Chester Bennington died yesterday.
As a child of the new millennium – I was two weeks shy of my eighth birthday when the clock struck midnight – it is almost overwhelming for me to imagine a world growing up without Linkin Park’s music. Particularly without Chester’s voice – that controlled snarl, at once wild yet tamed, that voice that defined the rage of a whole generation, that spoke out to lonely, angry, confused young people like me and said ‘it’s okay to be mad – I am too’.
I have talked about my teenage years being lonely and confusing, fuelled by an ever-growing sense of difference and insecurity, but I have yet to talk about just how angry I was. And I was so angry. The world didn’t make any sense to me, and everyone around me seemed to be just accepting it. That made me furious. I wanted to grab every smiling face by the ears and scream why the hell aren’t you as angry as I am?
I was angry at every unfairness I saw, every injustice, every deviation away from a perfect balance. I was angry about the cultural rules I was supposed to know, and angry at the judgement and ridicule when I forgot to follow. I was angry that these rules existed, because who the hell even consulted on this before smashing it into my face? I was angry at myself for not being able to conform, for being different, for being a weirdo, for not being able to be like everyone else. I was angry because I wasn’t coping. I was angry because the person next me was breathing to loudly. I was angry, angry, angry.
We like to laugh the rage of teenagers away, flick it off with movement of the hand and adoption of the words ‘teenage angst’; relegating it to something that is petty, childish and completely unwaranted. But they are wrong.
The anger of young people is real anger. The pain of young people is real pain. The outpouring of emotion is real and scorching, particularly in the modern day – everything is fast and furious and scathing and target-driven and terrifying, a pressure cooker that threatens to overflow at any moment. Young people – children, really, although I didn’t see myself as that at the time – have legitimate reasons to feel the emotions they do. The world pours scorn upon them and their experiences. They are pushed to reach target after target, defining their lives to fit into socially acceptable little boxes before the brain has even developed enough to explore the amazing facets of who they are. No achievement is ever enough. It’s like being trapped in a cage, and growing up is like learning to accept that cage. It’s terrifying. It’s agonising.
Linkin Park got that. Chester got that.
When Chester sang, he poured every inch of pain and rage into the words; you could feel it in your gut. I remember, in moments of anger, frustration and upset, plugging in the latest Linkin Park album and letting it rumble so loudly that everything else was blocked out. It was like being immersed in it; it allowed me to connect to my emotions, to feel every last exposed nerve, and to embrace the sense that someone understood.
Here was someone who didn’t understand the world. Here was someone who was hurting deeply. Here was someone who wanted to rage and scream. Here was someone who wasn’t ashamed to rage and scream. And he did it so beautifully.
‘Numb’ was an autobiographical version of my life, of the painful depressing numbness that grew as I became more aware of the world and how little I connected with it. ‘Crawling’ was the anthem of my uncomfortable relationship to the world, that feeling of pin pricks in my skin as everything was too loud, too bright, too nonsensical, too awful. ‘One Step Closer’ was the point at which it became too much, which I wanted to scream and clutch my hair and beat the walls to make everything go away. And then the gentler tones of ‘In Pieces’ and ‘Shadow of the Day’, sad and mournful, full of pain and tenderness, allowing me to lay in bed and finally lose myself in tears.
I was not the most ardent fan. I never saw them live. I did not know every aspect of their lives, every note of their music. I liked many their most played singles rather than knowing the more obscure ones. They were not the focal point of my life. But they were the background soundscape that supported me for years. And that meant everything.
Their music was there when I needed it the most. It gave me an outlet. It allowed me to kick and scream without causing myself or anyone else any major damage. Even as I grew older, reaching university age, and some of my acquaintances were going through their ’embarrassed-by-everything-I-liked-as-a-teenager’ stage, I kept on listening. Their music grew up with me. As my anger evolved from my personal rage to fury at the societal systems around me, particularly in my activist work at university, so, it seemed, did theirs – while some mocked A Thousand Suns for it’s much more experimental and electronic tone, I adored it for it’s message of rising up and rebelling against a broken system.
The song ‘Wretches and Kings’ included an excerpt from a speech by activist Mario Savio:
“There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part; you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop.”
That, followed by Chester’s screaming assertion that we were ‘coming’ for the ‘wretches and kings’ of the world, became my mantra and my guiding beacon of discontent.
I cherish that album. When I’m feeling filled to the brim with hot rage-magma, those are the songs I turn to. They are not just a release of my anger, but a directional force to keep me fighting to change what I see as wrong.
My heart is broken.
Everything hurts. I have struggled to focus, struggled to take it in, struggled to understand and comprehend and even begin to process any sort of emotion. My mums tried to speak to me about it last night, but I answered with a snapped ‘I know’ and went back to my sulky silence. I had no words, and I didn’t want anyone else’s. I didn’t know how to respond. I still don’t.
The voice that gave so much had gone. That voice that defined a generation filled with uncertainty, and pain, and anger, wouldn’t sing any more. We knew, from his interviews, that he had experienced struggle and pain. He had experienced horrors as a child that I don’t even want to go into, and he had fought against the dark that had consumed his life for so long. And, right now, it feels like the darkness has won. And I hate it.
When something like this happens, we as a society like to put out a strong narrative of: ‘if you are feeling suicidal, please know you can reach out to me for help’. This narrative, whilst well-meaning, is not constructive. When you are in that state, lost in that mindset, the ability to reach out for help is as far away from your grasp as the moon. Instead, others need to reach out to you. Speak to friends, to family. Make sure they are okay. Keep an eye on them. Offer help, and then, when they don’t respond, offer it again. Keep your eyes open. Do not assume that things are okay. Watch for the signs. Reach, reach, and keep on reaching. Don’t stop.
I just hope that Chester knew how much he gave to us. How much he spoke for us as a generation. How many dark days were endurable because of those words raged forth from those glorious vocal cords.
And I just wish I could tell him how he took an angry, lonely, confused little queer autistic girl, and gave her the tools she needed to survive.
Thank you, Chester.
I can’t feel the way I did before
Don’t turn your back on me
I won’t be ignored
Time won’t heal this damage anymore
Don’t turn your back on me
I won’t be ignored
‘Faint’ – Linkin Park