Chester Bennington (1976-2017)
- Linkin Park (1997-2017)
- Stone Temple Pilots (temporary singer with STP 2013-2015)
- Dead By Sunrise (2005-2009)(Side Project)
- Grey Daze (1993-1997)
There really is no good way to start a post talking about or reacting to the sad and terrible news of Chester Bennington‘s (Linkin Park) suicide. It is a loss pretty much beyond words and I’m not just saying that. I was saddened about Chris Cornell as well, but there was something about Chester’s personality (or at least public personality) that I could really identify and relate to. He was a little quiet, but very polite. He was funny, but also didn’t completely hide his sadness. Obviously, he likely did not let on enough that he was struggling this deeply, but I’ve seen many radio performances, interviews, and such where he didn’t just put on a mask of smiles and say “I’m great!”. However, my goal isn’t just to create another seemingly typical post/comment (though everyone speaking out is great), but to go further in depth on not only Bennington himself but depression and that dangerous taboo topic: suicide.
One such interview took place with only Chester in 102.7 KIISFM’s (Los Angeles, CA) studio in February of 2017. Though the uploaded notes a cry for help and that may have very well been true. However, it reminds me very much like many times myself where I’ve felt troubled and sat with a friend and spoke about difficulties in depth. For myself and hopefully many others struggling, it actually helps a lot as it’s a huge release. In the case of this interview, Chester makes a lot of good points and gives insight into depression, worded very well, that very well could help someone start to understand a friend’s or family member’s (etc) point of view of depression. His statement of describing his mind as a bad neighborhood where he shouldn’t be alone was a great analogy and metaphor. It visualizes a bit what it’s like to have self-destructive, depressive thoughts/feelings and just having that struggling optimism where someone just can’t “get over it/cheer up” like too many expect of those with depression. Thankfully, a time has come where this conception and state of naivety that can’t really be claimed anymore. Though the video snippet only spans five and a half minutes, note how he goes on a very focused and streamlined process of explaining his personal details of what goes on in many of our heads at some point in life whether a person has depression or not.
One of my favorite of his points was when describing that just because he had Linkin Park going and getting to share that with millions of fans, it doesn’t change the true chemistry and makeup of his brain itself.
“I think for a lot of people like if you’re successful like all of a sudden you get like a green…like you get some card in the mail that says like ‘You’re going to be totally satisfied and happy for the rest of your life’. It…it doesn’t happen like that. Life for me happens the way it always…my..the only difference is I’m in Linkin Park. What goes on inside my head has always been this, it’s always been this way for me.”
The same would very much go for anyone who landed a great job, met a very important person in their life, or finally found themselves in a truly loving relationship, and so on. Sure, things may start to go better and it very well may be that point in their, or your, life that pivots everything into a positive direction and it may even stay like that. For those with diagnosed depression, bipolar disorder, or any mental health issue…it very well could be a turning point. So, my going into depth on his point is not to say things never change or never get better. However, we are still who we are despite events or situations may alter our outlook. This is for both good and bad events. We, as very unique individuals, do not magically change just because financial anxieties become less strained or when a potential relationship ends. Those things, of course, affect us and often to a great degree. Our thinking and ways of thinking, our essence that makes up our own personality, however, is still there. It is frustrating, both for myself and others, to see others have the old fashioned mindset and expectance that a person will just “cheer up”, “get over it”, or “lighten up”. As Chester vocalized and as also many others know, it just doesn’t work like that. Any negative thoughts may, and often do, become dormant and take a backseat finally, but it doesn’t mean they have permanently disappeared. This very equally does not mean that someone is going to be “baggage”, “a pain in the neck”, or a negative energy in the future. As with nearly everything in life it seems, it depends person-to-person.
During the interview, I also think that he came upon an epiphony, or even describing it, that he doesn’t need to be a particular person or their music doesn’t always have to be finding new things to write about and so forth. He seems extremely sincere and honestly grateful that he (and they as Linkin Park) acknowledge and are aware that so many things in life that we experience everyday or randomly as we move through life are potential topics for songwriting. A common montra for authors and writing is: “write what you know” (as described in BigThink’s “Write What You Know: The Most Misunderstood Piece of Good Advice, Ever”). This isn’t only because it is likely true, though there should be nothing wrong with fictional writing as well, because we each have unique perspectives about any situation, aspect, or event in life. For example, a musician or band puts out a new album. Even if taking the album into a study group of ten people and play it to them in the same room at the same time. You’re going to get ten completely different perspectives and thoughts behind those points of view. This isn’t to say that there aren’t points where two or more people agree and connect on. Music especially is extremely personal and subjective. Granted there are some who would passionately disagree or even make a point that being subjective to music is “wrong”, I think it’s a wonderful thing. What would be the point of life if we were all carbon copies of each other. Thoughts, actions, responses, feelings would be completely predicted. When I was still in college for Web Development, both in development courses as well as psycholigy and philosophy, it was embraced that “art is rightfully subjective”. Though some can truly get overly opinionated over music, it’s given a bad reputation.
“We don’t need to find the source of inspiration and ‘what’s this record about’. This is our life, you know, we always have written about our lives and like that should just be enough. We don’t need to find some new thing, like, life is always throwing these curve balls at you, whether they’re good or bad. Like, it just happens and eventually, what I’ve found is, (….) the thing is coming out the other side … is like, man I’m a better person because of that or I’m more compassionate because of that. Like … I think I understand people or humanity a little bit different ‘cuz I’ve been through some pretty crazy stuff.”
One More Light
One More Light, Linkin Park’s seventh studio album, was released only two months ago on May 19th, 2017. I really wish I can remember, or had bookmarked, where I had read or seen it in an interview that when the band reconvened to start a new album in 2015, initial talks on starting the writing process had started. Shortly after, when he was earlier asked by a bandmate how he was doing, Chester recanted a bit and stated “Actually, you guys, I’m not doing very well/my minds not in a good place”. This may, of course, not be the actual quote. You guys hopefully have noted that I love to cite sources. Not only for credibility but accuracy. However, as the writing process had started and their conversations had turned more to all band members agreeing that while writing, they should be as open and personal as possible, it may have allowed Chester to reach out. Obviously, we are not internal members so he may have reached out and accepted often. In either case, it should be respected that he had the ability to recognize, analyze, and try to be proactive about the bad spot he was feeling.
The band had approached a new angle to the writing process by working on lyrics/words and melodies first before even deciding on the style of that song. I think this is what leads the album to have a softer, vulnerable yet very soulful sound to it (source). Unfortunately, as I’ll write about in another article for One More Light, the album was harshly criticized by critics and some fans alike. I’m noting that many fans LOVE the album. Linkin Park has never attempted or even wanted to stay in one genre and pigeon-hole themselves. I strongly respect this. Regardless, while the all band members aimed to make it personal, Chester frequently expresed how personal and important the album was to him.
One wouldn’t have to read that fact however, even pre-release “teaser” songs such as the album’s first single, “Heavy”, Chester undeniably adapts or adds a very different, new to us, style to his vocals. Certainly not the only one, but I wasn’t fully surprised knowing (at least in spirit) Chester’s powerfully emotional personality as well as professional footage from their performance at the iTunes Festival in 2011. They, more accurately Mike Shinoda and Chester Bennington, covered Adele‘s classic “Rolling In The Deep”. They had also performed it for at least one radio station performance. I already had a powerful love for his vocals but when I first heard him singing in Adele’s style (and a more vulnerable style of his of course), I stopped and was hypnotized immediately. Also, it’s not only the sound and vocal inflection but his overall body language. With his eyes closed the entire song and with both painful and soulful expressions of pure passion and reminiscent of the soul genre itself, he visually drifts to another world entirely. I obviously didn’t know him personally, but I remember being very proud of him as I’ve always respected musicians who are genuine and do what they want to hear. I remember quietly saying to myself, “Good for you Chester!”. Up to that point, it’s also, maybe arguably, the most passionate “from the heart” vocals he did.
When “Heavy” came out ahead of One More Light, I immediately noted this performance as a precursor to this. Though the timeline doesn’t match, I even wonder if Chester wanted to test or express a desire to sing with a little more “soul” by singing “Rolling In The Deep”. I’ve never had an even brief thought of Chester’s vocals being weak but this song, and album, took guts. It’s doubtful the band was unaware that it could cause a ripple of negative reactions when it came out. Most likely, they even expected it. Again, the review is for another article, but it’s difficult to even point out highlights in, specifically at this time, Chester’s vocals on this album as they’re solid from start to finish.
Sadly, on May 18th, 2017 in Detroit, MI; Chris Cornell (of Soundgarden, Audioslave, and solo work) committed suicide. He and Chester had built a pretty strong friendship. In an interview with Mike Shinoda and Brad Delson for Radio.com on May of 2017, they expressed how much Chester was affected by Cornell’s death. The day after Cornell’s death, Linkin Park was scheduled to perform on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Instead of promoting their new single, “Heavy”, they decided to play “One More Light” in dedication to Chris Cornell. In the interview, Mike explains how Chester couldn’t even get through the soundchecks as he kept choking up by the sadness. The recorded perfomance or “One More Light”, a song written about coping with a friend’s death, is surely a milestone or classic moment in music as you can visibly see the sadness in every band member on the stage. Even in this performance, Chester “loses it” at the end, getting choked up, and misses a line. A loving moment in this is when guitarist Brad Delson looks up at Chester to check how he is doing.
Regardless of his passing, I hope that most remember Chester as a fighter, as I do. Not only a victim of sexual abuse and high school bullying, which lead to heavy drug usage in his teenage years, he parted ways with his previous band Grey Daze (Grey Daze performance in Tempe, AZ – 1996) due to the rest of the bands drug use and that he wanted to clean up. Continuing to fight his demons and depression, he joined Linkin Park in 1997 (Mike Shinoda shared their first photo) and sang to us for twenty years as Linkin Park’s lead singer (sharing vocals with Mike Shinoda). Suicide is not committed by the weak or selfish, but when someone’s pain is just too great for them to endure any longer. It is their breaking point and I assure you, everyone has a breaking point. Still, it is a tragedy that possibly may have been prevented. As a fan, fellow musician, and respecter of his art…I’ll miss Chester dearly and there is definitely a massive void within music.
Often fighting depression myself, I try to find the meanings and the only good things that can come from dark times, tragedies, and so forth. Many are speaking of the sudden “suicide epidemic” or “what’s going on lately”. This is not “new”, it is not only Chester Bennington or Chris Cornell or even celebrities. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reports that suicide statistics have risen to 44,000+ Americans dying per year, making it the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. What I hope is gained by these tragedies is that conversations are opened up to talk about these so-called “taboo” topics. Topics including depression, suicidal ideology, and sexual abuse in general but especially gaining headway in talking about men and depression/suicide. There is most certainly prevention and belittling or shaming even one celebrity has the domino effect of forcing another struggling with the same thing to suppress for fear or demotivation to reach out to others. Treatment also takes time. One psychologist does not fit all. One treatment does not fit all. It is a battle.
So many topics were outside the scope of this article or would have made the article a novelette to read including his work with Dead By Sunrise (highlighting the songs “In The Darkness”, “End of the World”, and “Let Down”) as well as filling in as a vocalist after Stone Temple Pilots permanently parted ways with Scott Weiland (2013-2015). Also, his early years (though heartbreaking) are also worth reading up on. My heart and soul goes out to Chester’s family first of all, Chesters bandmates especially Linkin Park, and the millions of fans who are devastated and trying to make sense of this.
In memory of Chester Bennington, Chris Cornell or any of the 44,000+ Americans per year that die due to suicide.
I will update this article as more resources and related links are found
- First Linkin Park Photo (@m_shinoda on Instagram)
- 102.7 KIISFM: Chester Bennington Interview (February 2017)
- Linkin Park on Jimmy Kimmel Live
- Radio.com: Mike Shinoda, Brad Delson Interview
- Linkin Park: “Rolling In The Deep” (Adele cover)(iTunes Festival, 2011)
- Big Think: “Write What You Know”-The Most Misunderstood Piece of Good Advice, Ever
- LinkinPedia: One More Light
Help and Resources
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
- Out of the Darkness Walks (AFSP Annual Charity Evens (held locally by chapters)
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (Hotline):1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Suicide Prevention Resource Center
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
- Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DB Alliance)
Linkin Park: “One More Light” Live on Jimmy Kimmel
Radio.com: Interview with Mike Shinoda & Brad Delson
Grey Daze in Tempe, AZ (1996)
Linkin Park: “Rolling In The Deep” (live at iTunes Festival, 2011)
102.7 KIISFM: Chester Bennington Interview (February 2017)