An artist once famously told me there’s no such thing as a ‘guilty pleasure’ when it comes to your own musical biography since every aspect helped shaping you into the person you are today. And if you’re cool with that person even a few missteps on your way to the here and now won’t change that. So, needless to say I don’t feel guilty when I say: I used to really love US nu-metal rockers Limp Bizkit. Well, who didn’t in my g-g-generation? For a brief period of two years that weird formation from Jacksonville was one of the biggest groups of the planet and at the turn of the century they were pretty much inevitable if you happen to be a teenage kid. Two decades later this whole phenomenon feels extremely weird and embarrassing on many levels … but looking at Limp Bizkit and the whole so called “alternative rock scene” of that time with a few years distance I can’t help but seeing patterns that might have already hinted on the catastrophic state the USA are at the moment. A record like 2000’s Chocolate Starfish And The Hot Dog Flavoured Water might have been a generation-defining classic in retrospect but it’s also a testament of misogynist sexism, white privilege, apolitical ignorance and a few of those things that divided the once so glory nation and brought it on the brink of catastrophe twenty years later.
I won’t bother you with the short-lived biography of the band right here, we got Wikipedia for that but back then it felt like Limp Bizkit were suddenly everywhere. While their 1997 debut Three Dollar Bill, Y’all was still quite a rough underground affair, their chart-topping follow-up Significant Other from 1999 throw them straight into the mainstream along with fellow nu-metal groups Korn, Papa Roach, Deftones or Puddle Of Mudd. The short-lived ‘nu metal’ genre was a weird outgrowth that felt like a heavier version of the early 90s cross-over genre in which bands like Faith No More more or less successfully mixed the hard post-grunge guitar sounds with the rap flow of hip hop. Limp Bizkit took that thing one step further – harder guitars, more swearing but also more catchy hooks. In retrospect I think that’s what really attracted me to the band when I was around 15. I was actually a shy pop kid but was keen to hide my Pet Shop Boys CDs in the back of my backpack. In order to appeal to the cooler kids in school I tried my best to musically blend in but it was tough.
Marilyn Manson was a big thing back then but I always considered him to be a weird clown, Korn where also quite a thing in my school but most of their songs were pretty lame (Freak On A Leash is still a beast though). Deftones were a certain door opener for me, thanks to the fragile more melodic melancholia their songs spread and then there were Limp Bizkit. An uncompromising loud rock band with pop appeal and a middle-finger swinging leader named Fred Durst. The self-proclaimed ‘redneck fucker from Jacksonville’ was quite a big thing in those late glorious days of MTV megalomania. He became a bad boy that was suitable for daytime mainstream television. He wasn’t the most profound songwriter. I mean, even I sensed that back then. In terms of lyrical depth Limp Bizkit not even scratched the surface. Most of the songs felt like uncontrolled outlets for Durst’s frustration with the world. Just take a song like Break Stuff which is three minutes of Durst having a really bad day and yelling at everybody. He never went further inside his brain to explore the source for that hate, it was simply there. Oh, well, and often it was about getting rejected by women (how dare they???) and addressing hate against them. As catchy as the track Nookie was but they key message of Durst was “I was only nice to get into her pants – and now screw off.” He later also wrote the song Eat You Alive after Britney Spears infamously rejected him, a women twelve years younger than him.
When nonsense meets ignorance
Limp Bizkit were already quite a thing when their third LP Chocolate Starfish And The Hot Dog Flavoured Water arrived in October 2000 but when we speak in rock and roll analogies this was their own Nevermind, an album that fully merged the former subculture sound with mainstream pop. Durst and his bandmates might once have started as an alternative to the plastic pop of the late 90s but they were suddenly a crucial part of exactly that scene. The record was packed with catchy anthems that sounded big but had nothing to say. My Generation is one of the weakest and pointless ‘generation anthems’ in the history of music, My Way got nothing to say except that Durst goes “his way on the highway”. No freakin’ way? And then of course there’s Rollin’ which I still absolutely love but maybe because it’s such a cheesy outburst of stupidity. Everything about this track, including the music video which saw the band performing on top of the World Trade Center, had go-go-dancers styled as Fred Durst and a weird Ben Stiller cameo, was ridiculous. But it’s a hit and Wes Borland’s guitar play is really on point here. Speaking of – I think Borland really deserves a bit more credit here. He quickly left the band after this album as it has gotten too ridiculous for him and he wanted to do less compromises. His costumes were always quite a visual highlight of the band’s performances and he might have been the only real musical talent of the band after all. The entire album was an oversaturated piece of nonsense of a band that promised eternal adolescence and carelessness without consequences. Did you know that ‘chocolate starfish’ is a synonym for the human asshole? I leave it up to you to search for the meaning of the ‘hot dog flavoured water’.
The album was a bit too much of everything but I enjoyed it a lot back then… well, at least I thought so. I was never really sure how honest my admiration for the band really was or if I was so keen to musically blend in that I mixed-up things and mistook my longing for conformation with love. So, of course I started wearing baggy pants and spend a way too enormous amount of money to get an original baseball cap in the same way Fred Durst so infamously wore it (although mine was blue). That period probably latest only one summer before I moved on to goth territory if I remember correctly. As much as it fitted in the time back then as much does the whole concept of Limp Bizkit feel outdated twenty years later. Loud guitar music isn’t exactly en vogue today anyway but the rest of it? Fred Durst hat nothing to say, no political message at all. The mainly male and white fans of the band were trained to obey, channel their frustration through the band and also consume music and merchandise.
The band was a testament of late 90s American arrogance, a neo-liberal rock and roll product that seem to didn’t care about anything else but themselves and their popularity.
There’s an overall egocentric message Limp Bizkit spread – fuck all the others, go your own way, screw the haters. Don’t reach out and grab the hand of the person next to you, show them the middle finger instead. There was a cynical coldness in this music and this band, something incredibly shallow and superficial. It perfectly fitted into a society where the capitalistic consumer lifestyle aka the good ol’ “American way of life” was on its peak. The downfall was inevitable and maybe it’s pure coincidence that Limp Bizkit were the final band to shoot on the World Trade Center before 9/11 happened a few months later. That event was a key moment in the country’s history, one that set the demise of the American dream in motion, something that’s about to peak in the country’s most defining presidential election ever in a few weeks.
Before the American dream turned into a nightmare
Shortly after the Twin towers collapsed the career of Limp Bizkit did the same. Wes Borland left the group and the follow-up record Results May Very was a huge flop, besides that popular yet horrible The Who cover Behind Blue Eyes. Even after Borland joined the band again a few years later they never reached that level again, they became ‘insignificant other’ (really not sorry for that pun). They haven’t released a record in ten years and the world is certainly not waiting for one. Ironically I attended a Limp Bizkit show three years ago. Why? Because I owed it to my 16-year old self who had tickets for their tour back in 2001 but then Fred Durst hurt his back, the tour was cancelled and I quickly lost interest. But then a colleague got free tickets in 2017 and I thought: Well, fuck it! I was still fascinated by the fact how they were still able to attract around 9000 people in Berlin without a proper hit record in fifteen years. Well, speaking of impact, right? The show was solid and I found myself in a constant rollercoaster ride between the emotional extremes “God, this is awful” and “It’s freakin’ amazing.” It was like a nostalgic circus show only with really sad clowns on stage, men in their late forties facing their own insignificance and maybe that’s why a patriarchal rock band like this wouldn’t work again in the year 2020.
The world has changed, it gotten more diverse, more female, more political and more urgent on so many levels. Saying nothing is not an option anymore and that’s even worse for a group that already had nothing to say in their prime.
I still owe you an explanation regarding the clickbaiting headline. There’s probably not a direct relationship between Limp Bizkit and Donald Trump (although you never know these days) but the band’s attitude was an allegory for a generation that was so blinded by the promises of capitalism and America that they simply stopped caring about their country and the people around them in some way. The whole “politics are bullshit” spirit in combination with toxic masculinity and a certain fascination for dumbing down things slowly lead the country to a path into the impending collapse. The level of ignorance this band and many other groups of that genre (and era of the late 90s/ early 00s) represented had an direct impact on many people growing up with their music. Hate was a comforting answer for everything, weakness was no option and if you are told to constantly throw your own frustration into the faces of others it’s not a total surprise that the American dream is dead and the country is as divided as never before. I’m pretty sure a few of those baggy pants wearing kids from back in the day are now dedicated Trump voters and with circumstances like these you can’t even blame them. It’s always easy to talk about these things in retrospect. Of course I didn’t know many of these things back then but I’m lucky that I musically moved on. I’m not ashamed of the past as I am cool with were we are right now. I can still enjoy some of these tunes with a feeling of nostalgia but I’m also happy that the band is history for now. A lot of this attitude however is still deeply rooted in many people and changing that is quite as challenge. But if we manage to leave some of these patterns behind this generation might have achieved way more than that once so stupid anthem of this band implied, right?