Thursday, 13 November 2014

Book Review: Jeff Wagner – 'Soul On Fire: The Life And Music Of Peter Steele'

'Soul On Fire: The Life And Music Of Peter Steele'

The long awaited biography of the enigmatic Type O Negative leader Peter Steele is finally upon us. Having been held back from it's original launch date due to expanding the books contents it has been the the subject of speculation in the TON fan community... but it's here (at least in ebook form if you have pre-ordered a physical copy), and it was worth the wait.

Penned by 20-year-veteran of music journalism and author of,‘Mean Deviation – Four Decades of Heavy Metal’ (Bazillion Points) Jeff Wagner, the book carefully charts the life of Peter Steele (born Peter Ratajczyk) from his earliest years in his native Brooklyn, through to the height of his fame with Type O Negative, before finally lifting the veil on the final days of the musician's life. Told in a fittingly journalistic style, the book mixes old press interviews with anecdotes from family, colleagues, ex-band mates, and friends to demystify and analyse the man behind the music. It is direct and always engaging as it attempts to get to the core of Steele as a human being as well as a musician.

The book has a feel that it has been written by a fan, for the fans and displays a lot of empathy in its attempt to explain elements of Steele's life and behaviour. But it is still a detailed and in-depth look into the private life of a man who was thrust into the public eye against his will. Leaving no stone unturned the late musician's relationships and motivations are examined alongside his development from a bassist in a local cover band to platinum selling artist. Before detailing a harrowing descent into drug addiction, depression and ultimately an untimely death.

As rock / metal biographies go this is one is one of the best of recent years. It easily holds its own alongside the likes of Mick Wall's 'When Giants Walked The Earth' and 'Black Sabbath: Symptom Of The Universe', as well as 'The Beatles' by Hunter Davies, and 'Strange Fascination' by David Buckley. It is nicely laid out and designed with pull quotes and extra graphics adding to the visual appeal of the book.

Complete with rare photographs, fan submissions, out-takes, and alternative album art it is a tantalising but brief glimpse into the Type O Negative archive. It asks the questions that fans have long wanted to know the answers to, and exposes the highs and lows of the music industry through the story of its protagonist. It is a compelling read that elicits an emotional reaction in the reader and as a result is hard to put down.

In stripping back the myth and public persona of Peter Steele by graphically charting his many personal demons and the toll they took on his life and health the book successfully brings Steele down to Earth, revealing him to be a gifted but fragile human being. His story is handled with respect both to Steele and his surviving loved ones. But it doesn't pull its punches either. The result is a well rounded portrait of the subject that shows him with all of his genius and failings exposed without judgement.

Those who are fans of Type O Negative will undoubtedly clamour for this, but beyond the immediate audience of Steele it is a strong rock biography that is a great example of the genre.  

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