I’m going to go ahead and state up front that this post will be extremely personal. If you’re looking for grand thoughts on the state of our culture or some shared experience among many people then you’ve come to the wrong place. Today’s post is more like a diary entry. Of course, it’s also a memorial to one of the most influential artists of my generation.
Yesterday afternoon I found out that Chester Bennington, front man for the band Linkin Park, had been found dead of a suicide. There have been an alarming number of these artist deaths lately and a chilling number have died by their own hand. I’ll be honest that most haven’t really affected me up until now. I was never a big Sound Garden or Audioslave fan so the passing of Chris Cornell didn’t register all that much with me. But Chester? Chester’s death hit me like a truck. I’ve never been one to obsess with music. Me even memorizing the names of any band members is kind of rare. Still, music has been a big influence on me and Linkin Park especially helped to shape me into the woman I am today.
I consider myself to be a pretty open book. There’s not much about my life I’m uncomfortable sharing, but diving into this subject is making even me feel kind of vulnerable. Linkin Park wasn’t the most influential band on my life, but it was one of the earliest and has stuck around for me longer than most. To really drive home how Bennington’s lyrics helped to define me, I need to go back years before Linkin Park was even a thing.
I have no delusions about the fact that I had a pretty privileged childhood. I had food, clothing, and parents who loved me and loved each other. We could afford to take vacations, I got new toys for Christmas, and we basically wanted for nothing or very little. Still, if the suicides of Bennington, Cornell, Cobain, Robin Williams, and other celebrities proves anything, it’s that inner demons don’t give a damn what your outside situation looks like. And I’ve always had some inner demons.
Throughout my life, by biggest obstacle has been myself. Self-doubt has always been something that stuck with me. “I’m not good enough”, “I’m not doing this right,” “I don’t belong here,” “everyone has it figured out but me,” these are the kinds of thoughts that are always swimming around in my head. These notions made me timid about asserting control over my own existence, and thus I allowed others to do it for me. I was a model kid growing up; never in trouble and always doing what I was told. That might sound good, but it was because I never felt comfortable being defiant. My parent’s wishes shaped me at home. My bully’s aggressions shaped me at school. I was what people wanted me to be, because that was safe. If I acted as I was told, I wouldn’t disturb all the better, more confident people who knew what they were doing and were always right.
I know this sounds bleak, but it’s really how my mind has always worked. I remember in grade school the other kids in my class were listening to Metallica, Green Day, Rage Against the Machine, Manson, and other early alt-rock/metal bands. When I caught little snippets of their music, I liked what I heard. Still, I stayed away from those bands because I knew they “weren’t appropriate” (no joke, I was really this jaded as a kid; my brain was a stricter parent than my real parents ever were). Because of this I really just didn’t listen to a lot of music back then. The sound of the “wholesome” bands just didn’t really register with me, but the heavier stuff was for “bad” kids and that would make me a “bad” kid, too.
This was my norm all the way into and through most of high school. By that point I had a girlfriend who abused me emotionally which really ramped up my self-doubt and inner numbness. This was a big reason I never understood my gender identity back then; I didn’t even find myself as a person, let alone a gender. I was coasting, existing however others wanted me to. I was more shell than person. My senior year our student government made a mix CD of what they considered songs that defined our graduating year and distributed a copy to all of the seniors. It was mostly a bunch of pop songs that I honestly can’t recall anymore, but one track on the disk was In The End by Linkin Park.
I kept that CD probably a lot longer than most anyone else in my class, and it was just for that song. I loved it. I loved the driving guitar chords. I loved the techno-futuristic background beats. But most of all, I loved Mike’s hard-hitting verses and Chester’s soaring, angst-driven chorus. It spoke to me on a level no other music had. It wasn’t filtered. It wasn’t wholesome. It didn’t spin me a bunch of bullshit about how everything was going to be okay. The truth was right there in the chorus: in the end, it doesn’t even matter. Chester taught me it was okay to defy, okay to resist. His lyrics carried those same feelings of self-doubt, hopelessness, and incompatibility with the rest of the world that plagued me. Linkin Park became my outlet for those feelings, my release valve where I could finally start to face them.
When Meteora was released, all of this was magnified. I don’t think any song in history has ever touched me at my core like Numb did. It was everything to me. It was my agonizing slog through existence, feeling like nothing I did would ever be good enough. It was my angst over the girlfriend I was still with even though I was miserable because I didn’t have the self-confidence to break up with her. It was the knowledge that I was being used but being too cowardly to do something about it. Numb was my anthem, and in many ways still is to this day.
The point is that Linkin Park finally set me on the path of daring to question. For the first time in my whole life, I questioned my God, I questioned my sexuality, I questioned my gender, I questioned where the line really was between right and wrong, I questioned the unshakable rightness of my parents, I questioned my authority figures, and most of all, I questioned my own self-doubt. In my late 20’s and early 30’s I went back and listened to all of the music I’d deprived myself of when I was a kid. So many anthems that could have helped me sooner; so many lyrics that could have touched my soul. I wish now that I’d had it then, but if not for Chester and the rest of Linkin Park, I may never have had it at all.
So, thank you, Chester Bennington. Thank you for setting me free. Thank you for breaking my shell and teaching me it was okay to define myself however I wanted to. Thank you for the outlet you provided for my anger, confusion, and doubt. Thank you for the lyrics that helped me make sense of it all. I can assure you, you’ve left behind many, many reasons to be missed.
Rest In Peace.