Chester Bennington Remembers His Struggling Years
12.05.2008All last year on tour with his band, Linkin Park's Chester Benningotn refused to sing a top-requested song from his latest album, "Meteora." The man of black horn-rimmed glasses and seasonally shifting hair color didn't write "Breaking the Habit"; Mike Shinoda, his co-writer and co-vocalist in the multi-platinum L.A. sextet, did.
But it spoke volumes to Bennington because of his dark personal history. Cultured my cure/I tightly lock the door./I try to catch my breath again./I hurt much more/than anytime before./I have no options left again.
"When Mike wrote it, I said, 'I swear to God you wrote this song about me.'" says Bennington, phoning from Columbus, Ohio, on a break from a tour with support acts P.O.D., Hoobastank and story of the Year.
About 10 years ago, the famously high-pitched shrieker had a substance-abuse problem, which he supported by working at a Burger King in his native Phoenix. He had to skateboard to the job because he couldn't afford a car. Or even a bicycle.
Bennington -- the youngest of four whose childhood was a blur of shuttling between homes rented by his divorced parents -- owned nothing bigger than a milk crate, which is where he kept all his possessions.
"I regret being an idiot, I guess that was the case," Bennington says of his drug habit, which involved him with people he watched get pistol-whipped and hunted by angry dealers.
"But do I regret experiencing agony from that? No, because it's made me the person I am today."
At 28, Bennington now channels that agony into his stage show, where he breathes fire into the revered songs from his band's debut album, "Hybrid Theory" (the No. 1 album of 2001) and its multi-platinum follow-up, last year's "Meteora." Those songs now include "Breaking the Habit."
"It took me a long time to be able to perform the song," Bennington says, "because I had such an emotional connection. I would break down in tears."
Bennington shaped up by age 20, kicking drugs and marrying his girlfriend, Samantha. (Their boy, Draven, is two.) The couple was still so poor back then, though, their wedding rings were tattooed on their fingers for free by a friend.
An obsession-verging fan of the Stone Temple Pilots and Depeche Mode, Bennington was singing in an unknown band at the time. When Grey Daze started to draw large Arizona crowds, and L.A.-based attorney was hired to get its demos out to labels.
"I always just wanted to make a record," Bennington says. "That was a huge goal in my life."
That goal wasn't achieved with Grey Daze. But in 1999, the band's lawyer hipped Bennington to an impressive L.A. outfit looking for a new singer.
"I listened to the demo and really thought it was something," Bennington says of Xero, which changed its name to Hybrid Theory, then Linkin Park. (Most cities have a Lincoln Park, so people would take them for a local band where ever they played. The misspelling meant they wouldn't have to buy someone else's Web site address.)
Propelled by a trio of rock radio singles ("One Step Closer," "Crawling" and "In the End"), "Hybrid Theory" shocked the music world (and Linkin Park) by selling 4.8 million copies. New studio releases by both Britney Spears and 'N Sync didn't come close.
"I never imagined this type of success," says Bennington. "I don't think I've ever really dreamt about being as big as we are."
Still, not everyone reveres Linkin Park. Fox-TC recently banned the group's songs (along with those of Korn and severl other rock artists) from being performed during auditions for "American Idol." No explanation was given.
"I think it's awesome they're not letting them do that," Bennington says. "It's great that they banned our music. I think it's very thoughtful of them. I wonder why they did it. Maybe our music is too modern."
Bennington and Shinoda are currently penning new songs "American Idol" hopefuls won't be able to sing. Their tour bus is loaded with ProTools songwriting and recording software.
"We work together and separately, but we make sure that when we start writing that we're on the same page so we know what we're writing about and we understand where the focus of the emotion for the music is going to be," Benningotn says, adding that it's too early to reveal song titles.
"We just let to music do it's own thing and come together the way it wants," he says.
Linkin Park also plans a summer tour to go up against OzzFest.
"It's gonna be amazing," promises the man who can't think of what he might be doing if not music.
"If I wasn't who I am in this band, I would still be in a band somewhere else making music and having a good time," Bennington says. "I've always done this, I will always do this."
Now, Bennington says his revised career goal is "to make good music and hope other people like it."
"We're no different from any other band in the world that wants to create song and go play them for fans," he says. "We're just blessed."
"Circus" Magazine (United States) - April 2004