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Linkin Park's Chester Bennington talks about stardom and anonymity

Even though Metallica headlined the wildly successful Summer Sanitarium tour in July and August, the real story at those shows involved opening bands Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park.

While L.B. seemed to be making a desperate last gasp as the top rap-metal group, L.P. was clearly brimming with new life. One could almost see the baton being passed.

Last spring, Linkin Park's second full album, "Meteora," sold 810,000 copies in its first week, buoyed by the teen-angsty single and video "Somewhere I Belong." The band was well on its way to becoming the bestselling rock act of 2003, just as it was in 2001.

More importantly, Linkin Park -- which returns to town for a nearly sold-out Xcel Energy Center concert Saturday -- did what Bizkit frontman Fred Durst apparently can't do: Shut up and rock.

In Minneapolis, Durst ran around the Metrodome posturing like a pro wrestler, tirelessly shooting his mouth off the whole time (like one former pro wrestler in particular). Linkin Park's members, on the other hand, were energetic but barely made a peep between songs.

"It's definitely one thing that's different about our two bands," L.P. singer Chester Bennington acknowledged. "[Limp Bizkit] puts on killer live shows, but the show has more to do with one man's personality.

"We'd like to think that our music will always be bigger than any one of our individual personalities."
Talking by phone from his home in Southern California a week before the kickoff of the Meteora World Tour earlier this month, Bennington admitted that he and his bandmates are relative nobodies despite the group's widespread fame.

Take 10 people who bought the group's breakthrough 2000 debut, "Hybrid Theory," and chances are only five could name both of the group's vocalists. (Rapper Mike Shinoda is the other.)

In fact, the only news about band members that sticks out in recent memory was when a rare virus sidelined Bennington for about two weeks last spring. The reports of his illness -- predictably exaggerated to deathbed status -- showed "how little there is to report on us as individuals outside the band," he said.

"Now, anytime I cough, it's on CNN," Bennington joked, adding that he's healthy now.
Fame can be costly

The members of Linkin Park -- who came together just out of high school around Los Angeles in 1996 -- aren't exactly conventional rock stars. Several are married. None is known to be a wild partyer or hard-liver.

Mostly, they're scrawny, scruffy, normal-looking guys. In the group's recent video for its downtrodden-sounding song "Numb," the bespectacled Bennington looks more like a cast member from "Revenge of the Nerds" than one from "Rock Star."

"They're definitely unassuming, casual-looking guys, and I think that works for them," said Megan Slater, a disc jockey at Twin Cities rock station 93X (93.7 FM) who has hung out with the band. "The fact that there's two frontmen really just adds to it, too, because there's no one guy acting like the star."

In Bennington's mind, the band's nondescript look and underplayed personalities are good for their personal lives.

"I can go to the store or go hang out with my buddies, and maybe just a few people will come up to me, so that's great," he said.

But he also believes staying out of the limelight is good for their musical career.

"If you're in the headlines more for the random stuff that you're doing than for your music, your fans can get irritated with that," he said.

Having seen firsthand the backlash against the celebrity-inclined Durst -- who was even booed off the stage in Chicago last summer -- Bennington said he hopes to stay out of the public limelight as long as he can.

"You can pretty easily get that kind of attention if you want it, and you can easily avoid it if you don't want it," he said. "We don't want it."

He's not one to give Durst any grief, though.

"Fred's a great guy; I really like him," he said, pointing out that Limp Bizkit "only had a couple bad nights on Summer Sanitarium, but you don't hear about all the other cities where they kicked ass."

Behind the music

So how did Linkin Park become such a huge success story without a hunky lead singer or much of a public persona? The answer really is as Bennington said it: "Our music is what people connect to."

Musically, the sextet -- which includes a DJ, Joseph Hahn -- melds the guitar-based roar of alt-metal with snippets of moodier, techno-like sounds. Also, Bennington's voice is nasal and boyish, sounding more fragile than the usual hard-rock growl. In other words, the band offers a softer, more sensitive version of rap-metal.

Linkin Park is teenagers' cathartic rock band of the day. Like Nine Inch Nails and Smashing Pumpkins before it, the band's lyrics are perfect for angry, disenchanted, black-clothed youths. Songs such as "Somewhere I Belong" or the older hit "Points of Authority" are all about alienation and pain.
"You like to think you're never wrong," Bennington sings in the latter song. "You have to act like you're someone. You want someone to hurt like you. You want to share what you've been through."

Drummer Rob Bourdon accurately described the group's more universal appeal in a recent interview with the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch: "I think, lyrically, Mike and Chester are very honest with their lyrics, but they're not too specific with what they're talking about. An older man who's at his job and frustrated, he can relate to it as well as someone who is in school."

However you want to explain Linkin Park's appeal, its success doesn't appear to be wavering. Ten months after its release, "Meteora" is still in the top 20 of Billboard's album chart, with more than 3 million copies sold.

The group's new CD/DVD, "Live in Texas" -- recorded on the Summer Sanitarium tour -- is No. 1 on Billboard's music DVD chart. Bennington said he's especially happy with its success.

"We wanted to capture the vibe of our live show, not just from the audience's perspective but ours, too," he said. "It turned out exactly the way we wanted, I think."

Of course, this continued success means that sooner or later the media are likely to catch up with the band members.

Asked what we still have to learn about the guys in Linkin Park, Bennington said, "Not a whole lot you'd be interested in."

Somehow, I think he's telling the truth.

Star Tribune - January 30, 2004



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