Penned by veteran music journalist Jeff Wagner, Soul on Fire - The Life and Music of Peter Steele is an honest and illuminating look back at the late bassist/vocalist who passed away in 2010 at the age of 48 of complications from Meckel's diverticulum. A New York City native, Steele (born Peter Thomas Ratajczyk) left a lasting mark on the heavy metal world through his work with both Carnivore and Type O Negative.
A lot has been written about Steele before and after his death, but Soul on Fire does a superb job of wading through the bullshit to get to the heart of the stories that make up his life's journey. From his childhood and teen years in Brooklyn, to his early club days as a member of Fallout in the early '80s, to his triumphant run with Type O Negative in the '90s and '00s, Wagner fills out the details of Steele's life and career via extensive interviews he conducted with the musician's family members, former bandmates, and other key figures.
My first music business-related gig came courtesy of an internship I did at Roadrunner Records for a publicist named Sophie Diamantis during the time of Type O Negative's Bloody Kisses campaign in 1994. From then to anytime I had contact with him throughout the years after that, I always found Steele to be a sharp, witty, and often sarcastic guy. While those aspects of his personality certainly come across in the book, Soul on Fire also offers up sides of the "Green Man" only his closest confidants and family members got to see.
A facet of the book that I found particularly compelling was Steele's relationship with his faith. While he grew up in a Catholic family, he lapsed for most of his life 'til coming back to the religion in his final years. That stuff surprised me. You have to remember, this was a guy who wrote a song called "Jesus Hitler," after all!
While I could have done without some of the over-psychoanalyzing some of the interviewees take part in through certain parts of the book, I understand why it was included in there. Steele's personality was like that. Everyone who met him had a very clear take on him, whether they knew him well or not.
While my wife loved the group, I was never a big Type O Negative fan (I preferred Carnivore), but I never questioned Steele's strength as a songwriter and live performer. Getting to dig further into that part of his career was also another reason why I enjoyed Soul on Fire. Reading his former bandmates' stories about Fallout, Carnivore, and Type O Negative was worth the price of the book alone.