Back in late 2000 I was browsing a Yahoo! Group for fans of Limp Bizkit. Very much a snapshot of the era, that’s how 15-year-old me decided to spend my free time. A post showed up from someone who was obviously a member of a street team (remember those?), calling attention to a new album from a band called Linkin Park.
I hadn’t yet heard of this band, or their debut album, Hybrid Theory, which the excited street team post said to go and check out “if you like Limp Bizkit,” which I very much did. As this was the era before Spotify, easy-access streaming and even file-sharing websites, that meant I’d have to go buy the CD if I wanted to check it out. Fortunately for me, Rasputin Music in the Bay Area offered refunds of up to 75% the purchase price of an album if you just didn’t like it.
So I went to the store, found the CD on display and bought it, figuring I’d just return it if I didn’t like it. As you’ve imagined so far by reading this, I didn’t return it, and that fateful afternoon at the record store was a formative experience for me, Hybrid Theory hitting me like a ton of bricks in just about every way.
The first seconds of “Papercut” floored me in a way Slipknot’s “(Sic)” (the opening track to their 1999 self-titled debut album) did, instantly transporting me somewhere new. Their pinpoint mastery of the nu-metal genre at the time totally turned things upside-down for me, mostly the result of the interplay between the two vocalists — most powerfully Chester Bennington.
A month or so later, I saw LP open for Papa Roach at the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium. Shortly after that, LP was everywhere — “One Step Closer” had put the rock community on alert, and “Crawling” and “In The End” catapulted them to arena-filler in a very short period of time as Hybrid Theory sold upwards of 30 million copies worldwide.
You know the rest — for the next decade-plus, Linkin Park was an undeniable force in the music world. Massive venues, curators of their own Projekt Revolution touring music festival, multi-platinum stars of the highest degree. They hit at the right time, broke bigger than their peers and, naturally, had many critics.
I can speak about the critics, since some at my high school who preferred more “authentic” music viewed Linkin Park with derision, their simple song structures and packaged angst the recipe for mainstream success. That comes with the territory, of course. Also a topic for criticism was the band’s lyrics, which at times sounded overtly dramatic or even “faked,” as if they were merely pandering to their rapidly expanding audience.
— LINKIN PARK (@linkinpark) July 20, 2017
Last week, Bennington was found dead in Southern California, by means of suicide by hanging. He had taken his own life at 41, with Linkin Park on the cusp of embarking on a huge world tour in support of their new album, One More Light. Bennington, who had spoken outwardly and honestly about his battles with depression and inner turmoil over the years, succumbed to the very same demons he’d been battling for his entire life.
— LINKIN PARK (@linkinpark) July 24, 2017
And it hit me — all that criticism about the “fake” lyrics and otherwise inauthentic subject matter over the years was just wrong. All of Bennington’s pleas to find “Somewhere I Belong” weren’t coming from anywhere other than his actual, real existence and thoughts. And that’s what makes his death so jarring.
Even “Papercut,” the very first song I ever heard from the band, concerned a lyrical theme that is in retrospect painfully transparent:
But I know just what it feels like
To have a voice in the back of my head
Like a face that I hold inside
A face that awakes when I close my eyes
A face watches every time I lie
A face that laughs every time I fall
(It watches everything)
So I know now when it’s time to sink or swim
That the face inside is hearing me
Right beneath my skin
It’s like a whirlwind inside of my head
It’s like I can’t stop what I’m hearing within
It’s like the face inside is right beneath my skin
In the days since the news hit, I’ve revisited the band’s albums and two songs in particular struck me as particularly poignant and impossible to overlook, considering what happened. The first is “Easier to Run,” off 2003’s Meteora:
And the second is the Minutes to Midnight track “Leave Out All the Rest,” which takes on a sense of Bennington reading his own eulogy:
I continued seeing Linkin Park over the years, buying their albums and considering myself a devoted fan — as they tried new things in the studio to mixed results. I saw them at a South Lake Tahoe ski resort “Boarding for Breast Cancer” benefit with bands like Stereomud and Kottonmouth Kings, and I saw them with Incubus, the Prodigy, and on the ridiculous bill that was the Summer Sanitarium tour with Metallica, Deftones, Limp Bizkit and Mudvayne. I was probably going to end up seeing them in a few months at the Hollywood Bowl, too.
During those formative high school years, Linkin Park’s music was a part of me unlike many other musical acts I enjoyed during that time. And while I probably wouldn’t consider myself a ‘sad’ kid by any means, nor the sort of troubled youth that takes to music of this kind so innately, I’d be lying if I said that the band’s albums didn’t help me as a form of catharsis against “average” teenage angst and emotions.
When a musician dies, his or her back catalog rockets up the iTunes charts, with fans old and new coming together to celebrate their legacy and, sometimes, experience it for the first time. We’ve seen it recently with the likes of David Bowie and Prince, and as this is being written various Linkin Park singles are high on the iTunes charts once again.
But with Linkin Park, it’s difficult to do that considering so much of Bennington’s work across LP’s career was just so dark and, looking back, a stark picture of a man battling mental illness, as debilitating as that can be.
Bennington even spoke as frankly as possible about the war inside his head in a recent interview, which may even be his last public interview:
That’s an exceptionally difficult video to watch. He’s so honest, so open, so willing to talk about something so deeply personal and painful — and to have this interview conducted shortly before he took his own life is one of the most heartbreaking aspects about this whole thing. Not to mention the six children he leaves behind with his wife, Talinda, who are now without a father.
Chris Cornell’s suicide in May came as a shock — another tragic loss of an absurdly gifted and troubled rock singer who channeled his inner struggle through his music in Soundgarden, Audioslave and as a solo artist. Another man with a voice louder, more robust than anybody else’s, too overcome with depression and the nagging persistent thoughts that just became too much to ignore.
Bennington ended his own life a mere two months later, on what would have been Cornell’s 53rd birthday. Bennington sang at Cornell’s funeral service in Hollywood, too.
The coincidence (if it is in fact a coincidence) is harrowing. As is this clip from a few years back:
It’s almost been a week, and it’s still hard to process. It will never be easy to process.
But if there’s anything constructive that can come from situations like these, it’s this, and it’s an extremely important message to spread:
You’re not alone out there in your battle with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. If you or a loved one find yourself battling these seemingly insurmountable enemies, help is out there.
That’s why Linkin Park put the following on a new website dedicated to Bennington’s memory:
In case you or someone you know needs support, here are some resources:
Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK
Crisis Text Line, the free, nationwide, 24/7 text message service for people in crisis, is here to support. For support in the United States, text HELLO to 741741 or message at facebook.com/CrisisTextLine.
For support outside the US, find resources at http://www.suicide.org/international-suicide-hotlines.html
One of Linkin Park’s last concerts with Bennington was in early July in Birmingham, U.K., where he led the crowd in an emotional performance of “One More Light,” which features a chorus of
Who cares if one more light goes out?
In a sky of a million stars
It flickers, flickers
Who cares when someone’s time runs out?
If a moment is all we are
We’re quicker, quicker
Who cares if one more light goes out?
Well I do.
Bennington introduced the song with an impassioned speech about being happy and feeling joy about being alive, together, in that room, encouraging those in the crowd to express love and happiness to those around them merely for being in the same room together. It was as moving as it is profoundly sad now. But the song, and all of Linkin Park’s previous songs with Bennington, lives on.
Who cares if one more light goes out?
We all do.
Rest in peace, Chester Bennington.