I was a high school freshman in 1999.
This is a time of peak of pre-technology; we oo’d and ah’d at anyone who had a cell phone; pagers were common, pay phones everywhere and you could afford to fuck around in New York City.
High school felt a lot like a prison, particularly where I went to school. A five story block of concrete in the city where the windows were double paned and grime slicked thanks to the constant traffic. We accepted that the next four years were going to be incredibly weird but that’s what happens when you turn 14 and are expected to prepare for the rest of your life with a bunch of equally lost young humans. We shared things. We shared a lot of music. This is a time where CD players and mix CDs were currency. If you had a burner on your computer tower. Sure, you could download the shit out of music from Napster, Kazaa, Limewire, Frostwire and whatever else you could risk to download on your computer on AOL’s mind bending 256k modem. If you could do that, you could burn CDs and then you’d basically be the hero we didn’t deserve. You had two types; the all silver spindle ones that cost a mint from The Wiz or gold from Staples which had a higher write speed and was FUCKING GOLD. The silver ones were fun to print stickers onto (an additional 10 bucks) and the gold ones had little lines that made it easier to write track listings on.
I routinely carried around a CD player, chunky headphones a stack of batteries and a black CD binder, the kind that make people blush today because WHO THE FUCK EVEN USES THOSE? I did. It’s the millennium and dammit we wouldn’t have iPods until my first year of college. I had everything for the most part, CDs I bought with my money saved from working as a camp councilor, my mom’s generosity while wandering the aisles of The Wiz in The Bronx. Back then, you needed to spend time in a record store, electronics emporium or the mall to get music. Or risk herpes on the home computer when downloading songs. Oh and by the way, on a dial up modem, it took you four hours for a three minute song and it was a FUCKING CRAP SHOOT on the quality and the actual song.
Ask an old and they’ll tell you, it was either a radio rip, a midi version (old ringtones for the unkillable Nokia phone) or Bill Clinton telling you don’t fucking download you bastard.
You had to talk to the Gen Xers who ran those shops and ‘well actually’d’ you while you were digging through the racks, looking for something that spoke to your blossoming angst. They’d push all kinds of albums on you and at $10-15 a pop you were really trusting the art, the artist and the root of those songs to sell you on it. It also helped that if those albums sucked, you could return them. Such blessings in those days.
I listed to everything. I still do. I grew up in a salsa, disco, pop house; rock was not a thing that was listened to in the house. My mom and godmother remember Beatlemania but were so whatever about it they might as well have been a kid born today shrugging through One Direction’s 45 minutes of fame. I remember a commercial for a concert in Alaska or somewhere with Nada Surf, Hole and headliner Metallica. (I think it’s this one but I don’t know, I watched a lot of TV) It was some Budwieser thing or some terrible beer. I remember the commercial having an overhead aerial shot of a snowy ground, big black stage and brilliant lights. They used “Enter Sandman” as their promo music. I found 92.3 KRock in New York, straining my ears, listening for that song. Discovering Soundgarden. Being confused by Nirvana. I wasn’t sure why I liked it, why I sought it out but I always figure maybe it found me.
I was sitting in some class in 1999, bored and half listening to the teacher because the day was almost over and quite frankly, I already knew what was being taught. A classmate, Maria (I can’t remember her last name and in the last year or so I threw out my yearbook so I can’t even look it up. If you’re reading this, thank you for sharing) handed over a burn CD she had from a band named Linkin Park.
It was a GOLD cd so I knew it was real.
“Trust me, you’re going to love it.”
I nodded, took the CD and gave it a spin on my train ride home.
The mix CD was a combination of their demo EP, when they’d officially become Linkin Park after having been Xero for a few years. It had songs like My December, Step Up, the demo for A Place for My Head (Which I’ve always wanted as a mash up against Coldplay’s A Rush of Blood to The Head) a bunch others. The rest of the CD (a whopping 18 tracks because bless those CDs and compressed MP3 files) was their debut album, Hybrid Theory.
I memorized everything about it. The melody. The lyrics. The fact that there’s a dude rapping while another dude is wailing his lungs out.
I asked for my own copy.
It’s a gold copy.
I still have it.
There was something about the juxtaposition of rap (which my mom hated) and rock (which she also hated) that spoke to me. Unlike anything in music at the time, Linkin Park heralded the beginning of Nu-Metal; a combination of grunge’s angsty past, the 90s miasma and a lot of hair dye. Modern rock radio hated it, they’d been playing grunge and 80s hair metal for years and no one wanted that new music. They toured. They played gigs everywhere and no one knew what to make of Chester’s nasal vocals against Mike’s spitfire lyrics, gelling with the loops from Joe Hahn’s turntables keeping time to Rob’s deft drumming while Phoenix and Brad somehow effortlessly wove themselves into the fabric of this truly unique sound. They picked up Limp Bizkit (the few things to come from Florida I’ll admit I still bump) they elevated Korn, they introduced the world to the Deftones, made college guys take poetry classes because of Incubus, got political with System of a Down and of course, buy all the chain wallets available at the still quite gawth Hot Topic. Punk was still happening of course. Green Day released an album in 1999 with the bittersweet “Time of Your Life” while Eve 6 was jamming “Here’s To The Night” You had bands like Lit (here and gone but godamn what a solid band name right?) No Doubt was floating around on the wings of Gwen Stefani and the power of ska skating around the flaming rink of this nu genre.
I would run to the local Barnes and Noble near my high school to read through everything available from Revolver Magazine, Hit Parader NME, the rock versions of Bop and Tiger Beat. I’d read about how Jonathan Davis while on the first ever Family Values tour spent a good portion of the tour throwing deli slices of bologna at strippers asses. How Corey from Slipknot told Matt Pinfield (bald MTV bae) that he’d vomit on stage if asked to share festival time with the biggest band in the world; The Backstreet Boys. Deep reads in Rolling Stone about how nu-metal was basically the backwards slide into hillbilly stupidity but they’d cover it because it beat the dead 90s scene, the tragic stalling that rap was facing and the as yet to erupt teen explosion. They hadn’t met Slim or Marilyn just yet. I would buy the occasional magazine for the posters and the hard to get stickers. They became an obsession. I truly admired the work they were doing and by 2000 I’d basically become a teenage music shithead.
Their albums seemed to be timed to some of the strangest times of my life. Reanimation (the remix album to their debut) was basically a who’s who of the scene. Everyone pulled apart the songs on Hybrid Theory and created masterworks. It was a take it or leave it album for many but the idea of starting college that year (2002) meant my life was being reorganized. I lost friends from high school to time and to their decisions. I watched my city come together in a post 9/11 world. I was at my first gig that wasn’t a summer camp job. I had a cell phone. There was an honesty that seemed to come through in lyrics that, to someone who’s just listening to it, sounded less than poetic and felt contrived. Against the pop landscape (don’t get me wrong, I was still bumping the SHIT out of BSB and Nsync even though I could see their longevity coming to a quick end. Even with TRL behind them) Reanimation cemented my belief in this band.
By 2003, Meteora was on rotation full tilt. I was in a relationship, I was working, I was building out my empire. I’d gone to a bunch of shows. Papa Roach, Evanescence (fuck you very much) I still felt a little uneasy about adulthood and was adjusting to life as one does. My brother would suffer a traumatic accident that year that changed the both of us. Music was there. I bought him Blink-182’s self titled CD. At that point, I had my first iPod after the both of us sharing a sony mini disc player. I’d take the discs home and transfer all my music to this little device to keep my brother company while he was in the hospital. I have a hard time listening to that blink album because of think of when we’d sit still and think about how he almost died.
While listening to LP’s second full album, one song stuck out because, as usual, this band had a way to soundtrack my life. Before getting the Kill Bill animation treatment, Breaking The Habit was it. That was the song.
Clutching my cure
I tightly lock the door
I try to catch my breath again
I hurt much more than any time before
I have no options left again
I don’t want to be the one the battles always choose
’cause inside I realize that I’m the one confused
I was struggling with depression, darker thoughts and trying to keep my head above water. I remember crying listening to this song. I cry alone a lot. In the dark for added theatrics. This song was just…everything.
2004 Collision Course is released and I keep telling people stop hating this band. Plus, it really cemented Jay Z as a person will solid touchstones in music…even if he still can’t figure out what to do with Rita Ora. The fun thing about this is that, A, everyone starts to hate LP and I’m super into how much easier it is for me to understand Jay’s delivery. It started out as a random mashup between an LP song and a Jay song that some DJ in LA did one night that went radio viral. I’d stay up listening to the radio just to catch that song and it was worth it.
2007 Minutes to Midnight is out. I’m somewhere in this world, working and keeping the family afloat. I’m in my desired field, confused, angry (as usual) and trying to claw my way up in the world. I was still two years away from Target and floating around in random freelance jobs but this album, hated by many, was a constant soundtrack. I was dealing with a messy breakup and a complicated relationship, casually dropped out of school and was out in the world fucking up per usual. It’s possibly the most angst ridden album in their discography (yes, even mopier than Hybrid Theory, fight me) and runs the complete range of emotion. Set against the backdrop of the Bush Administration (hi, remember that asshole?) the war in Iraq, my friends in combat zones and the that uncertain feeling that surrounded all of us, MtM is an album that really is the soundtrack to dystopia. It’s fantastic. It’s cinematic. I defend the album to the death. It carries me through.
I get to see them for the first time ever in 2007 at the now defunct Bamboozle Festival in scenic New Jersey. I survive a garbage rainbow during Killswitch Engaged (cans of beer…please don’t let it be piss hurt) I pull Red out of a mosh pit during Taking Back Sunday and cry during Linkin Park’s set.
I see them again that same year with My Chemical Romance at Jones Beach.
I swear to never go to festivals again.
(I work them for a living now but it’s much nicer with a press pass, a clean bathroom to piss in and pit access)
By 2010, I’m a year in at Target and work right across the street from Best Buy. Now, technology has advanced leaps and bounds and my ass going across the parking lot to buy an album is worthy of it’s own 40 minute documentary narrated by David Attenborough and shot in high definition for the BBC. I know, I work in Target but they didn’t have the deluxe edition with bonus songs and a tee shirt. iTunes is a thing, Spotify was in it’s infancy, radio had changed formats now that you could download anything in torrent form at high speeds because FUCK YEAH BROADBAND. I still clung to my CD collection and had a laptop that read them so why the fuck wouldn’t I enjoy ripping CDs to my iPod for my pleasure? The band released A Thousand Suns and the first time I listened to it was in the dark on a stereo I’d stolen in college.
The first song, The Requiem, on a great sound system in the dark is the kind of thing that gives you the absolute creeps. I lay there, in the dark, listening to an album that I knew was going to change the way I wrote. It did. I banged out a super long story that once I have more than 20 minutes to myself and am not eating, playing video games or taking a shit, I’ll actually transcribe to digital. It was an album where things were abandoned. The chaos was here. Everyone I knew hated it. I was thankful for it. I was depressed at work and trying to find ways out of it. I was in a relationship that was in its infancy but still felt like it was going somewhere. (We didn’t understand each other) It was fueling me when I lost that job and I believed that I could just survive the wreckage, drag my broken carcass out of the mess and find a pay phone to call for the cops. I also stan hard for this album.
In 2011 I took my brother to see them; it’s his first concert and he gets a pick from Brad’s guitar tech. we almost cry in the elevator.
I’m single, I’m in a great pain in the ass job that’s training ground for newer bigger things and Linkin Park releases Living Things. My friends hate it, they miss the old Linkin Park like I miss the old Kanye. They’re experimental. Mike’s been listening to something else, Chester has been dabbling with his other band, Dead by Sunrise, Joe’s been scoring movies and directing videos. They’re all older. I’m older. I’m in my mid 20s still carrying a banner for this band that once a fucking gain make an album that I swear was written for me to keep me sane and it’s on constant rotation.
2013 – Recharged. Fuck me this is gym music.
The Hunting Party comes out on my birthday, 6/13/2014. I’m 30 years old unwrapping this CD from Best Buy alone in my apartment, laptop open, iPod ready and I press play. They’ve gone back to the start. I feel like they’re on the same path as I am. I’m working. I’m paid. I’m working through some shit and I’m going to be okay. They’re fighting a war. Nu Metal doesn’t exist anymore. Mainstream radio has moved from the wave and embraced EDM, rap, pop is in a strange place where your mom knows more songs than you do. Downloading is king, spotify is on everyone’s phones, torrents are a thing of the past because those kids who couldn’t afford an album are now forking out $10 for your album and everyone else’s in one shot. Rock radio in New York is dead except for the classic rock station (that played Nirvana once and I wanted to die) but here they are, raging away. I could tell the dynamic was changing. Why wouldn’t it? It’s been 20 years by this point. We’ve been doing this thing for twenty years. In that time, I’ve been in a few relationships, worked a bunch of jobs, dealt with family illnesses and crisis’. Gone to two Coldplay shows in the same year with someone who hated me, interviewed at a dozen places but still kind of just floating along. I was writing for Vh-1 and never got paid for it so I was angry (again usual state of affairs) but here I was, raging against all of it. I was 30, like why THE FUCK would I continue to keep batting zeros?! I clung to that album like a lifeboat, even while rotating around different genres it was them. It was always them.
Here we are, 2017 and in May they release One More Light. I hate it. It’s so. Mainstream top 40 midlevel we didn’t try album but I memorize it anyway and one day on the train, I’m really listening to it. It’s actually quite good. I realize that there is exactly a decade between me and this band that’s been mine for a huge portion of my life. They are going to slow down. Chester can’t keep up with his vocals, Mike can’t keep rapping about forfeiting the game and…well…I mean…we’re old. Again, it’s an album that should’ve felt like it was right for me at the right time. I’m employed, in a stable relationship, my family is healthy, I’ve FINALLY traveled around a bit. It just felt strange, forced, almost wrong. Coldplay putting out Mylo Xyloto made sense because Chris Martin is a twee pixie and likes neon on all black everything. Linkin Park was dick jokes, wizard songs and working in the trenches but seeing all the press and promo for the release, they’d all seemed so excited about the album and here I was being salty about it. A lot of love went into it. Maybe that’s why it felt so foreign. Love. I’d been trying to define it and my favorite band had done it but I didn’t realize it.
We’re happy we’re old. It means that in the last 20 years we survived some weird shit. In between releasing solo albums, side projects, taking breaks, remixing albums, opening tattoo shops, getting random jobs, traveling around the country we’ve gotten some milage and by golly did we not think we’d get here. We’re good. We’re content. We’re…dare it be said…happy. All of this work, all of this struggle leads to being able to wake up and say, even though it’s a shitty day it’s a day I woke up.
All of this is to say, Chester, I understand. Like Chris Cornell (on who’s birthday we lost Chester) Wayne Static, Robin Williams, Stevie Ryan…everyone we’ve lost to depression it’s a show. We are happy and we have outrun the demons and the darkness and the sun feels incredible but there’s always something that fear that it’s going to go wrong or it’s just not going to stay this way forever. I’m not speaking for him. No one can. I’ve shared that brain though. I’ve been on medication for almost a year now and while it feels better, it feels like it’s going to be okay, I’ve spent a week in bed wondering why I even get up.
My brother sent me a text message with a link to TMZ saying they’d found him dead at 1p EST. I started crying. I’m sitting with a co-worker, my heart stopped and my stomach dropped. He was 41. I didn’t know him. His bandmates and family did. We knew him through music and interviews he’d given about his addictions, projects everything was in text and video just out of reach but right there for it to be real. I hate TMZ for being so good at their jobs. That 2pm text message is going to be the thing that makes my skin crawl. I went upstairs and kept fighting tears. The word was spreading. People were talking about this band again. Googling them. They had no idea they’d put out an album. No idea that they were in the middle of a massive world wide tour. A handful of co-workers were going to Blinkin Park on July 28th. We’re devastated. The office had a strange, “oh shit remember these guys” moment that felt surreal because for me, for millions, they’d never dropped off. They’d never disappeared, never struggled with genre death the way so many other bands in their field had. Limp Bizkit is tied to a redonk deal with Cash Money Records and have released three albums since. System of a Down has disbanded for the most part. Korn slipped into obscurity and landed a wild dub step album but continue to tour. Slipknot got better and better and Corey’s vocals both for them and Stone Sour are the gravel tones of legend. Papa Roach continues to put out albums (Crooked Teeth is solid) and in the wake of nu-metal’s collapse came metal core, Bring me The Horizon (a fav) As I Lay Dying, All That Remains, A Day to Remember all of them owing their foundations to Linkin Park. Linkin Park had never stopped being a thing. I’m sad seeing these headlines about him, about the band, how they’d finally charted with One More Light after having it floating around in the cheap seats for awhile.
Listening through the discography again, it’s actually chilling. I can see where Chester was just laying out diary entry after diary entry about a man who’d been through a lot of shit and found the most eclectic way to express it. Mike, well, Mike is a quiet guy and who knows what he went through but they found a way (a way that dual vocalists struggle with I think) to be each other’s balance. They had a way to communicate that may not be a thing for any band anytime soon but then again, I’m biased. Maybe it’s because he’s gone that I’m hearing them differently. I’m hearing someone else’s sadness instead of my own. Someone else’s rage instead of mine. I can hear someone saying, I’ve been through this I’m making it, I’m working through it and I think you can to. We may not have the same outcomes, it may not be the same place at the same time but we have somewhere to go. I have crying fits. The music is hard to listen to because of the way it’s framed now. because we know the end of the story in comparison to where it was going. I listened to Minutes to Midnight on the way home and remember why it’d been such a standout for me. It’s thought waves; cresting, ebbing flowing, tide coming in and coming out. It’s the eye of the storm but you’re the storm.
Depression is hard. Substance abuse is hard. Not drinking. Not smoking. Not popping pills. All of it is hard. All of it. I had no idea at 14 I’d still be listening to this band at 33; that they’d narrate all the major keys in my life and I don’t know if they ever thought they’d be this impactful on anyone. They just wanted to make some new noises in the sea of noise that is music. He was writing new music. They were starting the North American tour. We all connected in this weird place called the internet, the street, sharing just out here talking to each other the only way we knew how. I don’t know if we’ll ever get anyone or any group like this.
Thank you for being. Thank you for existing. Thank you for the honesty, the risk taking and the journey. You are part of a grander scheme now with people who are equally loved and who were just too good to be in this dimension for much longer. You are all now the stuff of stars and planets that makes this one continue to burn in the darkness and though we’ve never met, you’re still someone that will be held dear in our hearts.
Everyone struggles. Like I’ve always said, please, check on your people. Make sure you listen to them when you ask “are you okay” be a pain in the ass. Sit next to them when they’re down, when they’re out, when they’re happy. Just be there. Carry them through whatever it is even if they say fuck off. Even if there really isn’t anything wrong. Please hug them. Please leave them a note or a stupid DM or give them a hug. Everyone is teetering dangerously close on the edge of something and we just need to hold on.