Type O Negative’s Life Is Killing Me is Still Depressingly Brilliant Twenty Years Later
It’s hard to believe that this week marks twenty years since Type O Negative released Life is Killing Me. Of course it’s even harder to believe that Peter Steele, one of the greatest musicians of our time, is no longer with us. Peter was going through a number of personal challenges when we wrote this record and that’s evidently in the lyrics and overall theme of the record.
At 41 years old, Steele came to the harsh realization that many people who were once treasured in his life were no gone. It didn’t help that he was also dealing with addiction issues and the end of a decade-long relationship with his then girlfriend.
While members of the band might tell you that the Life is Killing Me recording sessions were chaotic and marked a low point in the band’s existence, Type O Negative at their very worst are still better than most bands at their very best. Personally, I found the record poignant and personable, with some of my favorite Type O songs appearing on this record, even if it was very different from the band’s earlier releases.
“Anesthesia” to this day still moves me in ways that very few songs can. I mean, here’s Peter absolutely pouring out his soul in the lyrics. His relationship ends in a way that has a massive effect on his psyche and pens this song about giving up on love and just allowing himself to feel numb. He goes into a place so many of us resist so hard getting ourselves into.
“World renowned failure at both death and life
Given nothingness, purgatory blight
To run and hide, a cowardly procedure
Options exhausted, except for anesthesia – anesthesia
I don’t feel anything, anything
I don’t feel anything, anything“
When he sings that last line “I don’t feel anything, anything” the second time he just let’s out this massive amount of emotion that is so clearly coming from the depth’s of his gut. It’s one of the most passionate vocals Peter delivers in the entire Type O Negative, perhaps indicating that while he says he doesn’t feel anything, he still clearly yearns to feel the love he just lost.
“Champagne glass of blood and wine
On chocolate hearts alone I dine
Candles weeping waxing fears
Ten roses for one year – disappear“
He reasserts his independence and realizes, like in “Anesthesia,” that he’s again completely on his own and will have nobody to share his love with or help him when he’s down. In a strong crescendo that features a piercing riff at the hands of Kenny Hickey, Peter closes out the song with a sad yet confident repeating line of “The Dream is Dead,” as if he’s not grieved his loss and has come to realize that all the things he dreamed about with this woman would never come to any realization.
“Another lonely Valentine’s Day
I can’t believe that things turned
out this way
And though I hate to see you go
I know it must be so
Another lonely Valentine’s Day
The dream is dead.“
The vulnerability that Peter shares with us on Life is Killing Me, beyond the breathtaking music the band displays here is really a key part of what makes this record so endearing for many for so long. A giant of a man but physically and artistically, he writes “Nettie” about the relationship with his mother and how she had to deal with him as boy growing up. Similarly, “Todd’s Ship Gods (Above All Things)” is about Peter’s father and the role of teaching masculinity in their relationship. As a father to a young boy myself, I can’t but help have some of the lyrics to this track pop into my head as I raise my own son.
My own personal relationship to the record goes beyond the meaning in the lyrics. It is partially the geography that’s mentioned throughout the album that references so many parts of working class Brooklyn, where I was often visiting my own working class grandparents. I knew exactly where Peter’s father worked on ships and how my grandfather longed to take me to the same “Coney Island sand” he mentions in “(We Were) Electrocute.” The Brooklyn the guys from Type O experienced is hardly there anymore as the working class have been pushed out to the outer edge of the Borough and even into Staten Island and parts of New Jersey.
While this record never brought the same level of fame and notoriety as Bloodly Kisses or October Rust, this is still a positively amazing record that features the band’s signature layered sounds on top of sounds that’s steeped in the lived realities of the band members. Has there ever been a band as open and as honest as Type O Negative? I fail to find one that does what they do better.