This one…this one really hurts.
Childhood idols shouldn’t be dead at 41.
I’ve talked, at length, about the influence that Linkin Park had on me as a child and early teenager. Linkin Park was my musical awakening, the first band that I latched onto and said “Yeah, this is my favorite.” Hybrid Theory and Meteora became a soundtrack for middle school and early high school years that, in retrospect, were overblown on a personal level, though there was plenty of legitimate anger and angst to be had. (Everyone always says that about themselves.)
Linkin Park was the first band I was a fan of that felt like they were my contemporaries. They hadn’t been around for 30 years like Rush, or even 10+ years like Green Day, or 20 years like Metallica. Linkin Park hit the scene in 2000, when I was 7, old enough to at least passively absorb the things I heard and remember them as parts of the pop culture that I grew up in. And I became a fan at, in my opinion, just the right time – when Linkin Park took a permanent pivot away from surface-level nu-metal and started really drilling down into figuring out the kind of music they wanted to make, independently of label and fan expectations. And though it has been a very long time since I’ve had a feeling of true excitement regarding something Linkin Park-related, being a hardcore fan through the Minutes to Midnight, A Thousand Suns, and even LIVING THINGS eras was something I’ll always value and cherish.
I thought Linkin Park would last forever. As a young teen, I thought it would be because they were rock gods. As an adult, I figured that their core fanbase would provide enough support for them to keep doing literally whatever sort of music they felt like doing, with a new album every few years for the next forty years. Chester Bennington and the rest, in their 70s, still somehow belting out “One Step Closer.”
Right now, it’s too fresh. No statement. No indicator what the future will hold for the band, in the wake of Chester’s suicide by hanging. How could there be? Is there even any filling in of such a massive void? This is a band that, for eighteen years, had one line-up, with only temporary hiccups in the early years. By 2001, the line-up that played their final show on July 6, 2017 was fully formed. Sixteen years of the same six men, in the studio, on stage together. I cannot even begin to imagine what you would do next.
And today, Chris Cornell would have been 53 years old. I don’t think that’s just cruel irony, either.
But it’s still time for another round of questions without answers, grasping at reason, trying to make sense of it. “How could a man with millions, an iconic, multimillion unit selling band, a wonderful wife, and six kids not see the good in the world? In his life?”
There’s no answer. None that will ever be satisfactory, at least. If it was depression, then depression has claimed yet another innocent victim. If it was something else, maybe we’ll find out some day. For now, we’re all left holding our questions, while the band and Chester’s family are left holding a void.
But what a career and legacy to leave behind. Linkin Park was utterly gigantic, an inescapable behemoth of rock radio, in the early 2000s. Singles from Hybrid Theory and Meteora were ubiquitous. “In the End,” “Somewhere I Belong,” “One Step Closer,” “Numb,” the list goes on and on. Bona fide hit parades, those two albums. And there are still radio gems across the rest – “Leave Out All the Rest,” “What I’ve Done,” “Bleed it Out,” “Iridescent,” “Burn it Down.” And not to mention that Chester had the opportunity of a lifetime – to step into Scott Weiland’s shoes and lead the band he worshipped as a child, Stone Temple Pilots. For two magical years, Chest got to live a lifelong dream, and was such a successful musician that he had to leave because he had a bigger band he had to put his attention on. Imagine having to leave Stone Temple Pilots because you could only make your schedule work with one worldwide giant of a band. And Dead by Sunrise was fine, too.
It’s hard to get through this, honestly. Maybe it’s because it’s still fresh news to me, or maybe it’s because Linkin Park was so much closer to my heart than Chris Cornell’s work, but this hurts much, much worse.
I do know this: I will always cherish the memories I have of Linkin Park. As the genesis of my musical taste, they will always hold a special place in my heart, no matter how old I get, no matter how many times I look back and think “my god, that’s embarrassing.” When things come to an end like this…all of that other shit seems so small. It doesn’t matter what the public perception of Linkin Park was, how the band became a meme and a synonym for the sort of edgy preteen who doesn’t really understand how embarrassing their behavior is. The epitome of “It’s not a phase, MOM.” None of that matters right now.
What matters is, for all of those kids, all of those teenagers, even if they reminisce and laugh at themselves, how the smallest of things meant the world was ending to them, they’ll always be able to hold on to the idea that there was a band out there they could relate to. A band that sang about the same things they were thinking and feeling. Everyone needs music they can hear themselves in, because it becomes a comfort, a safe zone. The world might not get it, but at least these guys did. The value of that is immeasurable.
I only ever saw Linkin Park live once; incidentally, it was the same tour in which I saw Chris Cornell for the only time, Projekt Revolution 2008, in West Palm Beach, Florida. The early experience of seeing my favorite band perform live was transformative. I still have the professional recording of the show, straight from the band. Maybe it’s time to listen to it again.
A lot of songs become…difficult…to listen to, in retrospect, but there’s a lot to love in Linkin Park’s catalogue, and it’s worth it to indulge your inner teen, even just for a little while. There will likely never be another band like Linkin Park again, and certainly not a guy like Chester Bennington.
To close out, a video. Linkin Park performed on Jimmy Kimmel shortly after Chris Cornell’s death, playing “One More Light,” the title track of their most recent album, as a tribute to him. Eerie as it may be, it ends up being a very fitting tribute for Chester himself.
Who cares if one more light goes out?