Late last night, I received a text from a friend. It said Chester Bennington had passed away. The text had a link to a Billboard article. My sleepy eyes jolted open and my first reaction was, WTF? I didn’t, couldn’t, believe it had happened. I googled, right at that moment.
I was devastated.
Chester had apparently hanged himself.
It was in 2006, the second year of my undergraduate studies, that I came across Linkin Park. A friend was playing “Numb” or “In The End” on his phone. It took me a while, maybe a week or a month, before I was intrigued or hooked. They were the first rock band that I had listened to, and I quickly became a fan. In school, I had heard people singing Bryan Adams’ or Backstreet Boys’ songs. I was never much interested in English songs then. Linkin Park changed all that. And while the whole band deserves the credit for all the applause that they get, the screaming, painful, remonstrating voice of vocalist Chester was what drew us listeners to them, in our millions. There was an anguish in their songs that my teenage mind could relate to, despite the fact that I didn’t have any issues of the kind growing up that they alluded to.
I can’t say for sure but I think you’d find fans of the band and their first two albums, especially, across the world, especially in colleges. Hybrid Theory was a goldmine, great songs that you could play on loop over and over again. In The End, From The Inside, Papercut, Points Of Authority, Crawling, all great songs, all serving to both work you up in a frenzy or soothe you, as your mood demanded. And if you thought they couldn’t touch those heights again, you only needed to listen to Meteora. Oh Goodness! Somewhere I Belong, Faint, Don’t Stay, Easier To Run, Breaking The Habit and Numb, all continuing the sounds and themes that Hybrid Theory had started. Their distinctive sound harnessed the darkness and frustrations of life and created music that was raw, beautiful and utterly compelling and very, very addictive.
I knew nothing about western music at that point. I came to know that their genre was called nu-metal, like that of Korn, another fantastic band. The songs I have mentioned above, along with a few others, were a staple of my listening schedule. And oh, songs from their collaborative album with Jay-Z, Collision Course. Maybe Minutes To Midnight (MTM) was a bridge too far. And while there were a few good songs after that (Waiting For The End, Castle Of Glass, Iridescent), the band slowly eased out of my playlist, to the extent that their only song that I heard in the last year or so was “What I Have Done,” a song that deals with the themes of war, guilt, wastefulness, redemption and self-introspection. Maybe I grew out of that phase of teenage anguish and frustration. Maybe the latter songs were simply inferior to the ones that came before. Maybe, maybe, maybe….
What’s undoubted is the fact that Chester’s screaming on those songs was otherworldly. He’d be doing a stanza and then burst into a scream and then, within seconds, be back to that soothing voice. With Mike Shinoda’s rapping to complement him, Linkin Park were irresistible. I tried copying his screaming once or twice but quickly understood that all it provided was a sore throat and that I was better off just mouthing those parts. Listen to Faint once and see for yourself. Or watch its video and see how his neck turns red with the exertions.
Chester committed suicide. At 41 years of age, he was too young to have given up on life. There are reports that say he was suffering from depression, which is a troubling matter. Depression consumes a large number of people every year and yet we treat it as a taboo subject. Those who are suffering from it need to be able to talk about it and get proper medical care so that they can live with dignity. Chester isn’t the first and he won’t be the last to die of depression. But we must stop keeping this topic buried in the closet. As he sang in Crawling,
Crawling in my skin,
These wounds they will not heal,
Fear is how I fall,
Confusing what is real.
When Chris Cornell, a close friend and Soundgarden singer, committed suicide in May, Chester wrote him a heartfelt letter where he said he thought Cornell was “saying goodbye in your own way.” Maybe Chester was done with this world too. But it is poorer without him.
Rest In Peace, Champ.