Friday Full-Length: Type O Negative, Life is Killing Me

You’ll forgive, I hope. I know it hasn’t been that long since I closed out a week with Type O Negative, but it’s over a year, they’re an all-time band for me and I’m trying to connect to something and pull myself closer toward out of what I’ll generously call a persistent malaise as regards totality. Life is Killing Me is a surprisingly rousing record.

And not just in its trilogy let’s-be-Ramones-now metal-punkers “I Don’t Wanna Be Me,” “I Like Goils,” and “Angry Inch” cast across its sprawling, CD-era 15-song/74-minute runtime. By the time Type O Negative released this sixth album in 2003 — it would be their last for Roadrunner; their final LP was 2007’s Dead Again, on SPV — I thought they were done. When it first came out in September of my senior year of high school, I thought 1999’s World Coming Down (discussed here) was a huge letdown after 1996’s landmark October Rust (discussed here), and I guess I thought that between drugs, the shifting trends in metal of the day, and their own widely reputed misery, they probably wouldn’t do anything else.

Life is Killing Me was released 21 years ago. I was in college. The promo CD from Roadrunner came to me at WSOU — it came to everyoneRoadrunner was tight with the famed NJ-based college radio station; it made us feel important — and had an audio watermark I can still hear in my head over some of the songs because I listened to it so god damned much. “Type O Negative, Life is Killing Me. The new album, in stores this June” in a plainspoken woman’s voice. This was an anti-piracy measure that also just happened to, for many, ruin a given listening experience. There wasn’t a ton that was going to keep me away from hearing this record though, including that.

This was inarguably the most Beatles they ever were in their crucial Beatlesabbath pioneering goth metal/doom approach. Songs like “Todd’s Ship Gods (Above All Things),” “Nettie,” “(We Were) Electrocute,” closer “The Dream is Dead” and even the ladies-of-classic-television rundown in “How Could She?,” delivered with signature humor in Peter Steele‘s lyrics has a sense of nostalgia or looking back that, 20.5 years after its initial release, I find is a nostalgia I share for the tracks themselves. So be it. The sitar-and-tabla-inclusive “Less Than Zero.” The ahead-of-its-time healthcare commentary and playfully gloomy atmosphere of the title-track. Those songs tightened Type O Negative‘s songwriting approach to a degree that October Rust and World Coming Down could only hint toward, and took the loss of Steele‘s parents — specifically the subjects of “Todd’s Ship Gods  (Above All Things)” and “Nettie” — and found comfort in unpretentious pop hooks (sometimes also laughably pretentious) and affectingly sincere lyrics.

Bolstered by an emergent dynamic in their sound that found guitarist Kenny Hickey contributing more on vocals alongside Steele on his way to sharing more of the songwriting credits on Dead Again and the always stellar organ/keys Type O Negative Life is Killing Meand backing vocals from Josh Silver — of course the band was completed by drummer Johnny Kelly, but had a thing for drum machines in the studio until the last album — the emotionality of Life is Killing Me comes through mature and sincere even in its winking irony and willful mischief. And though one doesn’t always think of them as a catchy band, “…A Dish Best Served Coldly,” “I Don’t Wanna Be Me,” “Anesthesia” — fucking “Anesthesia”; there it is; the declaration “I don’t need love” before two songs before they cap with “Another lonely Valentine’s Day” in “The Dream is Dead” — as well as “(We Were) Electrocute” and “IYDKMIGHTKY (Gimme That),” among others, take on pop with a rare boldness for anything heavy.

Like a lot of what they did during their years together, which effectively ended with Steele‘s death in 2010, Life is Killing Me has aged better in sound than politically. “I Like Goils” comes off as a kind of weak troll in hindsight, even if it’s Steele laughing about being hit on by dudes after appearing in Playgirl that time, and their take on “Angry Inch” from the musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch is only loving if you hear it with those ears. They courted controversy in a way that, now, is the provenance of genuine assholes, which perhaps the surviving former members of the band — Hickey and Kelly play together in EYE AM and Silvertomb, and Kelly has drummed for Danzig, plays in Patriarchs in Black, Quiet Riot, and A Pale Horse Named Death with prior Type O drummer Sal Abruscato, who adds vocals on “I Like Goils” here — would say he or they all were. Fair enough.

But I’ll tell you this. After listening to Life is Killing Me for over two decades now since it came out, I just this morning heard the organ “I Don’t Wanna Be Me” in a new way on my headphones than I’ve ever heard before. Just sounded a little different, but it’s still something to appreciate and something unexpected from a release with which I think I’m familiar. But that’s how it goes sometimes with an album. You live with it and you hear things differently because you’re different. No way I hear “Todd’s Ship Gods (Above All Things)” and “Life is Killing Me” and “The Dream is Dead” with the same ears I had when I was in my 20s, but as with the best of things, Life is Killing Me doesn’t evaporate the span of years but grows into something richer with them. An evolving relationship to the music. And if you’re nostalgic about an album, doesn’t that mean you’re still getting something from it?

So, if you want to call it an indulgence on my part to dig into this one again, fine. It’s what I needed this week and in my deepest, most honest self, I see value in connecting to the emotion as well as the craft, hooks, and so on. This was a formative band for me, and this was the record they did that taught me not to count bands out until they were actually done. I am better for it. And better for having dug in, so thank you.

As always, I hope you enjoy. Thanks for reading.

Dog slept in kid’s room again last night. It worked this time, which I think might mean that happens forever now. Only matters if she pees on the floor, chews the American Girl doll, or whathaveyou. Until then, it’s crisis-anticipation, which is surely the healthiest way to parent.

Hey, it’s worked for me for the last six years, except not really.

This week featured a couple profoundly shitty, overwhelming days. It was MLK on Monday, so no school. Then it snowed and Tuesday had off and Wednesday had a delay and by Wednesday I was just about ready for a cinderblock to the face. Yesterday after school was therapy, which as I understand it has led to just about no discussion of feelings, which The Pecan at age six will sort of acknowledge having but has no real vocabulary for expressing beyond getting mad — my fault — and which is winding down its corporate-appointed 10-session run having perhaps nearly built a rapport. Today The Patient Mrs. is going to Wherever The Hell for a school board training and she won’t be back until Sunday, which makes the weekend full-on on-duty. Then next week is another week.

There’s no break coming. Ever. That month, year, decade you feel like you need where you’re catatonic and you just sort of sit there and stare straight ahead until you have your Buddha moment isn’t coming. It’s never going to happen. It’s going to be a grind until it’s nothing. No meditation, not even the daily yoga challenge, is going to change it. In fact, they’re just more shit you’re obligated to in the day. More more more. How on earth can that be a solution when the problem is everything is too fucking much?

And that’s basically where I’m at. Everything is too much. Everything. I am overwhelmed all the time. It’s not just about music or oh I get so much email because I’m somebody blah blah. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about simple fucking tasks that humans do that I crumple before. Getting gas. Going to the grocery store. God damn. The Patient Mrs. and I took like 25 minutes to go to the hardware store yesterday and it felt like the ceiling was going to collapse on me. Safe spaces are hard to come by. Not-anxious quiet is hard to come by. And as always, the problem is in me, is me. I’ve wasted the better part of the last 30 years shoveling chemicals into my body looking for some kind of ‘answer’ to myself and I still get more out of listening to fucking Type O Negative than I’ve ever had from an antidepressant, anti-anxiety med, whatever, psilocybin notwithstanding.

I’m gonna leave it there. That says what I want to say about music, about the way a record, a band, just a song, can make your life better or more livable, or whatever it is. It can fill a space in you maybe you didn’t know was there.

Have a great and safe weekend. Watch your head, hydrate, stay warm or cool depending on where you live, and don’t forget to breathe. Back Monday.


[So, about half an hour after I finished writing this, The Pecan took a spill off the side of the couch, not only landing on my computer, but overturning my full iced tea cup onto it as well. It is, of course, dead. While I try to recover data from it, I’ll be on Little Red, my tiny emergency backup Chromebook, but that’s something I wanted to mark as having happened because, well, it’ll probably be at least another week before the situation is resolved. Cheers.]

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2 Responses to “Friday Full-Length: Type O Negative, Life is Killing Me

  1. SJ matt says:

    I don’t

    Fuck, man, that album is great. Type O gets regular spins ‘round here.

    Riffs = my antidepressant also. Well, that and maybe the weed. And the booze. And isolating/ostracizing myself. Sooo, maybe not the healthiest?
    Fuck it, I make it work.

  2. Jim Mainardi says:

    World Coming Down was their best album. I’ll give Life Is Killing me rank 2 because I know The Least Worst probably won’t count.

    My sister 5 years younger got into Type O because I brought it home from High School. In college she met a boy whose interest in her grew when he saw the oversized poster of the band in her dorm. I still take credit for their marriage.

    If you need a beer and an old friend, reach out.

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