70 million records sold, 63 awards won, thousands of artists influenced, and all the fans in the world couldn’t bring peace to the war inside of Chester Bennington’s head.
There’s a lot to say about Bennington. As the frontman of Linkin Park, he was the target of plenty of criticism. The band has historically been lumped together with the edgy, corporate nu-metal bands of the early 2000s, baggy jeans and backward caps included. Bennington’s higher-pitched, angst-driven vocals were mocked by metal purists. His lyrics were dismissed as cheap melancholy, even tacky.
But no amount of high-browed arrogance can cloud how very, very important Linkin Park and Chester Bennington were.
Hybrid Theory was the first album I owned as an elementary schooler. I was attracted by its graffiti-stained cover art and grimy aesthetic, a brooding centerpiece among Justin Timberlake and Usher records.
It sounded like it looked. I can’t remember the first time “Papercut” and “One Step Closer” flooded my ears, but I can recall bits and pieces from the hundreds of times that it would in the years following. I can hear the dirty programmed drums, warped record scratch, and adrenaline-fused riffs. I know every word that comes out of Mike Shinoda’s mouth, and can feel Bennington’s screams echoing in my skull.
For years, Linkin Park was the soundtrack of my childhood. I was close to few people, felt out of place, and was frequently downcast — like so many others, I felt myself represented in their songs. My Gmail signatures consisted of a block of choruses off of Hybrid Theory and Meteora, and teachers would mark points off my assignments for lyrics scribbled in the corner. Even as my early-onset misanthropy transitioned into trendy adolescent nihilism, a handful of Bennington’s words found their way onto my Tumblr.
You would be hard pressed to find a rock/metal act in 2017 that did not listen to Linkin Park growing up. It would be even harder to to find a single Linkin Park song on YouTube without a heap of comments along the lines of “Linkin Park saved my life”. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I was one of those kids, but I felt them when I read those comments. I could see those kids at school, standing a distance away from everyone else, headphones under their hoodies and hands in their pockets. I saw them in class, hair brushed over their eyes and head turned towards the window. Like I said, I don’t think I was one of those kids, but sometimes, I felt them.
I can’t speak for those who outgrew Linkin Park and felt inclined to parody the hooks for “Crawling” and “In The End”. As a teenager, I quietly moved on to other artists, and understood the diatribe. The lyrics were immature, the sound was dated. Grow up — you’re supposed to listen to Kanye West and Radiohead. In high school, it’s better to coolly imply feelings than be as forthcoming as Bennington was.
On Thursday, Bennington took his own life. He was marred by sexual abuse, drug addiction, and bullying growing up. But in life, he was kind: bent on lifting those who had been victimized similarly, and righteous to the point of forgiving the person who abused him. His heart spilled for outcast children, for those who shared his pain. It only makes sense that Linkin Park’s song lyrics would reflect a childhood of mistreatment, spoken from the mouth of a frustrated man who had his youth robbed from him.
For some reason, years after I last listened to a Linkin Park album, it still hurts to have to say goodbye to Chester Bennington. I feel as if the loudest part of me has gone quiet, as if the child in me is in disbelief. I thought myself too young for my heroes to die.
I wish I could ever be as brave as Chester Bennington was as he lived. I wish that I could put forth everything that I am for the public to see, I wish I could express myself as honestly as he did.
I can’t, but I’m grateful he did. He made music for people who didn’t have music for them, and I’m so, so grateful he did.
Written by Adil Siddiqee