People, by nature, are kind in death. It’s a time to dwell on the positives of a person’s life, rather than the negatives. There are exceptions, of course – O.J. will be a prime example down the line, which is timely, since he was paroled on Thursday – but on the whole, people are quick to shine a bright light in memoriam.
So you’re going to hear a lot of people over the next few days touting Linkin Park as some sort of generation-defining band, a group that sold millions of records and somehow – in an era where music fans are more fickle than ever – maintained a steady presence for the better part of 20 years. This is certainly true; Linkin Park was a band that never quite got the credit it deserved. Problem is, not enough people said it while the band’s frontman was still among us.
Chester Bennington, one-half of Linkin Park's front-man team, was found dead on Thursday, which The New York Times reported is being investigated as a possible suicide. Bennington, 41, leaves behind six children and one of the trickier musical legacies you’ll find. To some, Linkin Park was a band that helped define the current state of mainstream rock music. To others, they were simply Limp Bizkit with Fred Durst’s singing and rapping duties split between two people.
Those who share the latter opinion are wrong on two counts. For one, even during its rap-rock heyday, Linkin Park always aspired to something a little more than your average rap-rock outfit. The proof lies in “In the End,” from the band’s debut, Hybrid Theory. Yes, the track featured the usual nuances of early-day Linkin Park – namely, rotating between Bennington singing and Mike Shinoda rapping. However, it was also an early sign that Linkin Park had ambitions far beyond fellow rap-rock pioneers like Limp Bizkit or Kid Rock.
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Secondly, those who checked out on the group after a couple of records missed something important. Whereas Limp Bizkit faded into irrelevance and Kid Rock morphed into some sort of Southern rock/country freedom fighter, Linkin Park transformed its sound altogether. After Hybrid Theory and its followup, Meteora, pigeonholed the band as just another in a long line of rap-rock bros, Linkin Park turned the narrative on its head with its third (and best) record, Minutes to Midnight.
While Minutes to Midnight still maintained some hip-hop elements, Linkin Park used its pivotal third record as a way of reinventing its sound toward something more mainstream and melodic in sound. That explains tracks like “What I’ve Done” (really great as lead singles go) and “Shadow of the Day” (maybe the best U2 song U2 didn’t write). Other tracks like “Leave Out All the Rest” and “In Pieces” only furthered the band’s trek away from its rap-rock roots.
Linkin Park released four more albums after Minutes to Midnight, each of which further marginalized Shinoda as the band’s hip-hop co-front man. In doing so, later Linkin Park releases relied more upon Bennington’s abilities to bend his voice between a gnarly shriek and almost a soothing whisper. Regardless of your opinion of Linkin Park, dude had one of the better voices of any rock front man of the past two decades.
He also had quite a stage presence, which I witnessed the two times I saw Linkin Park and another time I watched Bennington sub for Scott Weiland as the front man for Stone Temple Pilots, a band who, tragically enough, lost its former front man in December 2015. Even more tragic is that Bennington’s death took place on what would have been the 53rd birthday of the late Chris Cornell, who took his own life in May.
Bennington and Cornell were close friends, so much so that the former paid tribute to the latter with an emotional letter that thanked Cornell for allowing Bennington to be a part of his life. A portion of that letter is particularly and insightful:
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Your talent was pure and unrivalled. your voice was joy and pain, anger and forgiveness, love and heartache all wrapped up into one. I suppose that’s what we all are.
Linkin Park was scheduled to play Toyota Center on August 22, though one has to assume the band will cancel the remainder of the tour as it copes with Bennington's passing. Whether the band ever records again is inconsequential at this point.
The band’s legacy is secure, as is that of its deceased lead singer. Bennington had everything one could want in a front man — range, stage presence and a litany of hit songs. Linkin Park isn’t just one of the best mainstream rock bands of the past two decades; it’s unquestionably the most underrated, inasmuch as a band that moved more than 20 million records throughout its career can be underrated.
Rest easy, Chester Bennington. You were truly one of a kind.