Chester Bennington’s vulnerability resonated with a generation
Imagine, for a moment, that the headwinds of acceptability in pop culture blew in a slightly different direction and Linkin Park were sitting in Nirvana’s place.
There are similarities: both bands are a hugely important gateway into formative feelings of sadness and loneliness for those too young to truly process such feelings. Both are led by frontmen who suffered emotional and physical torment at the same age. But imagine if Linkin Park’s legacy had brushed off the nu-metal taint, and instead it was Kurt Cobain’s sadsack mewling that elicited sniggers while Chester Bennington’s earnest vulnerability is held up as fair and true. I expect this is where consensus is going to head now Bennington is gone. And I’ll be glad to see it.
Writing anything about Linkin Park with a straight face is weird. They were inescapable in the early 2000s, wrapped up in so many fond memories – if you’re reading this, I expect you may share some of these memories. Recent years have seen Transformers soundtracks, Stormzy collaborations, dialling-up of the skyscraping pop melodies and dialling-down of the slamming riffs. Did I follow them there? No, of course not; did you?
But we know the hits: the band have some eternal, universal, earth-shattering bangers in their locker. Super-dated, admittedly, which makes them easy to lump in with their contemporaries, behemoths like Limp Bizkit. They both became strawmen for the musty dregs of popular culture around the turn of the millennium, but the nuances are there. Compare the videos for Rollin’ and Crawling: in one, Fred Durst waddles around slamming his crotch into the camera; in the other, a girl is trapped inside the frozen confines of her mind, watching mascara-stained water circle a drain. The difference between Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park is palpable.
I saw the band for the first – and now surely last – time at Brixton Academy two weeks ago. It was a special one-off break from stadiums, and it fucking ruled. I was touching distance from Bennington as I crowdsurfed to a riotous Faint, and the fact that it was the penultimate time he would ever stand on a stage is hard to countenance. It’s the curtain call for a group that have been omnipresent since I was 9, and, as the saying goes, a kick in the childhood.
In 2001 Hybrid Theory was moving 100,000 copies per week in the USA alone, and the group tallied 324 shows on the road – both ridiculous amounts by any measure. That was only the start, too. I vividly remember a school trip a couple of years later where every single dorm room, no matter what type of kid was in it, was filled with the sounds of Meteora. Next to Billabong shorts and polyphonic ringtones of Chingy, it was probably the most unifying thing of 2003 for anyone under the age of 14.
It must be so strange to get to that level, and Linkin Park never came down. Meet and greets in Montevideo one week and playing to 150,000 in Shanghai the next was the norm for close to two decades. You wonder whether it gets rote in the same way a work commute does. By all accounts though, Bennington and his bandmates were genuinely approachable and appreciative people, and that never let up.
“Even if his specific depth of trauma doesn’t resonate, if you were into Linkin Park as a kid, the band became a vessel for your negative feelings”
In Bennington’s case, that extreme visibility was harshly magnified by what was on show. In 2011 he opened up about his abusive childhood, but he was a hero to millions precisely because he internalised raw feelings and made them permutable. Scan the lyrics and the same tropes crop up: wounds, smothering, pain, emotional abuse, a lack of solace. Even if his specific depth of trauma doesn’t resonate, if you were into Linkin Park as a kid, the band became a vessel for your negative feelings. No-one ever really sits down and explains discomfort to you at that age, so to hear it in naked clarity on a CD – which, handily, slapped hard – was transformative. Tragically, that discomfort is what tipped the scales for Bennington.
Even with a wildly successful career built on chewing through his depressive tendencies, no-one knows what was going on inside his head: celebrities aren’t infallible. Bennington wasn’t, and it finally got to him. Still, it’s heartwarming to see condolences flooding in from publications, pop stars and even personal friends, a band finally being given their due.
I’m not after total revisionism: Shinoda’s total lack of flow, and Hahn’s wildly scribbling turntables are, honestly, quite shit; equally, I could happily go through the rest of my life without hearing those opening notes of Numb again (thanks Hov). But, as the outpouring of grief has shown, at one point or another Linkin Park meant a lot to many people all over the world. No matter where those fans’ refined tastes ended up, Linkin Park remained the first favourite band of millions, and that number is only ever going to climb. Even though they’ve physically come to an abrupt and heartbreaking end.
In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255.
In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123.
In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14.