I Can’t Feel The Way I Did Before

Twenty years ago I was sixteen, still a few years off from even comprehending what twenty years felt like. Every responsibility I have now was merely a pipe dream. Kids? Wife? Mortgage? I couldn’t begin to imagine how far away these concepts were back then. In 2003, my primary concern was getting a driver’s license. I was a suburban kid full of all of that teenage angst and disillusionment toward the world around me. I internalized every negative thought and interaction, feeling as though only I could see the cracks in the suburban façade. Linkin Park was practically handing me a tract for whatever they were preaching. Their debut album, Hybrid Theory, was my obsession. I gravitated toward their extremely catchy hooks and melodies. When they announced their second studio album, Meteora, was coming in March of 2003, it was the most important thing in my life. I had favorite musicians and bands prior to them, but no act had fully overtaken me like Linkin Park did at that time.

But as I found out- time doesn’t stop. And the only constant is change.

For those of us privileged to grow old, the passing of time can feel like spiritual surgery. We leave pieces of ourselves here and there along a time line. The knee you hyperextended when you slipped on ice healed over time, but never completely. You slept weird one night and your neck has never felt the same since. In February of 2003, I sprained both of my ankles. By the time lefty had healed after I played basketball in oxford shoes, I managed to overcompensate stepping on a curb with righty. I hadn’t sprained anything prior to then, and I haven’t done so since. They were simply two anomalies that happened almost simultaneously. So naturally, any time I feel the weather change in either of those joints, I’m pulled ever-so-briefly into the winter of 2003.

I remember hearing “Somewhere I Belong”, the lead single from Meteora on the radio. I knew it was going to debut on Q101, Chicago’s “alternative” station, on February 24. The benefit of being homeschooled in my high school years was that I could structure my day around things other than school. In this case, listening to the radio for a few hours. I had a cassette tape queued up for the moment. Recording off of the radio was still one of the most efficient ways to have a particular song readily available.

I had to keep it down, as my stepdad sometimes worked from home, often set up at the kitchen table or our home computer in the next room. So when the moment came, I pressed play/record on my stereo and turned the volume up to the loudest appropriate volume. The song was like nothing I had ever heard before. It was everything I hoped it would be. The reversed playback of… some instrument?? The slow build up to the signature layered, heavy guitars. The perfect balance of Chester Bennington singing and Mike Shinoda rapping. The even heavier bridge. I was so happy, I forgot about my ankle and stood up. Pain shot up my right leg, sending me to the ground. It felt like I had re-injured the ankle, but the serotonin rush of my favorite band… ***MY*** favorite band putting out a new song was stronger than that.

A month later, the album was out. I had GREATLY overestimated the band’s appeal. I vividly remember preordering the deluxe edition at Coconuts, then telling my best friend that I didn’t think there would be any of that version for him when my stepdad drove us there to pick it up the morning of the release. Despite debuting on the Billboard charts at number one, selling over 800,000 copies that first week, those deluxe editions were on shelves for many years. They actually outlived the Merrillville, Indiana Coconuts store itself, which closed up shop in the mid-aughts.

Within two years, I was too grown and too cultured for Linkin Park. Kanye West’s The College Dropout had helped redraw my music tastes dramatically. I got into more layered and “conscious” music. I mean, that happens in college, right? Listen to pretentious music and pretend to be too enlightened for commercial stuff. Even my tendencies toward pop music shifted to artists who made songs that mattered, whatever that meant.

Nostalgia is a son of a bitch, and despite not even giving their third album, Minutes to Midnight, any time of day, I still loved Meteora. It was that weird, half-ironic listening where friends and I would play it and pretend it was silly or childish and subtly ignore that we still knew every word. It was important to me, even if I tried to pretend it wasn’t. Like the ankle that was never as strong as it was before, Linkin Park had become a phantom arm, still emphatically gesturing during songs like “Faint” and “Nobody’s Listening”.

By the end of the decade, the indie bubble led by websites like Pitchfork and Stereogum had a firm grasp on me. People around me at school knew bands like Animal Collective, Cymbals Eat Guitars, The Antlers, and Beirut. Hell, even the most mainstream of publications like Rolling Stone had AnCo’s album Merriweather Post Pavilion as its number one of the year. And rightfully so! It was complex and took risks and everything we told ourselves was important for music to do for whatever reason.

At the end of the day, at the end of the life, we just want something to connect with. Even though I’d blast Spoon or LCD Soundsystem out of my car on the Purdue Calumet campus, I’d still run across my Meteora CD and think ‘I used to love this. I wonder if it holds up.’ The towering, heavy melody in the bridge on “Numb” still ran through me like a second bloodstream.

Linkin Park changed their sound and changed back and made songs for Transformers movies and became a ubiquitous rock band in film trailers and public spaces.

Years later, my daughter would connect with a song of theirs following the death of her paternal great grandmother. It was “One More Light”, a song that came out on an album of the same name in 2017.

Celebrity deaths are a strange conversation. Nearly every instance, the pain we feel was from a one-dimensional interaction. They did something that made us feel something, but never knew it on a personal level. No celebrity death made me feel what I felt when I learned Chester Bennington had died just two months after the release of One More Light. I worked at an office in downtown Indianapolis, across the hall from the woman I’d marry that September. I can still remember breaking the news to her, both of us feeling a strangeness about it. She, three months my junior, had experienced the band at that same formative age. She had also grown up and grown out of the age in which Linkin Park had an emotional impact.

But the past never leaves. When something is important, it sticks with us forever. It’s that swollen ankle that aches when it rains.

When I learned how he had died, it hit harder. Nearly ten years earlier, I had made an attempt on my own life, a moment that lingers with every breath I take now. Clinical depression is like living with a second head, one at times has left me believing things I knew weren’t true about myself. But mental illness is just that- an illness. Unfortunately, just like physical illness, it takes victims. Learning Bennington had taken his own life broke me. Something was always going to be different in the way I heard his band’s music.

Chester Bennington was 41 when he died. This past December, I began my 37th year. If I’m so privileged, I’ll be older than he ever was in a few years. It hurts to think about how time just keeps moving.

The youth we took for granted ages into a different youth we’ll take for granted. Those worries and responsibilities we have at sixteen feel like child’s play when we’re thirty-six. Our interests change, our beliefs change, but the past never leaves. It aches like the scar tissue that acts like a participation trophy for being a living thing. We leave pieces and parts of ourselves along the trail that becomes our life. Some things fade out of our consciousness just as fast as they appeared.

And here I am twenty years later, listening to Linkin Park’s Meteora, singing every damn word.

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