May Chester Bennington rest in peace.
I haven't listened to Linkin Park in a very long time, but it was pretty formative for me when I was a teenager. Chester had an incredible ability to capture with his voice the sort of anger, disillusionment, and yearning that so many of us--particularly adolescents--feel every day.
In the cultural context of early-2000s post-grunge alt-rock/nu-metal, Chester's music was sometimes talked about as a sort of meme--a punchline almost--a peculiar and instantly dated portrait of teenage angst. But Chester wasn't profiting from an inauthentic exploitation of young emotion; he, like all true artists, was sharing part of his soul.
I remember the first time I heard "Somewhere I Belong." There aren't many songs that I vividly remember hearing for the first time.
But that one stuck with me.
I sat at my computer in Herndon, Virginia, and eagerly streamed the new track. I became really emotional listening to the words and letting myself become enveloped in the simple but satisfying chord progressions. Immediately, I could tell that this was a gentler, more compassionate band than in their previous album; it almost felt like some sort of pop-metal, a bizarre blend of soft earnestness and distorted fury.
After a year or two, once Linkin Park had started to become a target of jokes and sneers, I began to feel embarrassed about how emotional "Somewhere I Belong" had once made me. But the memory has stuck with me nonetheless.
While writing and editing this eulogy, I have been re-listening to some Linkin Park, and I have been feeling sort of overcome by a flood of emotions and memories.
Chester's music was in tune with some profoundly simple emotional truths about depression and self-doubt. When I was growing up, it helped a lot. Music is a powerful force for empathy and catharsis--and it allows young folks to explore a range of emotions that society otherwise might stifle or dismiss.
I'm so grateful that when I felt angry as a kid, and when adults told me I was being ridiculous, music told me "you're okay. It's okay to be angry. It's okay to have feelings."
I was on a school bus on my way to a field trip the first time I heard Linkin Park's debut album, Hybrid Theory. My friend David Christ gave me a pair of headphones and told me this was something new, this was something interesting.
I had theretofore been introduced via radio to Limp Bizkit--a band whose sillier sensibilities sort of undermined its emotional core, reducing its sense of anger to little more than posturing. And I had also been introduced via my friend Kevin Phan to Rage Against the Machine--a band whose furious, biting politics went a bit over my head at the time. But Linkin Park was truly something different.
As cliche as it may sound, Linkin Park felt like it was tapping into something that I hadn't known how to express. Their lyrics had a deceptively simple groundedness and tangibility to them that not a lot of early-2000s post-grunge could offer.
A year or two later, my buddy Sean Halpin had a band. They played "One Step Closer" at a school talent show. We all giggled a little bit when they shouted the angry bridge--"SHUT UP WHEN I'M TALKING TO YOU"--partially because they were kids whose vocal performance didn't yet have the kind of depth and power of Chester Bennington's, but also partially because we all knew deep down how silly those lyrics might sound to people who don't, like, get it, man.
With those giggles, we were making fun of ourselves and we were making fun of our stereotypically hyper-emotional music. We were in on the joke--the joke being that we're such stupid angsty teenagers--but, at the same time, it wasn't a joke. Some of that angst was real. That's what Chester understood. That's why that song was so popular and such a grounding force in so many kids' lives (like mine, on many days). Because we knew that deep down, even if it sounded silly (and even if it WAS sort of silly), we were pissed off and we didn't really understand why--and music helped us to feel like maybe, just maybe, we weren't going completely crazy.
Chester's art, and his eventual suicide, reveals a lot, a lot of anguish. It's incredibly tragic that even someone who made a career out of beautifully, earnestly, and honestly expressing himself didn't feel able to turn to anyone in his last moment. If you need help, reach out. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 800.273.8255. We--as a generation, as a culture, as a nation, even as a global community in general--need to do better to help folks with mental illness. We need to be there for each other. We need to stop stigmatizing pain, anger, depression, and trauma. We need to recognize that it's okay to talk about things. It's okay to be honest about things. It's okay to feel bad for no reason at all. Depression does not mean you are a broken, defective person. It means you need some help. Maybe severely. Don't be afraid to ask for it. And if you know someone who needs that kind of help, become an ally and a source of support. Do what you can. Get educated about mental health. Learn what you can do, in whatever small way you're able, to lift them up.
Thinking of Chester today and of how he and his music helped me as an angsty, confused teenager to feel less alone in the world. <3