If there’s one thing that hard rock, grunge, nu metal—whatever you might categorize it—does well, it’s drawing up every thorn, every slash of angst that digs into everyone at some point in their existence.
While some drown the pain or attempt to irgnore it, rock musicians drag the drowning skeletons from the deep, holding them up for all to see. And that’s always been rock’s calling card: a catharsis rather than a cover-up of all the brokenness.
Bands like Korn charged onto the rock scene in the mid 1990s, carrying every shred of agony with them to the stage, and people responded. Korn’s frontman Jonathan Davis sang, serenaded, and screamed lyrics that drew fans with the same kind of agony. Korn didn’t inoculate its fans from the agony; no, the band’s lyrics meant to give a voice to the agony, to give people a go-ahead to put a hand over their scars and realize they were still there, still alive even though they knew what it was like to have their hearts bleed.
Korn’s 1994 hit single, “Blind” illustrates why so many gravitated to hard rock.
Deeper and deeper and deeper
As I dream to live a life that seems to be a lost reality
That I can never find a way to reach my inner…
Self-esteem is low, how deep can I go in the ground that I lay?
If I don’t find a way to see through the gray that clouds my mind
This time I look to see what’s between the lines
Everyone’s seeking their way home, a way to surface from whatever skeletons and injustices have plunged them into a confused, numb existence. Artists like Kurt Cobain and Chris Cornell articulated the hopelessness that snuffed out so many around them.
Fans sang their songs and thought them their voice, their inspiration—even their medication. For kids like me born in the late 1990s, we grew up listening to bands who drew their inspiration from guys like Cobain and Cornell. For instance, my favorite band, Breaking Benjamin, cites Nirvana as one of its strongest influences.
But what happens when the music stops, when the musicians who gave a voice to so many fans, have to reckon with their demons? Who grabs the mic, the guitar, and the pen and notepad from them? Who reaches the singers who sing for the broken when they themselves have lost their way?
Kurt Cobain committed suicide in 1994. Chris Cornell did the same in May 2017. This July 20th, Chester Bennington, singer for Linkin Park, took his life as well.
Seeing these pillars take their lives has shaken a lot of rock fans. These men, the very same guys who penned lyrics that awoke people from their torment, snuffed out their own lives.
One thing remains certain. No one will listen to Soundgarden’s (Cornell’s band) “Black Hole Sun” again without a slight quiver in their throat.
Now, with Bennington’s suicide, how can fans not hear Linkin Park’s “In the End” as an eerie anthem, an almost prophetic euology?
I tried so hard
And got so far
But in the end
It doesn’t even matter
I had to fall
To lose it all
But in the end
It doesn’t even matter
But it does all matter to the fans, especially in the end. When bands are on stage playing, headbanging, and harmonizing all their pain, all the fans headbang right along. But they all secretly hope there is a redemption, a restoration on the horizon.
Because there has to be better days ahead after all the pain.
That’s why no one wanted to see Cobain, Cornell, or Bennington kill themselves. All of those who enjoy rock music have either followed them or followed bands who’ve been influenced by them. Those three wrote and sang what their fans felt, and for those that mourn their passing, it’s harrowing to know the songwriters who helped so many couldn’t find hope in the end.
But there’s another headbanger in the rock world who holds a hope that most fans would never approach on their own. Korn guitarist Brian “Head” Welch was addicted to meth amphetamines, struggled with anger, and battled self hatred, depression, and suicidal thoughts.
And then he found Jesus.
Welch thought Christians to be uptight and out-of-touch, but when a friend invited him to church, he decided to give it a try, knowing he had to get clean for his young daughter.
Church was not what he expected. Former gang members worshipped freely and the pastor preached a message that said, in essence, “Don’t try to clean up all your baggage and then come to Jesus. Come to Jesus with all your baggage and He’ll transform you.”
Welch went on to have intense encounters with God and experienced a transformation. He ditched the amphetamines, found peace in Scripture, and discovered his value in God’s eyes.
At times, the transformation in his life was rapid; other times, he had to walk by faith and battle his demons like any other Christian.
In 2013, he returned to Korn after a nearly eight year absence, having left in 2005. Christians wondered, “Why would he go back to that scene?”
His answer is in his post-show routine. He will have security pull 40 or so fans for a post-show meet-and-greet where he will share his testimony and pray with those willing. Korn bassist Reggie “Fieldy” Arvizu, a Christian himself will often accompany him. Welch sees Korn fans come to Christ and prays with the broken and hopeless, all the fans who come to the concerts to find a voice for their agony.
While most wouldn’t think Christianity and hard rock have no shared interests, the similarities between the two are closer than you might think. A good portion of Korn’s lyrics, along with those of other popular bands, echo the desire for better days, a hand to wrench them away from the suffering. Rock sounds like David crying out to God in the Psalms or Job wondering when the misery will end or Jeremiah weeping in Lamentations.
Whom did Jesus seek out when he walked the earth? He extended mercy to the outcasts, the sinners, the self-haters, the hopeless looking for a hope.
Jesus would be at those rock concerts, preaching and praying over the physically bruised, mentally anguished, and spiritually destitute.
He wouldn’t just reach out his healing hands to the headbangers in the crowd either. He’d open his arms to the Kurt Cobains, the Chris Cornells, the Chester Benningtons.
In fact, he stretched out his arms on a cross for our all our torment, agony, and evil. And He’s still speaking today. He’s using His Holy Spirit to work through men like Brian “Head” Welch, who’s felt the affliction to the fullest, yet encountered Christ’s light in all his darkness.
He can do that for those fans who’ve wondered what happened to their heroes, who are searching for a savior.
He can do that for the musicians who’ve found that even their own lyrics can’t provide the healing they’ve longed for.
He saved Brian Welch from himself, and He will save you too. He doesn’t want a stranger or friend or family member to open the door and find you hanging like Cornell and Bennington. He loved those musicians with such an intense love, and He did not desire that to be their end.
But God gave us a choice, the free will to determine our course of action.
So question is, “What will you choose in the midst of your agony? Where will you turn when you find that you can’t find yourself on the other side the pain, when the music isn’t enough anymore?”
But don’t take it from me. Take it from Brian Welch that music gives us a voice, that God can speak through broken people with microphones, a few guitars, and drums. And when songs like “Black Hole Sun” and “In the End” plead for someone to trust in and wash it all away—God hears those cries and is ready to hear your story and save you from yourself.
Kevin Cochrane is a writer and college student. Like what you read? Follow him on Twitter @RunFree_KC, find him on Facebook, or click the follow button at the bottom of the page to get Town Crier’s latest updates. Want to read more? Visit his blog at restandrefuge.wordpress.com which offers a Christian perspective on the surrounding culture. You can contact him with comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.