When You Were Young aims to reclaim the music of our misremembered youths from the scratched mix-CDs underneath our car seats. Each edition will cover music the writer loved as a teenager before moving on to “cooler” music, whatever that means. This edition covers Linkin Park.
I am 14 years old, and I am sitting at the dinner table in my Uncle Karl’s place in Wausau, Wisconsin. Karl’s old lady Pam has a couple kids my age, and the two of them who are a little older than me are talking about Hybrid Theory—which one of them got for Christmas-- and how Linkin Park are the best band out right now.
“Have you heard this? They’re from Lincoln Park, Chicago*, and they’re the best,” one of Pam’s daughters said.
Something you need to know about 14-year-old me: I am the most swaggerless person on earth at this point. I am chubby, unconfident, and I am mostly preoccupied with reading and re-reading a Star Wars Guide to Planets. I am not angry about anything, except that my town doesn’t have a Cinnabon. I am not remotely “punk”—in the Midwest “punk” means music that is angry—and at this point my teenage rebellion was limited to the time my friends and I roamed a city with Nerf guns and shot up the outside of a Walgreen’s. I am not the target market for Linkin Park in December, 2000, and I have heard 1/3 Linkin Park songs at this point.
“Oh yeah, they’re so good,” I say back.
“What’s your favorite song?,” she asks.
“Uh, the “One Step Closer” one,” I say, naming the only one whose video I saw on MTV.
“You don’t know them. You would have named one of the songs that doesn’t have a video,” she shot back.
I had just experienced, rightly, my first moments of #wellactually 9 years before I’d sign up for Twitter. I remember feeling crushed, and feeling like there was a whole world of music and things I wouldn’t understand. I also realized I probably should have just taken the loss and let these step cousins think I was the tool they were sure I was. I resolved to get the Linkin Park album. It took me six more months to have the nerve to ask my parents to allow me to buy it.
I am 28 years old and at a karaoke bar. My friend James and I are looking for a song that will make everyone in the bar—who are all basically 22 and younger—uncomfortable. We decide to do “Papercut” from Hybrid Theory. We do the song, and I never look at the screen once. I remember all the words. No one has a single reaction to us at all, except for me and James laughing like maniacs when we get off stage.
I am 16 years old and I am jealously eyeing the kid from my class who is eating down the bench from me at Burger King. He has skipped fourth period in order to drive to the downtown record store to get Meteora the day it came out. I contemplate cutting 5th period and doing the same, but I know I won’t. I’m too afraid to cut class. I have no grit. My parents would be too disappointed, and if I start cutting class, I’ll probably get addicted to drugs and accidentally overdose. I quit eating and go to the local record store for the first time and buy it.
For my generation, “rap rock” has become our hair metal; a genre that basically everyone loved, which moved tons and tons and tons of records, and which was treated as intellectually dubious, but we all act like we didn’t buy Limp Bizkit albums and watch Korn videos religiously. It’s the lost music of Millennials, mostly because we are all too close to our last Papa Roach album purchase to add it to the “Only ‘90s kids remember” irony pile.
I used to think it was unjust that Linkin Park were the only band from that era to get to continue making relevant albums, but you listen to Hybrid Theory and Meteora, and then listen to like, Kottonmouth Kings, and you realize that Linkin Park were playing on a different level even back when they had pink hair. The interplay between Mike Shinoda’s verses and Chester Bennington’s tortured wails were like a guy having a conversation with the sadder, angrier voice in his head. There’s something about that that is so much like being a teenager. I venture that that has as much to do with Linkin Park scaling back on the rapping as it does rap rock falling out of fashion. That dichotomy of your inner voice being so angry and self-destructive is easier to access when you’re 22 than when you’re 32.
I can’t listen to any part of Meteora without thinking about things I did in that van. When I hear “Breaking the Habit,” I remember sitting in the open side door at the storage lockers and eating the two slices of pizza I got from Fazoli’s dive-thru. I can’t hear “Numb” without remembering the time I got pulled over for going 45 in a 30, and got away with just a warning. I can’t hear “Lying From You” without thinking about the amount of times I almost went to Target to see the girl I had a crush on basically all of high school.
I never went in. I just listened to Linkin Park and drove by Target thinking about going in.
I am 29 years old and I am listening to the first half of Hybrid Theory via Spotify. In the quiet moments between tracks, and during the 700 Sam Adams ads I always get because I’m too cheap to pay for a subscription, I think about how Hybrid Theory is maybe one of 10 “rock” albums from this century that are stone cold classics. I think about how I used to replay “In the End” over and over while I played Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 on my PSOne.
I also think about how, when I was a freshman in college, I basically stopped listening to all the music that I loved a year earlier, mostly because I felt like that music wasn’t “serious” enough to represent me to a new peer group. The irony is that I spent most of my first two years in college only hanging out with my high school friends, and floating around campus like one of those extras that lurk in the background of every good movie about college or school. We’re there to prove that the school is “real,” but our stories are never writ large on the narrative arc of anything happening at the nucleus.
I eventually became who I “wanted to be,” via writing for my college’s newspaper, but I didn’t take Linkin Park with me on that journey. I would bet I didn’t listen to Meteora again till I was 27, 10 years after it defined an entire summer for me.
I guess I could feel sad about that, but mostly I feel sad for myself at all the points before I quit listening to Linkin Park regularly. I feel sad that I was too nervous to go anywhere cool, or too scared to talk to people.
I listened to Linkin Park for four years. They weren’t the only band I listened to, but sometimes it felt like it. I feel like certain bands can take over your memories so that all you remember from certain periods of your life is their music. Linkin Park are a band like that for me.
I’m going to go listen to Meteora now.
*- I still have no idea if this is true. I assume it is? I don’t care enough to fact check this.
Andrew Winistorfer is VMP’s Classics & Country Director, and a writer and editor of their books, 100 Albums You Need In Your Collection and The Best Record Stores In The United States. He’s written Listening Notes for more than 20 VMP releases, and co-produced the VMP Anthologies The Story of Philadelphia International Records, The Story of Quincy Jones, The Story of Impulse and the VMP Classics release of Nat Turner Rebellion's Laugh to Keep From Crying, and executive produced the VMP Anthology The Story of Vanguard. He lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
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