When news broke on Thursday that Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington had committed suicide, it exposed a fault-line between generations of rock fans. For Gen-Xers, the early ’00s are associated with bands like The Strokes, Interpol, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and other New York City groups recently documented in Lizzy Goodman’s Meet Me In The Bathroom. From the perspective of those bands, Linkin Park might as well have been the enemy, an angsty corporate-rock act that appealed to millions of uncool kids in middle America.
But for millennials, who were in their teens when Linkin Park’s blockbuster debut Hybrid Theory was released in 2000, Bennington looms as a defining rock star of the era. A singer capable of both piercing bombast and pained sensitivity, Bennington’s nimble tenor initially played off the rapping of Mike Shinoda, but over time his versatility and soulfulness made him the band’s primary frontman. For kids who found solace in Linkin Park’s music, Bennington was the band member they were most likely to connect with.
Linkin Park’s canny mix of pop, hip-hop, and melodic alt-rock drove Hybrid Theory to sales of more than 11 million copies, making it the top-selling rock record of the ’00s. Given the rapid changes to the music industry in the immediate aftermath of Hybrid Theory, it’s plausible to suggest that no rock record will ever come close to achieving those sorts of sales figures ever again. The album single-handedly initiated Bennington into a small (and now rapidly shrinking) fraternity of arena-rock vocalists — it’s no wonder that Stone Temple Pilots called on him to replace Scott Weiland for a brief spell before Weiland’s death in 2015. Bennington was one of the few guys on the planet with the qualifications to front a big-time rock band.