July 22, 2017
It is not that Linkin Park’s 2000 album Hybrid Theory sounded so little like that which came before it, and it is not that there was only one real copy that my pals and I passed around like a secret until we each burned our own copy and scrawled some shitty art on the blank CD face, and it is not that those copies rattled around at the top of the rotation in our car’s center consoles for a whole winter and then a summer and then another winter after that, and it is not that it felt for a moment like the tree shook and from it dropped an album that was made for our wretched and perpetually heartbroken generation.
It is, perhaps, that Chester Bennington had a voice that sounded like a knife crying out with the delight and agony of being sharpened. It is that the first words on Hybrid Theory are “Why does it feel like night today?” in the song “Papercut,” and then the chorus says, “It’s like a whirlwind inside of my head,” and it was a whirlwind inside of my own. It is that my pals maybe made it through a year or two that they might not have otherwise because Linkin Park, and specifically Bennington, kicked in the door to our respective darknesses not to spark a light, but to sit with us for a while.
It feels empty to say this, but I don’t want to think about Chester Bennington’s departure only in terms of songs, or albums. I think about Bennington first in terms of presence — vocal presence, sure — but also what he allowed others to see in him.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the artist who chooses to make themselves a mirror. It is brave work, and it should be hailed as such. The work of allowing people to see bits of their pain in your own pain is often thankless but needed labor — labor that takes on a heavier weight as the platform of an artist grows. But even if you are able to make a map out of your grief and trauma with the chart of a generous mapmaker, it doesn’t mean the mapmaker has figured their own way out of whatever maze their trauma has trapped them in. There is a difference between the work of not wanting others to die and the work that comes with keeping yourself alive.
Chester Bennington was a survivor, of many things. And I believe that survival — no matter how long — is a type of heroism.
I want to say that I hate the thing we do where we talk about suicide in terms of winning and losing: a person either beating their demons or losing to them. It boils down an ongoing struggle into a simple binary, to be celebrated and mourned — as if every day survived on the edge of anything isn’t simply gearing up for another day to survive and another day after that. And Chester Bennington was a survivor, of many things: sexual abuse as a child, violent bullying as a skinny high school student — things that he said pushed him to years of drug and alcohol addiction. And I believe survival of this — no matter how long — is a type of heroism.