Chester Bennington was never afraid to bare his soul within his lyrics, and his artistry was a cathartic necessity. Perhaps naturally then, the late singer’s favourite song by Linkin Park is one where he is unflinchingly honest, and it makes for a heartbreaking listen.
His openness about mental health and substance abuse struggles made fans relate to Bennington intensely. Perhaps no moment in their career is more direct, frank, and forthright than ‘Breaking The Habit’, which appeared on 2003’s Meteora.
The song is written from the perspective of a protagonist who is fighting their demons. It features on the bone lyrics such as, “You all assume I’m safe here in my room unless I try to start again”.
Due to Bennington dying by suicide in 2017, the song’s origin has often been misconstrued. The seed for it was planted by Mike Shinoda before he’d even met the singer after seeing one of his other close friends grappling with addiction.
He’d been trying to get the lyrics right for years but couldn’t quite do it justice as it was a topic that needed to be approached correctly. Although Bennington didn’t write it, innately, he connected on a visceral level with ‘Breaking The Habit’ that only someone who’s been through that struggle first-hand could, and he injected his vocals with the pain he’d amassed from his fight with addiction.
Shinoda once explained: “This was going to be an instrumental track that was ten minutes long. The guys convinced me to turn it into a full song. I’m proud of this song in a lot of ways. I put a lot of work into it. I just think it’s really powerful. Chester’s performance is one of his best. Lyrically, it’s kind of just about getting away from the parts of you that you do not like. It goes into a great deal about that type of situation.”
Bennington had no idea about the song’s subject until they were in the recording studio, and Shinoda passed him the lyrics. Instantly, he was reduced to tears but somehow found a way to channel his emotion into his vocal delivery.
“The song that really got me straight to the core was ‘Breaking The Habit’ off of Meteora,” Bennington once told MTV when asked about his favourite Linkin Park song. “Mike had written the song and he hands me a sheet with the lyrics on it, and I’m reading them and listening to them and it was like waterworks. I felt like he was writing about my life.”
He continued: “That song was very hard for me to record. I get all teared-up thinking about it right now. I’d have to stop, gather myself. I’d get through two lines, start crying, leave the room, come back in. I was like, ‘I can’t do this.'”
When you listen back to the recording, it’s hard not to get emotional, especially when you consider the tragic way we lost Bennington. While it isn’t one of Linkin Park’s most famous songs, understandably for personal reasons, the singer naturally had an unparalleled attachment to it, and it’s also a track that has helped thousands who found themselves in a similar situation.