I’ve thought a lot about Chester Bennington lately. Since his death earlier this year I’ve done what any fan does when a person whose work they admire dies — I’ve gone back to listen to all the albums, dug through my old folders of demos and unreleased rarities. I’ve checked out the music videos and watched hours of vlogs and old DVDs again. I’ve read the eulogies, I’ve seen the memorials and even took part in one myself. I’ve paid my respects, sent my condolences and I’ve mourned.
What I’ve experienced in this aftermath does not feel like the sadness I’ve felt at the death of other artists whose work I respected, loved, that inspired and changed me. This time it has been something different, more visceral, something I’ve been trying to articulate ever since it happened. It’s not sadness I feel – it’s loss.
I could spend thousands of words on how Linkin Park first appeared at the perfect time in my formative years and what an incredible impact they had on me. I could go on at length about how they combined my loves of metal, melodic pop, electronica and rap with a musicianship and emotional heft that no other band of the time could match. I could also talk about the first time I heard One Step Closer and how heavy it hit me. Or how I couldn’t hold back tears the first time I listened to Breaking The Habit while sitting on the bus after picking up Meteora on release day. Not to mention how funny and relatable the band members seemed in their DVDs and the episodes of their documentary series LPTV, which I watched dozens of times.
I could talk about Linkin Park for hours, is my point. Ever since 2000 they have been one of my favourite bands and I’ve continued to love their work all the way up to this year’s underappreciated One More Light. Spending that amount of time loving somebody’s work is going to create a certain connection to that person, so I’m not surprised at how this has affected me. However, I am taken aback at just how deeply that feeling is rooted. There is something different about how this particular tragedy has affected me and millions of others. To understand why that is you need to understand what makes Linkin Park and Chester Bennington special.
In his article for Billboard, Andrew Unterberger writes that it’s “absolutely heartbreaking that Chester Bennington didn’t live to see rock’s history writers come around on Linkin Park. It would have happened — absolutely would’ve, eventually.” I couldn’t agree more. Linkin Park was never the cool band to like. They existed on the poppier side of the metal-scene, which at the time was already steeped in MTV-favouring pop-punk. Linkin Park came to symbolise the softening of the genre, a perception that certainly wasn’t helped when they released two albums with no cursing. This was in an era when even Christian Radio-friendly Evanescence dared releasing an album with a Parental Advisory-sticker.
It would therefore be easy to dismiss their enormous success by pointing out that they were the most radio-friendly of their peers, call them commercial sell-outs and be done with it. But as the years passed, they continued to evolve their sound, album for album in a way that few bands ever do, regardless of genre. This was a band that could seamlessly produce an album of radio-friendly soaring rock in Minutes to Midnight and follow it with the difficult, experimental concept masterpiece A Thousand Suns. They had the guts to follow their heaviest album The Hunting Party — featuring guest spots by Tom Morello and Daron Malakian — with the straight-up pop album One More Light, in which Chester never so much as raises his voice and the guitars remain thoroughly un-distorted.
This is the kind of creative versatility that is usually celebrated, but Linkin Park never got any such critical dues. Their ability to shift between styles and tones has instead been met with scepticism and constant accusations of “selling out”. Not that this has ever mattered to the fans. Sure, there’s always going to be a certain bitterness in having something you love, that speaks to you so profoundly, be regularly written off as disposable. But in those moments, when the crescendo in Breaking The Habit explodes, when Chester’s voice breaks in The Messenger, when you’re being kept alive by the voice of a man perfectly speaking to you in a way that makes it feel like he’s right there in the room with you, it’s impossible to care too much about credibility.
Their adaptability as artists wasn’t the only thing that made Linkin Park stand out from their contemporaries. If you weren’t around back in the early 2000’s, you probably only have a vague concept of what the sloppy descriptor “nu-metal” actually means, but at the time this was my music. It was loud but still had a pop sensibility. It was hard music made by soft people. These were people that grew up loving Depeche Mode and New Order as much as they adored Slayer and Sabbath.
It was also a scene drenched in hyper-masculine posturing. Bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit — both of which I loved — built careers on screaming about how the world had wronged them. However, after success hit they kept singing the same songs from within the walls of the Playboy Mansion. They blinged up, they decorated their videos with barely-dressed models. They alternated between acting like oppressed weirdos and callous jocks. It was the kind of environment where terms like “f*gg*t” and “r*t*rd” were common.
In this context, Linkin Park stood out. In their first DVD Frat Party at the Pankake Festival they barely even try to disguise the fact that these are six dorky guys. They just love their band and their fans, and are happy to be performing to them. Even after Hybrid Theory became a massive success, they didn’t seem to change all that much. Mike Shinoda married his long-term girlfriend, while Chester starred in one of the most adorably modest episodes of MTV Cribs ever taped.
They refused the toxic machismo and empty bluster of their contemporaries in favour of a sincerity that stood out, which helped make their music timeless. In comparison to their peers they had an almost feminine energy to them. This was reflected in their more dynamic sound, but also in how they approached their fame and their fans. I can’t help but assume that this is a big part of what made them a greater target for mockery . The macho freight-train that was the post-grunge nu-metal scene may have been silly and boorish but at least it wasn’t girly.
Nobody embodied this attitude more than Chester. He screamed louder and with more gusto than any other but also allowed himself to be fragile, and never made that seem shameful. In both his shouts and whispers, he displayed a strength that was different from the macho “no homo” chest-beating that was so ubiquitous at the time. He was aggressive without being threatening, powerful without being destructive. That willingness to be honest about his own pain made the songs feel more real than any of the self-important metalheads that took great pleasure in condemning them as posers.
When Chester turned his angst into music it didn’t feel like some rock star going on about their problems. It felt like a real person expressing something genuine, well-articulated, and empathic. Their music has often been derided as “whiny” but ultimately it was always about creating a sense of how we’re all in this together, and that made it feel more hopeful than anything else. Their lyrics are clear and purposeful, rarely so specific that they couldn’t apply to most people’s experiences, while still wholly lived and truthful.
When we felt like telling the world to shut up and listen, here was someone screaming those exact lines with utter and complete conviction. It might seem silly, but it was clear that this was a man being totally sincere, expressing his struggles in a way that made you feel less alone about your own. Even today that first “SHUT UP WHEN I’M TALKING TO YOU” in One Step Closer hits me right in the gut. There is no posturing behind it, and it’s not empty, impotent rage for the sake of it. Managing that without turning yourself into a joke in the process is a small miracle. Following that with a 17 year long career with several creative left-turns while always surprising and challenging your audience, that’s genius.
I believe that this, above all else, is the reason why Linkin Park survived longer than most of their contemporaries. This is why they have sold 75 million albums and why Chester Bennington’s death has been mourned by millions in over 300 (and counting) separate memorial services on every continent on the globe. Chester sung for and with us. He made music about experiences he knew we’d all suffered through, and he understood. That may sound silly for a band whose most famous songs have become memes at this point, but goddammit, to millions of us Crawling and In The End and Somewhere I Belong and What I’ve Done really did matter. They still do. The fact that they are still so widely remembered is testament to their enduring legacy.
This is why a world without Chester Bennington is so difficult to accept. I can’t stop thinking about how many lives he helped save, how many millions he comforted in their lowest moments, how many of us wouldn’t even be here now had it not been for the strength he inspired. When we remember him in the years to come I hope it’s not just for his immense talent as a singer, writer and performer, but also for how he gave a voice to the voiceless. How he put into words those emotions and struggles that everybody tackles at some point and did it in a way that was uniquely relatable.
I suppose maybe I’m being sort of selfish. Chester Bennington’s death is a tragedy for the same reasons anyone’s is and I feel guilty thinking about the decades of artistic output that I’m missing out on, while his children, wife, family and friends have suffered a much greater loss than any of us fans. Chester was, through his music, there for us. He saved many of us in a way, and I wish we could have returned the favour.
Chester clearly had plans for the future. In interviews he talks about how optimistic he is for the coming year and about touring the new album. However, the horrific truth is that a suicide only takes a moment, and depression is an exceptionally powerful fuel for destruction. Depression will lie to you until your entire worldview is distorted enough so that you, in a single moment, lose everything. If his death makes anything abundantly clear — beyond what a tremendous impact he had on millions of lives — it’s how utterly false this skewed perception really is. Chester was loved, not only by those close to him, but by millions of others who felt a kinship with him. The depression made it impossible for him to see that.
The cruel irony is that this emotion was perfectly encapsulated by the man himself just this year on the track One More Light. Even before Chester’s passing gave it an added layer of profundity, this was one of the band’s most beautiful songs. It’s a song about darkness that offers light and hope with lyrics that are broad but deeply personal. Since his passing it has become something of an anthem of shared mourning and solidarity amongst the fan community, and it’s not hard to see why.
If they say
Who cares if one more light goes out
In the sky of a million stars
It flickers, flickers
Who cares when someone’s time runs out
If a moment is all we are
Or quicker, quicker
Who cares if one more light goes out?
Well I do
It feels only fitting that in these moments of loss that it is once again his voice that’s offering comfort and strength to carry on. It’s a haunting final farewell that echoes the most important lessons Chester and Linkin Park taught through their music. That it’s okay to struggle, that you are never alone in this and there are people out there that care . Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there.
Depression and suicidal thoughts are not signs of weakness, nor do they make a person selfish. It is a living lie that wants to destroy you, a parasite that distorts your perception of everything around you until you can no longer imagine any hope, positivity or light. It breaks you down until you genuinely believe you deserve the suffering it’s causing. Who is going to care if I’m not around anymore? Who is going to remember, let alone mourn? In Chester’s case the answer was that many, many people will never forget, and the same is true for everybody who is fighting the same battle he did.
The outpouring of support through the hundreds of fan-organised memorials around the world and over social media has been a stunning display of solidarity. Strangers have reached out to and given each other a tremendous amount of support, adapting the spirit of empathy and togetherness that will be Chester Bennington’s most important legacy. Because the truth is that there is always people willing to help out there. People who will comfort and support you. Even when it feels like there couldn’t possibly be anybody out there that cares — well, we do.