I was a kid during the nu metal boom of the early 2000’s, and everybody was f***in’ with Linkin Park.
The first instance of exposure was when I saw the music video for In the End on Myx. This was back in Grade 2, and In the End presented what other pop acts of the time weren’t peddling — here was this rap rock band anguishing in a wasteland inhabited by a flying whale and moving statues that looked like cross-breeds of Sumerian gods and H.R. Giger aliens. There was the music video for Pts.Of.Athrty, which had the unique distinction of 1) being aired on Cartoon Network back when Toonami was still a thing, 2) having giant f***ing robots, and 3) eschewing vowels before today’s bedroom beat makers were even popping their pimples. Then when “Meteora” came out, there was the MV for Breaking the Habit, the aesthetic of which might now call to mind Afro Samurai and the original Ghost in the Shell. I was alive for this.
Always present was Chester Bennington. Chester f***ing Bennington. And his voice — throaty bloody raw, and with a tenor so high voltage it could cut through the thickest downtuned power chord. And when I was a kid, I tried singing along. Always failing, but it was fun, trying to scream “You’d like to think you’re never wrong!” to some vague authority figure. And I guess I carried Chester’s earnest, heart-on-the-sleeve lyrical approach well into adolesence, into a time when emo would take nu metal’s place as the genre of angst. (How powerful was it, by the way, to see My Chemical Romance offer up their condolences? “We’ll carry on,” sure, but I’m not sure I can right now.)
Whenever a celebrity death becomes the central focus of the presses, there is the tendency for grief to become #content, a tool by which hits can be acquired. And perhaps this article is guilty of this sin, but give me your capacity to be charitable. I could write about how back how Chester Bennington and the rest of Linkin Park were some of those who led the nu metal charge of the early 2000’s, combining rock and rap in a way my generation could digest. I could write about how sonic changes post-“Meteora” may have reflected the band’s self-reflexivity, and how they acknowledged that they’d have to change their sound up to keep doing what they wanted to do, even if it led to the divisive Heavy. (Check the comments section of the MV; everybody changed their tone.) I could write about how arbitrarily the cultural landscape shifts, and how those shifts happened to relegate Crawling to the realm of meme-dom. But the job of cultural gatekeeping turns to dust in the face of grief. We can be honest about our criticisms of an artist and their most recent work, and we are certainly entitled to outgrow whatever we want to outgrow. But in the words of Kobayashi Issa, “And yet, and yet…”
After I found out about Chester’s death, I went to Spotify to grieve and fired up Linkin Park’s discography. The experience is different now. Chester’s lyricism was always up-front, making it easy to chalk his artistic sensibilities to melodrama and contrived edginess. Now his words — “Don’t resent me / And when you’re feeling empty / Keep me in your memory / Leave out all the rest” — now more clearly indicate a dark place, a place which pointed both to Chester’s singular experience of struggling with drugs, alcohol, and childhood trauma, and an anguish so many kids in the early 2000’s could tame by blasting Papercut at full volume in a locked room.
I remember grade school, when one of my classmates rapped In the End because… I don’t know, I can’t remember the context. But I cherish that memory. Those were formative years. Chester Bennington was there for my formative years.
The lyrics were right there. The demons were right there.
I’m not claiming to have ever been close to Chester Bennington, but it feels like I was. But I was barely there for the post-“Meteora” part of their career, a whole part of life I wasn’t around much to witness, a whole part of life I could’ve given the generosity of my attention. Should I have been gentler? Should I have been less cruel? I don’t know. It’s almost as if you were around just yesterday, Chester.
All that’s left is sorrow, and gratitude, and the responsibility to grieve the whole person, and how his work saved so many people, even though he couldn’t save himself, and how much his work touched us, and how he’ll never fully fathom the strength of his influence. I couldn’t reach his notes when I was a kid. But I can now. And I spent so much of the day of July 21, 2017, singing his songs until my lungs were out of breath, trying to feel what he was feeling, trying to feel his spirit moving in me. His spirit still moves. Thank you, Chester Bennington, for everything.