It has been two weeks since Chester Bennington took his own life. I’ve been searching his name multiple times each day, as though hoping something will pop up, saying ‘WHOOPS! It was a hoax! It was a horrible publicity stunt! YOU DREAMED UP THE WHOLE THING; NOW GO TO BED! HE’S FINE!’ And everywhere I go online, I see people like me, most of whom never met the man, expressing a deep, aching sadness that seems perhaps disproportionate to the circumstances. So a person died. People die all the time. And he was a celebrity. Celebrities, being people, tend to die, too. And it wasn’t an accident – he did it himself. That happens often enough. And he’s just one guy. He’s not more or less important than any other guy. So why does this one feel so different? Why do I, like these millions of people on the internet, still feel as though someone is punching me in the gut every time I remember the awful truth? Chester is no longer alive. Chester took his own life.
The first time I saw Chester Bennington was in the music video for Crawling, which must’ve been showing on MTV around 2001 or 2002. So I would’ve been about fourteen, I guess. Back in those days, watching MTV was my main method for discovering new music. I honestly don’t remember what sort of music I was listening to prior to Linkin Park, but I know I had never liked anything of the sort before, and probably didn’t openly admit to liking it right away. Having seen the music video a few times (MTV used to replay the same videos over and over again, and you would often see the same one multiple times within an hour, especially if it was the current ‘fresh’ video) I was hooked, and also perhaps nurturing a small crush on Chester. He was undeniably cute, seeming small and fey next to his bandmates, with an elfish face and that ridiculous bleach-blond spiky hair that was popular back then. But contrasting with the cuteness was an edge. The labret, the black nail polish and, of course, the fucking SCREAM.
I was a weird, awkward, sensitive teenager, and despite the liberal ideals I inherited from my parents, I held quite conservative values in many ways. I would easily have been put off by Linkin Park if they had gone on to do anything offensive or crass, or had a bunch of scantily clad women as props in their music videos, or produced the sorts of R-rated lyrics and concepts that were often prevalent in that sort of heavy-ish music of the time (eg: Limp Bizkit). But they didn’t. They didn’t even swear in their first few albums.
As a very, very insecure young woman, there was nothing in any of their lyrics or music videos that put me off or made me feel small. Women were never objectified, scorned or mocked, nor were they the source of the frustration and anguish in the lyrics. In fact, in some of the music videos (‘Numb’, for example) women were the protagonists of the stories, melancholy though these stories were. Chester was singing for them, not about them, and this was an absolutely crucial detail for me. Unlike many other bands, Linkin Park weren’t singing/rapping/screaming on behalf of men who felt bitter about or hurt by women… they were doing it on behalf of anyone and everyone who had ever been hurt by anything. The lyrics were just general and vague enough that they could be adapted to suit myriad situations. At the pinnacle of my angsty teenage years, I felt like these lyrics were written for me.
And as I ventured tentatively onto the early internet to find out more about the band, and eventually purchased their first documentary DVD (‘Frat Party at the Pankake Festival’ – lol), I discovered that they were really nice, funny, regular guys I could relate to and laugh with. They were unashamedly middle-class, a group of goofy friends catapulted into stardom, comfortable with their ordinariness, never trying too hard to be edgy. They were exactly everything they needed to be to enable me to develop what very quickly became an obsession. I had a bedroom covered in posters and magazine cut-outs and pictures printed off the internet and, in addition to every CD (including the live stuff, remixes and collaborations), a collection of paraphernalia, like the precious goodies received through my official ‘Underground’ fanclub membership – T-shirts, stickers, patches, badges, keyrings, signed photographs, guitar picks, exclusive CDs, a vinyl… This is where all of my pocket money went. I was hooked. I listened to nothing but Linkin Park for about three years of my life, and looked at Chester Bennington’s face stuck on my wall every day of those years.
When it became apparent that everyone was in love with Chester Bennington and the others weren’t getting as much attention, I decided my favourite was Mike Shinoda, and later, Joe Hahn. Joe Hahn was always referred to as ‘Mr Hahn’, and so naturally my screen name on LiveJournal, in those innocent pre-Facebook – even pre-MySpace – days, was MRS_HAHN. Cringe. Through LiveJournal and other channels, I met many fellow LP fans from all around the world, several of whom I’m still connected to via other social media today.
My obsession tapered off after high school, as teen fixations do, but I still bought their albums up until buying CDs wasn’t really a thing anymore, and the internet, YouTube and streaming took over. The all-consuming obsession had faded, but I still listened to my favourites, kept a few LP songs on my playlists, checked in on the band on social media and quietly appreciated their transition from distinctly early-2000s nu-metal rap/rock into new territory. They kept mixing things up, but there were always those catchy, replayable and unmistakably Linkin Parky songs coming off each album, and while I could no longer claim to know every word and every note of every song on every album post-2008, they were a comfortable, constant presence, evolving and creating and refusing to fade into has-beens. They were like old friends that I had sort of lost touch with, but still cared very deeply about.
And then July 20th happened, and it’s still happening, even though I’ve given myself a stern talking-to several times, told myself to get a fucking grip, to get some perspective, to stop being so goddamn ridiculous about the passing of someone I had never met face to face. I watched him perform live in 2012, but I never spoke to him. And yet I feel like I knew him. He was so familiar, so distinctive. As a teenager, I doodled him in my homework diary countless times, and as a twenty-something, I still loved him to bits. He seemed immune to the passing of time, eternally youthful, and now he really is, in the most tragic way imaginable. It’s such an absolute waste, and I’m heartbroken.
This week, I’ve at least reached the point where I can listen to any Linkin Park song (even ‘The Messenger’ and ‘One More Light’) without bawling my eyes out, so there is light at the end of this tunnel. I don’t know how to conclude except to say I am sad that Chester’s gone, and I’m sad that he felt bad enough to go in the way he did, and I’m sad that people can be in such pain, regardless of their circumstances. And I hope the rest of the Linkin Park guys are holding up. I want to give each and every one of them a hug, as well as each and every fan who’s feeling a bit like this right now – like it’s the end of a chapter in our lives that we didn’t realise could ever end and yet now it has, and we’re left reeling, feeling horribly mortal and vulnerable and hollow.
I was going to write about mental health and abuse and the intersection with hateful internet commentary, something I saw Chester grappling with in his last few months, but I feel neither qualified nor strong enough to delve into that on my blog, so I’m going to end it, rather abruptly, right there.
Just be kind to one another, OK? And RIP (return if possible) Chester B.