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Houston-area fans turned out in droves recently to pay tribute to Linkin Park front man Chester Bennington, who committed suicide last month.
Photo by Tracey Makwakwa
The actor Paul Walker was killed in a one-car accident almost four years ago. News of his passing – a tragically fitting one, considering Walker rose to fame on the back of a franchise dedicated to cars driving at high rates of speed – resulted in a flood of tributes, social-media posts and think pieces on the actor’s life and career. In fact, many were surprised at the outpouring of love and heartbreak in the aftermath of Walker’s passing.
This was, after all, an actor not exactly known as the modern-day Marlon Brando. He wasn’t a fixture on the red carpet or revered for his political or social activism. And while Walker’s films were certainly fun, no one was going to confuse Varsity Blues, She’s All That or the litany of Fast & Furious films with cinematic art.
But fun and quality need not coexist for a film to be memorable, and that is where Walker’s death came as a blow to so many people. To many, particularly those in their late twenties or early thirties at the time of Walker’s death, those films signify a special place and time. The memories of who they were during those film’s respective runs far outweighs the quality of a particular film, and thus, Paul Walker’s legacy far outpaces what many might have originally expected. Yes, I cried when Walker was given a fitting end at the closing of Furious 7, and believe me, I wasn’t the only one.
Which brings us to Linkin Park. The band, a regular fixture on the rock radio scene for the better part of the past 20 years, was supposed to play Toyota Center tonight. As you have no doubt heard by now, that concert – and the band’s entire tour – was cancelled in the wake of front man Chester Bennington’s suicide last month. He was only 41.
Linkin Park was an underrated band, and Bennington never really got the credit he deserved as the voice of one of the most popular and influential groups of its era. Unfortunately, the era in which Linkin Park broke out was dominated by rap-rock/nu-metal, a genre that hasn’t aged particularly well and one Linkin Park had outgrown after its first two records anyway.
Alas, it’s hard to change a narrative once it’s been written, so Linkin Park – to many – was always a reminder of an era that many wish had never laid its imprint upon the rock landscape. The band was viewed as no different than rap-rock bros like Limp Bizkit and Crazytown, even if it differentiated itself from those and other nu metal outfits by being, you know, actually good. Point being, most didn’t tab Linkin Park as the band that would define its era, nor was Bennington – a fairly private guy, by rock-star standards – tabbed as the guy who would elicit so much emotion and reaction upon his untimely passing.
And this is where the Paul Walker corollary comes back into play. While a good band, Linkin Park wasn’t exactly regarded as rock royalty like a Metallica or Black Sabbath. Hell, the band had sold fewer and fewer copies with the passing of each new record, their sound better but not nearly as infectious as the days of “In the End” and “Numb.” Linkin Park’s latest single, this year's “Heavy,” was a noble change in sound, but one that received fairly harsh reaction from fans and critics alike. Sure, Linkin Park was still a band that mattered, but one whose relevance had faded from its prime of the late '90s and early 2000s.
And yet, when it was announced that Bennington had committed suicide, the outpouring of grief and support was staggering. One could argue Bennington received a bigger reaction than his close friend, Soundgarden front man Chris Cornell, who himself committed suicide in May. This, despite the fact that Soundgarden was symbolic of one of the golden eras of rock music (grunge), while Cornell was lauded for both his stellar songwriting, rangy vocals and success with various bands and a solo musician.
And this is where memories again win out over sheer quality. Sure, Bennington may not have been quite the vocalist of his good friend Cornell, and few would consider Linkin Park on par with Soundgarden. But to many, Linkin Park was the band of their youth, and Bennington was their voice.
Make no mistake – these things matter. Just as Paul Walker was an actor whose impact and legacy far outweighed his talent and filmography, the same could be argued for Bennington and his discography. Linkin Park was no longer the cultural force it was at the turn of the century, but music has a way of taking us from one year to the next with the simple strum of a guitar string.
The years roll on, but the music lives on just the same. Because of that, it’s never really goodbye at all.