type O Negative’s nine-minute-long Christ-fetishizing track Christian Woman, I’m ready to take communion. And if Jesus Christ did look like Peter Steele as he so claims at the end of the track, I’d be guzzling the consecrated wine. Nobody’s voice could breathe down our necks, nor stand quite as tall, as the one we’re remembering this month. Ten years ago this April we lost Peter Thomas Ratajczyk, better known as Carnivore and Type O Negative vocalist/bassist Peter Steele. At just the age of 48 we had to say goodbye, but Steele has always existed beyond life. Few can mention him in the metal and goth communities without a somber RIP, and with damn worthy reason. It’s impossible to fully capture the mythic proportions of the performer, sex symbol and larger-than life personality of the goth king in words, but I’ll give it a shot.
Peter Steele is a whole package in every sense of the word. His voice alone is incomparable, easily at the top of my list. Steele’s vocal cords ooze gothic sex as if they were lubricated with black honey. Its vampyric seduction has the power to creep from a gentle stroke to a dominant chokehold with a hand big enough to squeeze your head off like a barbie doll. He probably could, too, seeing as Pete stood at 6’7″ and held his bass like a ukulele. An Anne Rice vampire in the flesh, if you will. Perhaps a real life Lestat in Queen of the Damned, only bigger… much bigger. But that’s just it, Steele had a presence that was larger-than-life by all accounts. Even in his early career while he worked with the New York Department of Parks and Recreation, children would call him the Green Man, a title that would soon speak to his superhuman status paired with his love for the natural world. His harmonious association with natural growth and changing of the seasons still sticks out effortlessly from all other metal acts. Something else natural stuck out, too. Pete revolutionized the pages of Playgirl Magazine by being the first male to pose nude with a fully erect penis. His logic being that, attempting to view it from a woman’s perspective, a flaccid penis looks like “an old mushroom,” and who wants to see that? No wonder Kerrang! Magazine penned him the “ultimate fantasy goth boyfriend.” Such wit paired with his presence made for a true Jolly Goth Giant.
Audiences commonly mixed up Steele’s openness with deeper meaning that he always denied. “Deep as a puddle,” he would refute. Take Wolf Moon, for example, a track off 1996’s October Rust which could be endlessly picked at for hidden messages. Nope, it’s literally about a werewolf performing cunnilingus on a menstruating woman in the forest. What about the horribly depressive 10-minute tragedy track Bloody Kisses (A Death in the Family)? It’s an homage to his dead cat, Venus, his only love. The brilliance of Peter Steele is his mere existence. What appears to be the picture of masculinity is actually a self-deprecating parody that he accepted. A platinum record-selling hunk in search only for isolation. There is no deeper meaning because he bared all for us, not just his body but his spirit. We could use a few more like him now, but nobody would be quite the same. You were too damn good for us, Pete. We miss you.
Blood for the Green Man
Peter Steele’s mythic, larger-than-life status is the driving force for this work. Although he has left our physical realm, Pete is immortal. Beyond physical likeness, my starting point in representing his spirit is the Green Man persona. The Green Man is an ancient symbol of growth and rebirth characterized by elements of spring, often personified as a face made up of leaves, branches, etc. Rather than taking the standard iconographic route, I opted to preserve Steele’s image as a ghostly figure, attracting natural growth where he plants his feet. The green color scheme also pulls his obsessive use of the color and the spring together. To reintegrate the human life force into the natural world, I incorporated a second figure (can’t have Pete without a goth girl) fertilizing his growth with blood. Blood cells thus float among the mist like pollen. Using nudity to represent Steele’s sexual essence is also synonymous with procreation and therefore, again, growth. Of course, I couldn’t leave out a less-than-subtle nod to his infamous “Jesus Christ looks like me” lyric with a crown of thorns and stigmata. While this is a memorial, it is also a memento mori, or a reminder of death which Steele always lived in acceptance of. To make an image is to immortalize, and Pete lives forever.
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Rest in power, Goth Superman.