On my old site, I used to have a section called "Heroes," dedicated to the musicians, authors, thinkers and artists that influenced me over the years.
Two of the honorees on that list have passed away in as many months. I find myself strangely affected by it all.
Last month, Peter Steele of Type O Negative passed away quietly due to heart failure. Some musician friends of mine told me that, as recently as a few months before, he was performing with the lyrics to the band's songs placed on a stand in front of him.
I first encountered Type O Negative and Steele's uniquely dark sense of humor when I was working as a volunteer at KSMC-FM, the campus radio station at Saint Mary's College of California. Our music directors (long on attitude, though evidently short on taste) had relegated TON's second album, Bloody Kisses, to our cut-out bin. (I would discover another long-time favorite, Paradise Lost, in the same way.)
I proceeded to drive my roommates nuts with the consistent rotation of songs like "Christian Woman" and "We Hate Everyone," to say nothing of their breakout single "Black #1" and their cover of Seals & Crofts' "Summer Breeze." Years later, I was among the first to show up at Rasputin Records on Berkeley's Telegraph Avenue to buy the follow-up, October Rust. I would go on to see them in concert at various Bay Area venues four times, usually dragging an as-yet uninitiated friend.
Type O Negative's blend of goth and metal, placed against the backdrop of lurching rhythms and lush arrangements, was precisely what I needed at an unusually dark and confusing period of my life. It helped that Steele's vocals were well within my low and limited range—it's the reason I also tend to gravitate toward the likes of The Sisters of Mercy, Fields of the Nephilim, and Leonard Cohen.
Toward the end, Steele not only battled addiction but an assault conviction as well. Quick with a quip in good times or bad, he joked "I now have a gold record, a platinum record, and a criminal record."
Today, I learned about the passing of Ronnie James Dio, the dramatic vocalist who fronted his namesake band as well as the "Heaven and Hell" incarnation of Black Sabbath and Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow. He passed away at 67, having succumbed to stomach cancer.
By way of a story... Back when I was working out of my home office in Alameda, Calif., around 2004 or so, I was having a particularly bad week. (Actually, that week still counts as one of the top five worst experiences of my professional life.)
Now, any self-respecting Bay Area fan of funk, punk, goth, metal, or ska eagerly anticipates receiving Stephen Koepke's The List in his email every Friday. Whether the performance was at the legendary Greek Theater (where I saw Dead Can Dance) or some hole-in-the-wall (where I saw The Phantom Limbs), The List was an indispensable resource.
According to The List, Dio was playing the Regency Grand Ballroom in San Francisco. There was no question... I had to be there.
There I was, having fought my way in that general-admission venue to the front of the stage. Soon, after a particularly funny soundcheck, a tiny guy with a big voice (and who, by the way, turned out to be older than my dad) proceeded spin musical tales of dark, mythical and forbidden knowledge... of power, loss, regret and redemption. Soon, I was transported to another place, singing Dio's classic songs among what appeared to be three generations of fans.
For reasons I can't explain, it has always seemed as if Dio's music would portend good tidings whenever my always-on-shuffle MP3 player alighted upon his work. In one instance, I distinctly remember walking into the Mark Hopkins Hotel on the night that a client of mine was up for an industry award at a ceremony held in the ballroom. As I entered the lobby, the opening chords of "Rainbow in the Dark" burst through my headphones. I knew, at that very moment, that we would not—we could not—lose to the other companies that were vying for recognition. In the end, the client brought home the award.
Of course the client brought home the award. Dio said so.
I suppose there's no real point to this post save for musing about the passing of two artists with whom I've had no other relationship beyond their music and performances. Few of you will understand where I'm coming from, after all, an appreciation for metal is something one is expected to just kind of grow out of over time. (I don't intend to, by the way. After all, I'm going to see Testament, Megadeth and Slayer on August 20 at the UIC Pavilion.) That said, the passing of two favorite, personally influential musicians in quick succession merited recognition here.