Chester Bennington, Chris Cornell & Scott Weiland: A Legacy of Pained Rock Powerhouses
Stone Temple Pilots singer Scott Weiland, Dec. 3, 2015. Soundgarden, Audioslave and Temple of the Dog frontman and solo artist Chris Cornell, May 18, 2017. And now Chester Bennington, singer of Linkin Park, on July 20, 2017 – found dead at 41 on his late friend Cornell’s birthday. In just over 18 months, three singers who helped define a generation of the hard rock sound, who were tied together artistically and personally, have succumbed to the very emotional pain that fueled their music and sold millions of albums over a 30-year-long period.
The ties that bind were many.
Bennington, like Cornell, was found dead by hanging just two months after the Soundgarden frontman’s death. Linkin Park and Cornell met in 2007 on tour and teamed up in 2008 on the Projekt Revolution tour; Bennington would often join Cornell to sing the Temple of the Dog classic “Hunger Strike” and even led the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday” to celebrate Cornell’s 44th birthday in 2008. “I’m such a fan. I think that’s the most important aspect of why I do what I do and how I do it,” Bennington told Rolling Stone in 2008. ”I’ve got to play with a lot of guys that I’ve grown up loving; I get to sing on stage with Chris Cornell. … I’m just like, ‘What world do I live in, ‘cause this can’t be real?’”
Bennington later became the godfather to Cornell’s son and sang Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” at the grunge rocker’s funeral in May. “You have inspired me in many ways you could never have known,” Bennington wrote to Cornell in an open letter after his death. This morning, in response to Bennington’s death, Cornell’s wife Vicky tweeted, “Just when I thought my heart couldn’t break any more...”
Bennington’s relationship to Weiland was different—the Linkin Park co-founder replaced him as the singer in Stone Temple Pilots in 2013. STP and LP met on the 2001 Family Values Tour, but Bennington had absolutely idolized STP and Weiland as a kid. In multiple interviews, Bennington had said that being a member of the Stone Temple Pilots was his lifelong dream. That came true when the members of STP fired Weiland and teamed with Bennington for a tour and five-track EP, High Rise, credited to ”Stone Temple Pilots with Chester Bennington.” ”I grew up listening to these guys,” Bennington told L.A. radio station KROQ. “When this opportunity came up, it was just like a no-brainer.” His relationship with Weiland never flagged, though, and Weiland knew Bennington didn’t join the group to spite him. Two years later Bennington would bow out of STP to spend more time with his wife and six children, and focus on new music with Linkin Park.
As children, both Bennington and Weiland were sexually abused by older men. In his book Not Dead & Not For Sale, Weiland wrote that when he was 12 years old “a high school senior … [who] rode the bus with me every day to school … invited me to his house. The dude raped me. It was quick, not pleasant. I was too scared to tell anyone.” He continued, “This is a memory I suppressed until only a few years ago when, in rehab, it came flooding back.” Bennington had said that he was also abused by an older male friend from the time he was just seven years old. “It escalated from a touchy, curious, ‘what does this thing do’ into full-on, crazy violations,” he told Kerrang! magazine in 2014. “I was getting beaten up and being forced to do things I didn’t want to do. It destroyed my self-confidence. Like most people, I was too afraid to say anything. I didn’t want people to think I was gay or that I was lying."
All three were also joined in their struggle with drugs and alcohol and depression, a struggle they channeled into their music. Soundgarden arrived first in the mid-’80s, making a name for themselves in the burgeoning Seattle scene before the band—and their contemporaries—blew up the outside world. They had an arty, heavy, but vulnerable sound, peaking with 1994’s Grammy-winning, Billboard 200-topping Superunknown—the album that brought Cornell’s pained wailing to the masses. He would also memorialize his late friend Andrew Wood, who died of a heroin overdose, with the Temple of the Dog project with members of Pearl Jam.
Next came Stone Temple Pilots out of San Diego, CA, with Weiland slithering in pink feather boas, singing about his struggles over the band’s modern, colorful twist on classic rock. Bennington, weaned on both, joined Linkin Park in 1999, soon releasing a string of albums that reached monumental success with their heavy, but modern, electronic and hip hop-influenced sound. The band was often unfairly roped into the nu-metal genre alongside bands like Korn, Limp Bizkit, and Disturbed, but were far more willing to experiment, releasing a pair of remix albums featuring underground rappers, collaborating with JAY-Z, and working electronics into their sound over seven studio albums.
All three singers served a similar role to their fans, too; Soundgarden and STP appealed to the rockers and outcasts of Generation X, while Linkin Park did the same for disaffected Millennials and Gen Zers with monster hits like “Numb,” “Crawling,” “In the End” and “One Step Closer.” Many fans reacted to the loss of Bennington on social media, recalling how his voice ushered them through high school, and posted their favorite lyrics. A meme with the lyrics to “Leave Out all the Rest,” from 2007’s Minutes to Midnight, was a favorite: “I’m strong on the surface / Not all the way through / I’ve never been perfect / But neither have you.”