Losing a great talent is always awful. When they were young and committed suicide, it’s even worse. Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington‘s death has completely bowled me over. Like many millennials, I grew up listening to Linkin Park, and like many Linkin Park fans, their music made me obsessed with music in general. Linkin Park’s ambition in mixing different genres made them a gateway band for many adolescents finding their own musical path. They re-invented themselves with each release. The results weren’t always satisfying or successful, but Linkin Park deserve respect for branching out and never staying too comfortable. Throughout each album cycle, there was a burning constant: Chester Bennington’s strong, commanding voice and his honest, raw lyrics. Chester never directly addressed his depression in his lyrics, or his experiences with drug and alcohol addiction, or childhood sexual abuse. However, what he did do was call them “demons” or “darkness” – universally relatable concepts. Finally; all the angry, insecure, confused kids had an idol who understood them. Chester gave all of us a voice for over 17 years, and for that, we should always be thankful. Chester Bennington’s talent was appreciated and loved by all age groups.
I was seven years old when Meteora was released. Numb, Breaking The Habit and Faint were heard everywhere – on music channels, the radio, in everyone’s cars. But, I was still too young to relate to their music. By the time New Divide was featured in the Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen soundtrack in 2009, I was thirteen. I was obsessed with rock music and I adored New Divide. My father had become a huge fan of Linkin Park and put all their music on his iPod classic which he gave to me (I still use it every day). I exclusively listened to Linkin Park. There were days when I went to the beach with my grandmother, my sister and my cousin, and listened to Meteora. I memorised every lyric, beat and chord. I started daydreaming about being in a band. I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety for many years. The themes of loneliness, alienation, depression and paranoia in Hybrid Theory and Meteora spoke to me more than anything else could. I was trapped in my own mind. I didn’t understand why I was so unhappy. But, I wasn’t alone. Chester encouraged me and so many others to channel our anger and sadness into something meaningful. When I heard Crawling, it was finally okay to admit that I didn’t always have control. I was insecure. My wounds would not heal, whether they were watching my aunt and uncle divorce, the beginning of depression, or terrifying panic attacks. Chester’s lyrics were personal enough to show he was battling some very real demons, but also vague enough to make your own interpretation and apply them to your own life. Chester Bennington’s words were a starting point for me to pay attention to lyrics. I fell in love with Linkin Park in my early teens, and now you can find my 20-year-old self analysing and discussing artists’ lyrics with anyone who will listen. Linkin Park were my first musical obsession, and lead me to a path I will never look back from.
I vividly remember listening to Minutes To Midnight for the first time. I wasn’t lurking on music sites and forums at that time, not yet, so I had no idea that Minutes To Midnight was disliked and disappointed fans. I loved it. It was different, and that was very cool to me. Hybrid Theory and Meteora were extremely similar in themes and sound, and Minutes To Midnight was a welcome change. I was sitting in a blue plastic chair outside when I first heard Minutes To Midnight. It was a warm day but I didn’t care. I had my eyes closed for most of the first listen, just taking it all in. The heaviness of Given Up (which is now extremely difficult to listen to), Bleed It Out and No More Sorrow were just awesome to a teenager who was angry about everything. What I’ve Done was fun to sing. Shadow Of The Day and Leave Out All The Rest made me cry. I was ecstatic to find that Hands Held High was a solo Mike song. Minutes To Midnight’s album closer The Little Things Give You Away shot up to the top of the list of my favourite Linkin Park songs. In Pieces was my favourite song on the album. It healed me: when my first ever relationship ended, it hurt so much. I was cheated on and betrayed. In Pieces gave me the opportunity to yell “you will be alone, alone with all your secrets and regrets / goodbye“. It was so incredibly cathartic and also soothing. Yes, Minutes To Midnight sounds a bit like stadium rock, but I never had a problem with that. Linkin Park were a bit lighter and more accessible, but they turned that all around with their next release.
I did not understand what the hell Linkin Park were aiming for with A Thousand Suns when I bought the CD and listened to it. It was nothing like anything they’d ever done. The first half of Blackout is so aggressive, with Chester singing freestyle in the verses and shouting “no, you’ve gotta get it inside! You push it back down, you push it back down! No, you’ll never get it inside!” in the chorus. Blackout calms down in the bridge, with Mike’s calming, lovely voice taking the lead. Mike and Chester close the song together. Listening to Blackout now, a few days after Chester has died, it’s hard to not be shaken listening to his pain. It took a while for A Thousand Suns to grow on me, but it finally did when I saw Linkin Park during that tour. It was only my third concert, and it came at a pivotal time: I was fourteen, battling insomnia, and in my first relationship which would come to its ugly end in a few months time. Seeing Linkin Park for the first time brought me a night of pure peace, joy and passion. Opening with the rebellious Wretches And Kings – my mum and I felt that beat in our stomach – was absolutely fantastic. That night, Linkin Park performed Blackout and Burning In The Skies live for the first time, which I was privileged to hear. It was quite a set, focusing on the aggressive elements of Linkin Park’s music. I was lucky enough to see them twice in my life – the second time at the 2013 Soundwave festival, standing in the Metallica crowd (I was there early, they’d be on not long after Linkin Park) and watching them on a huge screen. Everyone in the Metallica crowd knew the words to A Place For My Head, Numb, In The End, Faint, One Step Closer, Bleed It Out and New Divide. It was quite the experience, my best friend and I were the youngest people in that crowd, and all the 30-40 year old men were singing the songs that we grew up with. It was incredible, and proved that Linkin Park truly reached to generations.
I lost track of Linkin Park during the Living Things era, but they caught my attention again when they released The Hunting Party in 2014. I enjoyed both albums when I heard them, but I was exploring and discovering so much music during that period and didn’t give Linkin Park enough time. I still loved them, but I was opening my mind to all sorts of music more and more. Linkin Park were the band that inspired me to listen to absolutely anything. Then, Linkin Park released One More Light this year. Again, a complete departure from their previous record. Lead single Heavy features gorgeous vocals by Kiiara, and her harmonies with Chester when they sing “and I drive myself crazy / thinking everything is about me” are exquisite. Mike describes the process of making Heavy, and recalls Chester answering that he was feeling “fine” when asked. He quickly stopped and said “You know what? No, I’m not fine. Let me tell you what’s going on in my life.” Heavy is one of those songs that will probably make me tear up for a long time; from the opening line “I don’t like my mind right now” to the resigned, defeated “I’m holding on, why is everything so heavy?” leading into the song’s final chorus. Chester was still battling and trying, still feeling as lost as he did when Linkin Park released their first three albums. He was crying for help throughout all of One More Light. Listening to the title track on the day Chester died completely wrecked me. One More Light is a song about a friend of the band’s who died from cancer, but I can’t help applying it to Chester. The first verse is particularly heartbreaking:
Chester laid out the signs of depression his whole life. Isolating yourself and feeling like nobody is listening is such a common part of depression. It’s unfair and tragic that depression has taken another life too soon. Many Linkin Park songs will never be the same. Chester’s total honesty about his struggles has helped and will continue to help many people facing the same demons. For everyone who reads this, please know that there is someone listening, and there’s always another way. Work needs to be done to educate middle aged and older people about mental illness. This generation has so much information and help regarding mental health, but back when my parents were growing up, nobody ever spoke about mental illness. My father struggled with depression for a few years and if he ever tried to talk about it, his friends would tell him to “man up” or “forget about it”. So, my dad drank it away, he wouldn’t feel anything if he was drunk or passed out. Men of all ages need to know that it’s okay to speak out, they need to be encouraged to do so. If Chester’s death or anything else in your life is hitting you hard, please reach out and talk to someone and get some help. In the end, Chester Bennington always mattered. His words and spirit affected millions of people all around the planet. I loved Chester. I hope Chester knew how much we all loved him and that we were all here, listening.