It was May 29, 2017 when I received a notification from the official Warner Bros. Philippines account. Oh my god, is this it? I asked myself. It was.
When Warner Music Philippines’ Facebook page announced that they would be having a Q&A with Linkin Park and that they would be getting fan questions from the comments, I randomly asked one in hopes that one of my favorite bands would answer it. They did. My inner 14-year old was ecstatic. It was one of the happiest days of my life.
Two months later, on the morning of July 21, 2017, I woke up to news I never, ever wanted to hear, at least this early in my life. Chester Bennington, the lead singer of one of my favorite bands, Linkin Park, has died at age 41. And what was even more shocking to me was that he took his own life.
My friends know that I had a massive Linkin Park phase during my high school years. I posted an embarrassing number of Linkin Park posts in Facebook and most of my conversations with my friends during recess breaks were either arguments about their musical direction or conversations about which one was our favorite song. It was so apparent that one of my friends gave me a customized Linkin Park mug for my birthday that I still use up to this day.
Looking back, I could see why they were so popular during their early days, even up until now. Sure, they’re more famous for their early nu metal music, but something about them stood out. They effortlessly blended rock with hip hop and electronic music, which made their crossover to electronic rock and pop seem not as jarring. They dealt with angsty yet relatable themes that were safe enough for radio. They had a pop vibe to their songs – “In the End”, “Numb”, “Breaking the Habit”, to name a few – that gave them the crossover appeal that made them appealing to the mainstream.
They once mentioned that when they headlined rock festivals, they looked like the Backstreet Boys in comparison to the other bands. It helped that they were an amazing act live for both older and newer album tours, where they simultaneously brought energetic, genre-defying sets with constant audience interaction.
But I was kind of a weird Linkin Park fan primarily because I grew to like their music from what was their most polarizing record at the time, A Thousand Suns. It was just so left field for a band so famous for a distinct sound that it became really intriguing, other than the fact that I was digging the songs (“Waiting for the End” is still one of their best songs in my opinion). It introduced me to their older material, and it was my mood music when I was struggling with academics or being bullied by classmates. Other than its relatability, Linkin Park’s music didn’t only introduce me to rock; I grew to appreciate hip hop, EDM, ambient music, indie pop & rock, folk music, acoustic music and even R&B. I learned to love and admire all kinds of music, and realized that there’s nothing to be ashamed of stuff I genuinely enjoy.
At the core of this sound was the vocalist duo of Chester Bennington and Mike Shinoda. Mike was the designated rapper to Chester’s singing, and the two were inseparable in the band’s best tracks. As the band’s career flourished, Mike and Chester would hold their own in their own tracks. Although he continues to rap, Mike showcased his surprisingly good singing in songs like “Burning in the Skies”, “In Between” and “Sorry for Now”, which is personally my favorite song off their newest record.
But while Mike served as the band’s backbone in producing and managing the band’s musical direction, Chester’s singing flourished as his career continued. It was powerful when needed and somber if necessary. He can scream for seventeen seconds straight in “Given Up”. He can be moody and restrained in “My December” and “Roads Untraveled”. And he can give a soulful performance, especially with songs like “Talking to Myself” and his amazing cover of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep”.
And it helped that the band – which also included drummer Rob Bourdon, bassist Dave “Phoenix” Farrell, guitarist Brad Delson and DJ Joe Hahn – were really nice in person. They were hilarious in interviews, and they barely had any controversy outside their music throughout their career. They were generous people, as their charity Music for Relief has donated and helped out during the 2004 Indian earthquake, the 2010 Haiti earthquake, and even the 2013 Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines; the band even recruited other bands in a fundraising show for those affected by Yolanda.
Chester was a source of inspiration to me for defying all odds and coming out strong, and sharing that strength to his friends, family and fans. He came from a background of both physical and sexual abuse, drug and alcohol addiction, and being a high school dropout. Despite all this, he overcame his demons, raked up the rewards of being with the band (including two Grammys and a rare RIAA Diamond certification for debut record Hybrid Theory) and had a wonderful family of his own. He was excited in talking about their musical direction, but also honest when speaking about struggling with depression and insecurities.
This translated largely to their music, which countered angst with a fighting, overcoming spirit. These themes even carried over to Chester’s side project with Julien K, the grunge/punk band Dead by Sunrise, and also to his short stint as the lead singer of Stone Temple Pilots. And as Linkin Park quickly leapt from one genre to another, their lyricism started to mature, and they became more resonant to me.
That was on full display with One More Light, their latest album, which was released last May. It may have debuted at #1 in the Billboard 200, but it was largely controversial due to shifting to a full-pop sound. What people overlooked was the lyrical content, which the band described was their most personal album yet. Its angsty songs are more explicit, like how “Halfway Right” talks about Chester’s previous struggles with drug addiction. They addressed personal problems, such as Mike’s ode to his children in “Invisible”. There’s even a surprisingly optimistic empowerment song, “Battle Symphony”. It was this point when I finally started to understand and appreciate the band’s lyrics, however imperfect they may be.
One More Light isn’t among their best records, but it stands out because of how mature, relatable and grown-up it sounds, especially with their more personal lyrical content. This carried over to their promo tour, which largely consisted of interviews with Chester and Mike talking about personal stories in making One More Light. And I couldn’t be prouder of how far the band – especially Chester – has gone since their younger, bleached-hair days when most of them were fighting to prove something.
Hybrid Theory reminded me that we’ve all been angry at times in our lives. We sometimes vent out frustrations. Above all, I wasn’t alone in feeling left out and being misunderstood by peers.
A Thousand Suns reminded me that it’s better to take risks rather than remain stagnant. I didn’t have to please everybody I met. I credit it for my drive not be boxed in by anything, whether it’s the courses I study or the passions I pursue.
One More Light reminded me that nothing’s wrong with growing up. We all learn new things as we grow older, and sometimes it’s better to understand others than forcing others to understand us. It’s okay to admit our problems, and, in the process, forgive others and ourselves.
I found out about Chester’s death when my timeline and Facebook messages were flooded by my friends who knew of my love for Linkin Park. I re-watched the time Chester answered my question that I asked through Warner Music Philippines. I was emotional the whole morning not only because of the sudden nature of it all, but because it was a suicide. I thought that just because he’s finally grown so much emotionally and musically and he’s been so open about fighting his demons that he’d finally conquered his depression.
As I listened through my collection of Linkin Park music, I found myself surprised over which song hit me the most. It wasn’t “Leave Out All the Rest”, a song perfectly apt for this moment. It wasn’t “Iridescent”, a tune that comforts the lost and the desperate. And it wasn’t even “One More Light”, the band’s ode to a friend who passed that holds a different meaning now.
It was “Sharp Edges”, off the One More Light album, for two reasons. One was because this was the last song off their latest album, and the last time we’d ever hear his voice. The other because was it was the perfect bookend to the band’s career. “Everything you say to me / Takes me one step closer to the edge / And I’m about to break,” Chester and Mike aggressively yelp in their debut single, “One Step Closer”, a rap metal anthem for angsty teens and a herald to the band’s flourishing career. Meanwhile, the folky “Sharp Edges” goes, “Sharp edges have consequences / I guess that I had to find out for myself.” It was a song about growing up, reflecting on the decisions that defined us, and forgiving others and yourself. This was a complete 180 for the band: the rebellious, angry youngsters grew into mature adults ready to accept what life brings them.
What got me was the bridge: “We all fall down / We live somehow / We learn what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” Why didn’t Chester listen to his own advice, and why did he lose to the very enemy he’d fought so valiantly? I kept thinking about why he would do such a thing. But then the bridge repeats again, and it hits me. I don’t need to know why he did it, since we’ll probably never know anyway. What matters now is what must we do from now on. We’ve survived several pains and trials in our lives, and we must strive to learn from our experiences.
Lately, Chester’s wife Talinda has started a mental health campaign, “320 Changes Direction”, which encourages people to remove the stigma of mental health issues and streamline access to available help, in honor of his birthday (March 20). Mike recently released his debut solo album under his own name, Post Traumatic, which in my opinion is a great album that channels that grief and feelings surrounding Chester’s death into music, while showing an honest side of where he is today. Most of his press interviews involve reliving his feelings about his best friend’s death, and yet he handles it with grace, with added awareness on mental health.
The band also launched Chester.LinkinPark.com, a suicide-awareness website with the hashtag #MakeChesterProud, where fans’ posts about mental health and tributes to Chester are collected. This is his impact on all his fans, even if he may have not gotten the help he needed. His legacy remains as how Linkin Park’s music inspired hope in the midst of emotional angst and regret, and inspiration to overcome personal burdens and stigma on topics such as depression and mental health. And that can start too with helping those who might be in the same condition as he was.
If you’re feeling down, if you need someone to talk to, or if you need someone to pray over you, don’t be afraid to reach out to others. Ask for friendly advice. Seek professional help if needed. And if your friends and family are in need, approach them. Listen to them. You may not have the solutions right now, but you can encourage others that they aren’t alone and that you’re there for them no matter what.
“Who cares if one more light goes out? Well, I do,” Chester sings in “One More Light”. In the end, despite losing his battle, Chester mattered. And through Chester’s fight, I learned that everyone matters. You matter.
And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
In case you or someone you know needs support or has suicidal thoughts, you can contact the following:
Hopeline – (02) 804-4673 (HOPE); 0917-5584673; and 2919 for Globe and TM subscribers.
Manila Lifeline Center – (02) 896-9191, or 0917-8549191.
Image header taken from Chester.LinkinPark.com.