I first heard of Linkin Park when a school friend handed me a green-backed CD with “Hybrid Theory” scrawled on the cover in black marker. I was fifteen, sitting on a windowsill in my school at lunchtime, and my friend said “You’re going to want to hear this.”
Fifteen year old me had tired of hanging around with other girls my age, with whom I had had problems in my early teens (by which I mean I was bullied by girls and believed the misogynistic trope that boys don’t do that). Along with one other female friend I was now spending all my lunchtimes with a group of boys who the in-crowd had deemed to be social rejects, but with whom I felt more relaxed than I had with the girls I had spent years trying to impress. Through these new male friends I became acquainted with video games and rock music, suddenly switching from S-Club 7 to Stereophonics. It was 2000, and later that year I started to hear nu-metal as its prominence rose. Rebellion was set to Papa Roach and Limp Bizkit. Slipknot’s masks freaked me out, as did the wild rumours about their faces (“You know they got plastic surgery to look that way?!”), but I listened to them anyway to seem cool. So when my friend handed me that counterfeit copy of Hybrid Theory, telling me that this new band was special, I was eager to drink it up.
I listened to the album for the first time after school that day, and I knew right away that something about it was different. It had all the hallmarks of the stuff I was already listening to – distorted guitar riffs, screaming overlaid with rapped vocals and a sense of angst – but there was more to it. It lacked the macho bravado of Limp Bizkit’s Chocolate Starfish and the Hotdog Flavoured Water and the destructive nihilism of Papa Roach’s Infest, its melodies were cleaner and it had that hair-standing-up-on-the-back-of-the-neck quality that I hadn’t yet encountered in metal. It was Chester Bennington’s voice that gave it that extra something. Contrasted with Mike Shinoda’s hip-hop style vocals, Chester’s powerful singing was worthy of a ballad but situated in the angst of heavy rock. What was more, it didn’t seem to offend my parents in the way that most of my music tastes of the time did.
Linkin Park became the soundtrack of the rest of my teens. Even then I had a sense that while much of what I was listening to would fade with age, this was quality material that would remain relevant. “One Step Closer” and “In The End” seemed to echo my own teenage anxiety, and Bennington’s lyrics felt like an expression of my mind. I adored the metalic guitar riff of “Crawling” so much that I enlisted my Dad in helping me to learn more about the origins of heavy metal, asking him to copy his Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple LP’s onto cassettes so that I could listen to them while studying.
When Meteora was released in 2003, I had just started college and had spent the past few years eager for more Linkin Park, and I gobbled it up. I found what I wanted in the wall of sound offered by “Numb”, where Bennington’s voice was showcased again. In my early 20s, while dealing with the aftermath of a sexual assault, I returned to “Crawling”, playing it on repeat while reading interviews where Bennington talked about his sexual abuse as a child and the impact it had on his music. Listening felt like someone understood.
We now know that the effects of that abuse were felt throughout his life, and that his fight against depression and drug and alcohol addiction was never over. When I read on Facebook two days ago that Chester Bennington was dead, having killed himself at only 41, my stomach seemed to fall out of me. I’ve watched friends devastated when their music idols have died, and mourned along with them, but this is the first time that someone whose music I grew up loving so much has died so young. I was slightly too young to grow up listening to David Bowie or Prince, although I enjoy their work, and Kurt Cobain was already dead when I discovered I loved Nirvana. If I was to choose one band or artist whose music signifies my teens to me, it would be Linkin Park, and that music helped me through difficult times later.
The band’s performance in May of their song “One More Light” in tribute to their recently departed friend Chris Cornell of Soundgarden and Audioslave seems all the more poignant now, as Bennington and Shinoda have both said that the song is about losing a friend. Bennington is visibly upset during the performance following the death of his friend, and two months later for so many of us those lyrics are now about him. Indeed many of his lyrics over the years now seem to have been leading to this point, particularly from the choruses of “Leave Out All The Rest” and “In The End”.
My Facebook and Twitter feeds this weekend are filled with testimonies to the impact Chester Bennington had on my friends and acquaintances. His music has been a source of strength for so many. One more very bright light has gone out, to become another tragic rock legend.