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Today’s apparent suicide of Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington has been a hard thing to face, especially as he saved many from taking that route. Myself included.
I, like many teenagers, didn’t enjoy being a teenager. I was your prototype mope loner, shirking social contact and social norms. It feels prosaic now, but I absolutely felt absolutely alone. No one asked about my mental state in these years, and I preferred it that way. There were vast untapped reservoirs of anger and hate within, a massively displaced body of feeling that I was unsure why I felt it in the first place.
I didn’t get it, therefore how could you?
Central to this formative experience was the chance of suicide. Fragments of it lay on the floors of my friends. My first girlfriend, Steph*, participated in what I learned was called an ‘attempt’, and as an adult, it would be probably pigeonholed as a ‘cry for attention’; her best friend went the whole way, existence removed through the medium of a commuter train. There was no great dialogue on the topic, because what could you say. Instead, you thought about it, those vicious internalised thoughts roaring, devouring the gnats of fleeing logic inside your head. Steph did it, as she would tell me, because she had nothing to say. The person she wanted to reach was gone, and she suddenly became the go-to for people asking why her best friend did it. She didn’t know.
Those ancient teenage questions cropped up this morning on my breakfast table, with the apparent suicide of Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington. News that left my muesli hanging prostrate, as my mind spun back to those evenings I walked with nowhere to go, and the girl with the broken smile held together with safety pins. The music of Linkin Park did, as I imagine it did for many members of my generation, validated the feelings we didn’t understand. It was okay to be angry. To not fit in. To be you. Before I bought the album, I did what everyone did: I pirated the CD and stole the album cover from Sanity. I’d later purchase it properly from the same store. Wingmanned through the angst carved into plastic, lugging an impossibly large walkman in your impossibly large jacket, your existence became a sort of rebellion, against society, and indeed yourself. Death would be capitulation. They, whoever they were, would not win. Looking back, this morning, blaring Reanimation at full volume like days of old, I realise the greatest gift he gave us was the creation of a boogie man that wasn’t us. The bastard within, the one that wanted to kill, no longer wore your face. You were still angry, but not strictly at yourself. The furious head-nodding while furious was cathartic.
Your existence became a sort of rebellion, against society, and indeed yourself. Death would be capitulation. They, whoever they were, would not win.
That was then, and as an adult, the chances of suicide escape your thinking. However, it’s not remiss to say that there’s a number of us who got to adulthood purely on the back of Chester and the gang’s music. His death by something that he protected us from is a difficult fact to digest. In preparation of this article, I read the headlines, and not the articles, because I didn’t want to know the practicalities of it, or the new deeper meaning of their last concert. Because, in the end, it doesn’t really matter. The true lesson is in his final act. He reminded us of his formative lecture, in that these feelings, unchecked, never leave, and those invisible demons that walk alongside us do not dissipate at the sight of pubic hair. Chester was, and will remain, the Moses that lead us through the emotional desert. He matters now because he mattered then, even if he tried to break free of that definition. There’s a logic rope I grasp that cuts my palms, in that death became him, because he became that in all of us.
So, today, I’m not going to make a lazy meme epitaph or update my status with a now prophetic lyric of his, I’ll honour him by walking my dog and doing the housework.
The seemingly prosaic everyday acts he had no small part in enabling.