Okay, so before we start this can you please push play on this video and listen to this song. Like just stop and listen to it all the way through.
I decided I would write a post about what Linkin Park, and Chester Bennington specifically, meant to me. I was trying really hard to come up with well thought out and eloquent things to say to describe something that is a mixture of big and messy feelings. Then today I read this article. Number one: it made me cry (again) and number two: it describes a lot of my feelings in a far more eloquent way than I ever could. So you really should read it. All of the quotes in this post are from that article, but they don’t give the full message. Hanif Abdurraqib wrote it and it is beautiful and you should read it. All the way through.
Linkin Park was the first band I ever loved. They were the first music I ever loved. Before them I didn’t know that music could be a release. That I could work through my emotions through music. That a singer could somehow reach what I was feeling and relate. Chester made me feel like I wasn’t alone. And sometimes that is the most important thing. I didn’t need someone to fix it, I just needed someone to understand. Hanif Abdurraqib says it much prettier: “… Linkin Park, and specifically Bennington, kicked in the door to our respective darknesses not to spark a light, but to sit with us for a while.“
It was life changing. Music has become so important to me. It became therapy, a coping mechanism, a way to escape. And it all started with Linkin Park. Hybrid Theory came out when I was eleven. I listened to that album every day. I had a paper route back then and every day when I set out I had my discman and that album. I listened to it on repeat; I knew every word to every song. When Meteora came out three years later I alternated between them. I still know every word to every song on both of those albums.
And Chester, Chester was my favourite part of Linkin Park. In the same way that Linkin Park was the first band I ever fell in love with, Chester’s was the first voice I ever fell in love with. When you were sad his singing was comforting, when you were angry there was something about the way his screaming cut and either way it felt like you knew he felt the same as you.
His death has hit me harder than I would have expected it would. Never has the death of someone I never met had such a profound effect. But you see, if I close my eyes and listen to Hybrid Theory I can almost feel again how it felt to be twelve. I can almost feel how it felt to be young and confused but somehow to feel seen and understood. And I think that is why. I may have never known Chester, but he feels like a part of me. Like I wouldn’t be who I am today if he hadn’t been a part of my life. And I feel like that is significant.
Over the last few days, I have seen so many people trying to express what seems like a version of these same feelings. There are a lot of people who are saying that he kept them alive.
I love Hanif Abdurraqib’s article for the way it talks about Bennington’s voice and his authenticity and his presence. But I love it most for the way it talks about his death:
“I want to say that I hate the thing we do where we talk about suicide in terms of winning and losing: a person either beating their demons or losing to them. It boils down an ongoing struggle into a simple binary, to be celebrated and mourned — as if every day survived on the edge of anything isn’t simply gearing up for another day to survive and another day after that.
I believe that any of us who faces trauma and still survives is heroic, even if we aren’t keeping anyone else alive but ourselves. But I don’t like to think of anyone who gives in to whatever they imagine waits on the other side of suffering as someone who has lost. We have lost them, sure. But who does it serve to create a narrative where there is a scoreboard for our pain and how we navigate the vastness of it? Death is the action — the end result, of course. But I have known people who didn’t want to die as much as they wanted to stop feeling a desire for death. A world without that always-hovering cloud. And I don’t think of those who are departed as people who lost, and when we frame these grand and nuanced battles as absolutes — with the “strong” people surviving and sometimes suffering and the “weak” people falling into the arms of absence — it does an injustice to the true machinery of the brain, of the body, of the heart, of anything responsible for keeping us here on the days we don’t want to be.
Whatever engine pushes a person towards death is made up of a lot of parts that are not always singing to each other, or not always singing at the same pitch or volume. Chester Bennington was a whole, brilliant, successful person and a survivor. But that which he survived still sat on top of and underneath his skin. There is no fix for that, no matter how many of us want to see one.”
I’m so tired of hearing suicide talked about as a net loss. Like our lives can be boiled down to either winning or losing. Defeating your demons or being defeated by them. That is a cheap, unfair way to look at a life. What about everyday before July 20? Everyday he chose to stay alive. Why are those days all erased? Just because he is not here does not mean that he was weak. Or selfish. Or that he lost. It makes me sad to hear people say that since he could not save himself, the hope and peace he gave to us is somehow lessened or cheapened. Just because he is gone doesn’t mean that the help he gave to those who listened to him wasn’t real. He was light and hope and peace and his death cannot erase that. That is not a fair thing to think or say. Again, allow me to use Hanif’s words:
“I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the artist who chooses to make themselves a mirror. It is brave work, and it should be hailed as such. The work of allowing people to see bits of their pain in your own pain is often thankless but needed labor — labor that takes on a heavier weight as the platform of an artist grows. But even if you are able to make a map out of your grief and trauma with the chart of a generous mapmaker, it doesn’t mean the mapmaker has figured their own way out of whatever maze their trauma has trapped them in. There is a difference between the work of not wanting others to die and the work that comes with keeping yourself alive.”
I don’t know when I’ll be able to listen to Linkin Park again without being sad. I think it will linger. Music is such an important part of my life and I can trace the origins of that directly back to him. It is such a clear and distinct starting point that it makes me wonder how differently I would have turned out if I had never found him.
Please listen to this song too.