Linkin Park and the Six Cycles Retrospective

Social alienation is a feeling that I experience pretty regularly. There are many things I’ve seen that would probably qualify as ‘Intense Shit’ to your everyday lass or lad in my meager twenty-six years. Consequently, I find it incredibly difficult to relate to my peers in most situations with that old, wretched bugbear, anxiety, accompanying most of my chats with other human beings. Anxiety about everything, roughly. The weather. The person’s disposition. What they want to hear. How cardboard boxes are made. The list goes on. It’s intensely difficult to keep a steady hand in interpersonal communication when I’m constantly writing the dialogue of some tweaker’s life story (mine) in my brain, while the person next to me prattles on about their fingernail polish, oblivious to the cyclone of broken glass and petroleum jelly raging away at Neptunian wind speeds in my mind.

Sims
It kinda feels like life is a game of the Sims and all of the conversation options are token and hollow. Kinda like in the Sims. Maybe that’s just the introvert in me speaking. 

Suppose you could say I’m no stranger to a recurring, virulent, and entirely overwrought depression due to a litany of family tragedies and my own insecurities born thereof. I’m an analyst, a person pathologically unable to enjoy things at face value. With that in mind, a certain singer is now dead, his story awash in the recent news. And now is as good a time as any to voice my thoughts on a band in a very particular genre during a very particular section of my life.

Linkin Park had a huge influence on me intellectually as a brooding adolescent searching for a sense of self in an environment where I felt I could never relate to anyone or anything due to my family problems. It still appeals to me today since I still grapple with the legacy of those issues all these years later.

The thrash of their sound signified the anger that I felt towards a conventional society that seemed to care nothing for the hardships I, or my family, were going through, the irony that no one could possibly know of such things without me overtly sharing being entirely lost on past me, something of a high-functioning autistic with a preciously small amount of friends who I somehow managed to let on very little of my internal turmoil to. The spacey feeling of the more introspective, melodious sections spurred my thoughts of the underlying meaning of my life, my place in the universe, and the places of those around me. And, finally, the performative trifecta, indispensable in any discussion of the group, delivered with varying levels of gentle melody, grating fury, and brash baritone deadpan by the inimitable Chester Bennington and Mike Shinoda, brings both of the aforementioned points to fruition with lyrics of a deceptive simplicity.

With the news of Bennington’s suicide breaking not four days ago, and the probable subsequent dissolution of Linkin Park as a creative entity, I figured now would be a decent time for a retrospective to discuss their impact on me as a thoroughly bothered teenager, why I still enjoy listening to the band today, and what I think of the band’s sound and lyrics with as objective an assessment as I can manage as a depressive myself. It’s the least I can do for a group that meant so much to me; still does to a certain extent.

Linkin Park will, in my mind, always be synonymous with the sound of their first album, Hybrid Theory. It appeared on the scene when I was a chubby, impressionable ten years of age with a heart full of sadness, a brain full of Courage the Cowardly Dog, and a stomach full of oatmeal cream pies, and I immediately fell in love with the syncretic sound of the clarion raps, the industrial metal, and the dazzling turntabling of Joseph Hahn. I get nostalgic shivers listening to and rapping along with, because I’m still a massive nerd who loves the odd car performance art, Shinoda’s alternatively fierce and mellow raps. Bennington’s furious deliveries alongside his more sorrowful, melodious lines create an effective contrast, a juxtaposition that works well even today and a distinct sound all its own. Even now, sitting here with a scalding laptop in my lap, (the cooling fan is broken), I find myself giddy, marveling at how much I still adore this stuff.

Hybrid theory
The unforgettable album cover. Still etched into my psyche. Apparently, it’s a soldier? I always thought it was a hockey player with dragonfly wings. Cutesy stylized N’s. Totes presh, bruh. 

The album’s overarching themes of depression, rage, and paranoia still resonate with me today. Beginning with the single ‘Papercut’, which deals with paranoia and mental anguish in a rapid fire style befitting Shinoda’s delivery, the album kicks off with one of the most early 2000’s music videos possible replete with hilarious male punk hairstyles and the ‘party in a random room’ style of filmmaking. Features some creepy Jacob’s Ladder style imagery and still very much worth a watch if you’re into that sort of thing. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjVkXlxsO8Q

My favorite song off of their debut album, and Hybrid Theory is definitely my favorite album of the three in their discography that I’m intimately familiar with, nostalgia be damned, keeping in mind that I’m not a connoisseur of the group or I probably would’ve done more research, would probably have to be the second single, ‘Crawling’. The song definitely comes at the perfect narrative moment in the album after a few songs dealing with issues of paranoia and anger. ‘Crawling’ offers a poignant description of depression, while highlighting many of the greatest strengths of the band as a creative force.

I was going to insert segments of the song to highlight my points here, so blame penny-pinching WordPress for not allowing us poor folk on the freebie section of the website to insert audio clips. Feel free to open the song in an adjacent window. I’d highly recommend you at least give it a listen to understand what the hell I’m babbling on about. If you’re too lazy to look up this delectable slice of early 2000s emo culture yourself, here’s a link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gd9OhYroLN0

‘Crawling’ begins with a spacey tempo setup that sounds reminiscent of the best parts of the music of the 80’s. Think the intro to ‘Shout’ by Tears for Fears. Similar musical idea. It gets my brain muscle flexing before the song even starts. Then that always recognizable chorus comes in, sung, (nigh screamed), by Bennington with a grating intensity like a blender filled with shards of steel rebar.

Crawling in my skin
These wounds, They will not heal
Fear is how I fall
Confusing what is real.

The wounds being discussed are, of course, psychological. They’re the wounds of mental anguish that don’t heal nearly as easily as physical wounds, barring getting hit by a bus or having an arm chainsawed off. Fear of the effects of these ‘wounds’ gives us pause, contributes to the inaction of depression via confusion. The mind starts to play tricks on you and you imagine things in others, and yourself, that aren’t necessarily there.

The first verse laments the effects of the wounds mentioned in the chorus in a general fashion.

There’s something inside me that pulls beneath the surface
Consuming, Confusing
This lack of self-control I fear is neverending
Controlling, I can’t seem

To find myself again
My walls are closing in, 
(Without a sense of confidence, I’m convinced
That there’s just too much pressure to take.)
I’ve felt this way before,
So insecure.

Depression is an insidious predator, one that steadily tugs at the edge of perception pulling bit by bit, steadily undermining any sense of self or psyche. It’s a bizarre diminutive gnome with a pickax and a malicious smile, eyes dripping with green ooze.

There’s something casual in the constancy of its efforts, almost mirrored by the melancholic mood of these first few lines. Again, confusion is mentioned, the meaning of things clouded by your own thoughts that don’t necessarily match up with reality, obfuscated by idiotic neurochemistry. The fear of losing yourself, lost in a sea of events beyond your control, is something very real in a society that prizes the superficial at every turn. What self you do create in your early years can easily disintegrate under external pressure, scattered and diffuse. A divorce here. A vicious social humiliation there. And you’re set afloat. Off you go. Free, but not.

It grows harder to gain confidence in yourself. The depressive state is a cycle. ‘Felt this way before, So insecure’ clearly referencing this, that old familiar feeling, that tugging and unraveling begins. It’s an eternal battle, a modern Valhalla, hell, one that has probably gone on forever but labeled as simply a melancholic disposition in centuries past, chalked up as an excess of black bile. The timelessness factor is referenced again in the second verse.

Discomfort endlessly has pulled itself upon me,
Distracting, reacting
Against my will, I stand beside my own reflection
It’s haunting how I can’t seem

To find myself again
My walls are closing in, etc.

The usage of the word ‘discomfort’ is noteworthy in that it implies the underhanded nature of depression’s attack, coming steadily, a ceaseless discomfort like a hangnail that can’t be pulled. It distracts us from everything with its perpetual nature finally forcing us to stare back at our fragmented sense of self, haunted by our inability to ‘find ourselves’. And again the walls close in.

The song is striking in its lyrical simplicity, making it easy to imprint upon it a personal interpretation. This is part of the reason it has such an enduring popularity. The delivery of the piece with a mix of Bennington’s harsh and soft tones steers you toward a particularly introspective interpretation no matter who you are and what you’ve gone through. Most of the songs on Hybrid Theory have that sort of grassroots simplicity where it’s frightfully easy to see a reflection of yourself in your interpretation of the songs.

Hybrid Theory was succeeded by the album, ‘Meteora’, three years later. Stylistically, it bears many of the same traits as Hybrid Theory with a mix of Bennington’s sung vocals and Shinoda’s raps again over introspective lyrics. The sixth track on the album is the song, ‘Easier to Run’ which is something of a spiritual successor to ‘Crawling’, possessing many similar characteristics. And while I enjoy Hybrid Theory far more as a complete work, ‘Easier to Run’ is probably my favorite song by the band.

Meteora
Keeping up an interesting album aesthetic here. Where the first album cover was clearly influenced by graffiti, this one makes the reference even more overt.

It begins with a different flavor of that spacey 80’s introduction of the musical ideas of the song, into a trademark Bennington chorus, once again. Here’s the link for those of you too lazy to look it up, but somehow not too lazy to read a three-thousand word blog on a depressive’s interpretations of songs from a decade and a half ago: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W3RiDJ8_3Lo

It’s easier to run
Replacing this pain with something numb
It’s so much easier to go
Than face all this pain here all alone

The impulse when faced with depression, or, for that matter, any serious tragedy is denial or running away. Fight or flight is built into our DNA. It’s part of what makes us human. You seek to replace the pain of the experience with something else that ends up being hollow and token because you’re not facing what’s actually bothering you. I’ve seen far too many of my peers turn to alcohol or self-harm. It’s just easier and all too tempting rather than facing what you need to face. The loneliness is significant as well because depression as an entity is at its most powerful when you feel the most alone. We are hardwired to be social creatures, even awkward bizarro world misanthropes like yours truly.

A person that commits suicide is, at that moment, the loneliest person on the planet.

Something has been taken from deep inside of me
A secret I’ve kept locked away no one can ever see
Wounds so deep they never show, they never go away
Like moving pictures in my head, for years and years they’ve played

If I could change, I would, take back the pain, I would
Retrace every wrong move that I made, I would
If I could stand up and take the blame, I would
If I could take all the shame to the grave, I would
If I could change, I would, take back the pain, I would
Retrace every wrong move that I made, I would
If I could stand up and take the blame, I would
I would take all my shame to the grave

We all lose bits and pieces of ourselves along the road of life, in the lost loves, in the dead grandpas, in the muggings in some Chicago back alley. Some of these wounds, there’s that concept of physical agonies used to metaphorically illustrate mental anguish again, are so grievous that it’s tempting to bury them in our subconsciousness, especially when they compound one after the other.

It gets to the point where you have to recite a novel to any new person you meet for them to adequately understand where your personality comes from. My dad buried everything, all the time, the truth only coming out after a few shots of 151 and the only the finest of plastic bottle vodkas. They’re always there replaying in segments in the cinema of the mind, some times more than others. It’s the gnawing regrets of life, playing back for eternity in unchanging stills, movement taking place like a flip book animation with a two-thirds of the pages missing, the rest becoming worn and frayed with time and constant handling.

This is followed by the placatory refrain, promising self-change to alter the regrets. Even if it means accepting responsibility for personal inequities. It’s the futility and necessity of begging for change when such a thing is impossible.

This is followed by what is probably my favorite verse in the Linkin Park discography.

Sometimes, I remember the darkness of my past
Bringing back these memories I wish I didn’t have
Sometimes, I think of letting go and never looking back
And never moving forward so there’d never be a past

The past can be a harrowing place for those who’ve accumulated enough negative memories to be curmudgeonly at age twenty. Darkness is always a word of cliche. But there is something beautiful in its simplicity here. Those memories playing in bits and pieces in that old dollar theater of the mind come to the forefront with a grim tone and we all start considering more desperate measures to handle the burden. It paralyzes us into indecision and hopelessness.

But, hey, only sometimes.

The moral of the song is that although it’s easier to run, it isn’t really the best decision. It leaves you open to becoming numb. Being emotionally numb is worse than being in emotional pain.

Possibly the most emo statement ever put to paper. Fitting for my love of initial Linkin Park. But, at least with pain, you feel something.

Linkin Park fell off of my radar after their third album dropped and they became a bit more mainstream rock in sound and political in lyrics. While I didn’t mind the political talk, the conventional rock direction pushed me away as I was attracted to the odd synthesis of metal and hip-hop they had in their earlier material, which my cursory research reveals was a conscious decision to distance themselves from the nu metal sound with which they started.

That’s fair. Perfectly I can respect the artistic integrity and the drive to try something dramatically different from what they were known for. But, apart from a few more notable introspective moments like ‘Leave Out All the Rest’ and ‘Shadow of the Day’, the album is fairly unremarkable. My lack of enthusiasm extended to the albums released after Midnight that I’m unfamiliar with.

Minutes to Midnight
Aaaaaand, now we’re generic rock band staring mournfully off into the ocean like we don’t care we’re on an album cover? 

Faith plus one
Like. C’mon. Minutes to Midnight’s cover looks like something Cartman would come up with if he was trying to just do generic rock and not faith rock.

That’s fair. Perfectly fair, really.  I can respect the artistic integrity and the drive to try something dramatically different from what they were known for and I don’t expect any creative entity’s spirit to remain unchanged over vast swaths of time in the entertainment industry. But, apart from a few more notable introspective moments like ‘Leave Out All the Rest’ and ‘Shadow of the Day’, along with a few other notable moments, the album was fairly unremarkable to me. My lack of enthusiasm extended to the albums released after Midnight that I’m quite unfamiliar with.

I’m tapering off a bit.

But this is just where the band’s emotional significance for me ends. I’ve evolved from an emotional child to an emotional adult.

So, take all this with a massive grain of salt. I’m just some twenty-something talking about a band that I enjoyed during my formative years on the internet to a consistent audience of about five people. This isn’t a comprehensive review or anything academic. And I’m OK with that.

The lead singer, Chester Bennington, saw fit to take his own life a few days ago and I, like many I’m sure, have seen fit to go on a listening spree to celebrate the memory of what was lost, of what I once loved and what spoke to me and still does. He lost the battle with his demons. The outpouring of love and support from the myriad fans even on my diminutive social media presence has been pretty amazing.

Got me thinking a bit.

But what of those who take their own lives that aren’t the artists, that aren’t the ones who will be celebrated?

In other words, what of the me’s? All it takes is one really bad day. Hell, I’ve had six of those days in my life. Six times when that vicious cycle has laid me at its lowest point. I’m not ashamed. It’s part of who I am now. But every time I’ve come back. I’ve come away stronger, ever more convinced that I can beat my demons. No pity or sympathy needed or expected.

Ever.

But, it bears repeating, all it takes is one bad day. It’s a tough thing to acknowledge. Something that caused this blog to be so long in coming. I knew talking about why I like this band would be an intensely personal experience with the news of the past few days everywhere. A Facebook tab open here, some coffee there. All to avoid saying this out loud like some absurd scarlet letter. My love for some old cliche emotional generalities, a unique creative voice, and my daily battles with some creepy looking gnome.

So, stay true, as a white goose once told me, my friends. Hug your loved ones and your friends and that gibbering homeless gent on the corner. We all reach that precipice, sometimes, and, in the end, though it is us that must make the conscious choice to pull back, we can help each other through this. Don’t be afraid to reach out. Follow your dreams in this one and only life you have to live.

All that cliche shit.

Pleasant eve to yeh, lasses and laddies. Apologies for the tardiness in blog delivery. Hopefully, this one turned out all right. It was a bit of a spur of the moment decision when I got the news of the suicide and I decided to take a bit of extra time on it. Back on track soon. Promises to yeh, legionnaires.

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