By 1981, Irish rock band Thin Lizzy was limping toward the end of its existence. That year, they released a largely regrettable album called Renegade that some reviewers have described as “easily the worst” entry in their then-11-record discography. The one semi-bright spot was the six-minute opening track, “Angel of Death,” which frontman Phil Lynott wrote after binge-reading a book of Nostradamus’ prophecies. (Lynott was also doing a lot of drugs at the time.)
One of the verses includes the lyrics “In the 16th century there was a French philosopher/ By the name of Nostradamus/ Who prophesied that in the late 20th century/ An angel of death shall waste this land /A holocaust the likes of which/ This planet had never seen /Now, I ask you /Do you believe this to be true?”
It’s probably a good bet that no one you know has thought about Thin Lizzy’s “Angel of Death” since, like, the early 80s—not unless you’re in the tri-state’s ultimate Thin Lizzy tribute band, or you’re friends with either Hampton Catlin or a former cheesemonger who called himself “The Doctor.”
In April, Catlin tweeted a picture of a pound of fresh mozzarella he’d just bought at the Westside Market in New York City, writing that the cheese itself was “threatening the angel of death.” He’s right… sort of. Underneath an ordinary list of ingredients (pasteurized cow’s milk, salt, vinegar) is a slightly inaccurate, haphazardly capitalized version of Lynott’s lyrics: “IT WAS PROFISIZED [sic] IN LATE 20th CENTURY. AN Angel of DEA [sic] SHALL WASTE THIS PLACE. NOW I ASK YOU DO YOU BELIEVE IT TO BE TRUE?” The message was signed “The Doctor.”
An hour after his original tweet, Catlin followed up and said that he was “still deciding what to do about this,” and he worried that the cheese “might be poisoned.” A week later, he wrote a one-star Yelp review after he tried to return the cheese to Westside but, weirdly, they weren’t interested in a pound of cheese that was a couple of days past its sell-by date.
“I don't think I'm that much of a picky eater, but I try to avoid foods that are labeled with threats of mass death,” he said. “I expected this to be like, the most basic item exchange ever done. What happened left me shocked… as the manager shrugged it off and said they had a 24-hour exchange policy and I'd have to show the receipt […] She wouldn't apologize, wouldn't exchange, and just seemed to totally stonewall me.”
The thing is, Westside used to have a cheesemonger who was known for doing this very thing. Way back in 2011, Grub Street discovered that the cheeses from Westside Market tended to come with an interesting assortment of song lyrics and quotations printed on the labels, everything from Beatles choruses to Elizabethan-era dad jokes (“To Brie or Not To Brie”) to lines from James Patterson books. In 2012, Gothamist ultimately identified the labelmaker as Peter "The Doctor" Daniels, who, at that time, had been the store’s cheesemonger for seven years. “There's extra space where a description is supposed to go but I found that people weren't reading them," he told the site. "I thought I would put something else that people could be inspired by."
That worked for a while, at least until a bunch of Karens started to complain: One person was upset about a religious line from a U2 concert and another was upset about (you guessed it) that same verse from “Angel of Death.” In January 2013, his lyrical labels were temporarily suspended (and he made the announcement on a cheese label, because he’s a boss) but he was ultimately allowed to start referencing Judas Priest and Scorpions on pieces of cheese again.
So when Hampton Catlin received a Phil Lynott-quoting mozzarella chonk that was signed “The Doctor,” does that mean that Daniels is back at it? Weirdly, no. Westside told Gothamist that he’s no longer working at the store.
Fresh mozzarella, misconstrued messages, and Thin Lizzy? There’s no way Nostradamus saw any of this coming.