One Step Closer
You hear it first at a house party.
It’s that liquid dusk of adolescence, where cliques coalesce quickly. Binge drinkers on the balcony, smokers in the backyard. In the parents’ study, the early adopters are figuring out how to fashion a bong from a Gatorade bottle. And here in the bedroom, where the only functioning Hi-Fi system is, are the rockers.
You’re not sure if you’re a rocker yet. One foot in either camp, seeing what the girls gravitate towards. Always the crowd pleaser, trying on 50 Cent for size one minute, skipping over to Red Hot Chili Peppers the next. But the evidence is mounting. You play the drums, you’re in a band, gel your hair in spiky tips and write secret poems about dying. Doomed to be a teen rocker, though you don’t know it yet.
In the dank room that smells too much like Lynx Africa, there’s a minor squabble before Akerman emerges victorious, slipping a shiny new burnt disc from his battered black CD wallet and jamming it into the system.
In the ensuing decades, it will not be a strong look to admit that you had a life-altering moment listening to a Linkin Park mp3 ripped straight from the bowels of the Internet. Nu-metal, the divisive genre this group perfects to the tune of diamond sales across the world, is persona non grata for serious music heads. It’s juvenile. It’s reductive. It’s often misogynist. But right here in a beige, middle class suburb wrapped around two golf courses on this, your 13th year on Earth, you absolutely fucking love it.
The song is called ‘Papercut’ and it is the loudest, most propulsive thing you’ve ever had smashed through your ears. It’s the kind of music that consumes and obliviates you, firing on all cylinders as it maxes out within the first 5 seconds and never lets up. It is a dangerously over-stacked blender of electronic and rap and heavy metal and pop. There is no God for Linkin Park, no sanctity or rules. So much is stuffed into Papercut that it almost defies belief. You keep staring through the dark and weed smoke at Josh’s blue plastic Hi-Fi system, waiting for it to catch fire and melt.
Linkin Park officially has two singers, but in this formative moment, only one matters to you. His name is Chester Bennington. When he sings it’s more like screaming; a writhing, venomous snake uncoiling itself from within his diaphragm and slithering viciously out of his larynx. It is a pain that is so deep it is lava and you can feel it, more than anything you’ve felt in your very limited life.
Chester makes the tiny hairs on the inside of your eardrum quiver. It seems to you as though he throws his body against the wall with every note. He is shouting, screeching, singing, snarling, sucking up all of the oxygen and starting again. His capacity to do this seems infinite.
He is hurting himself, and though there isn’t yet anything in your life to match this pain, you are drawn to it. It is mouth-watering, it is raw and as you sit cross-legged on your best friend’s bed, watching the rockers headbang around the room in saggy jeans, you overcome with a hunger for more of it, all the time. You want to eat this anger, eat it until you are beyond full, bloated, belching and retching fire.
You do the only sensible thing; go home, steal Dad’s wallet and sign up for the Linkin Park fan club online. It’s only 30 US dollars and you are not yet aware of the twin devils that are Terms and Conditions. When your father storms in one evening to ask if you know who’s charged him 500 bucks in foreign currency, it doesn’t help that you’re wearing their thick black Gildan band shirt that’s two sizes too big and blasting their album at full tilt.
He’d be furious either way. But as it turns out, he really dislikes this kind of music.
‘What is this garbage?’ he asks, snatching the pristine jewel case from your hands and reading the track listing on the back. ‘Crawling. Runaway. By Myself. In The End…’
You pout and refuse to answer. You are a teenage boy, this is in your code of conduct. It is allowed. It is expected.
‘Jesus,’ he says, aggressively turning down the volume. ‘Talk about music to slit your wrists by.’
It takes your Dad three emails and two heated international calls to cancel your membership. You are unofficially grounded and spend the summer working shifts at the surgery to pay back the bill. But the rabbit is out of the hat, and you can’t stuff it back in. You have discovered them all, drawing a line backwards in a flurry of proto-search engine, pre-Wikipedia research; Nirvana, Soundgarden, Foo Fighters, Queens of The Stone Age, Korn, Metallica, Marylin Manson, Nine Inch Nails.
Your head and heart are filled with black bleakness in the perennially sun-drenched city. It is delicious, and you are starving.
An entire universe of music to slit your wrists by.