Put to rest what you thought of me
While I clean this slate
With the hands of uncertainty
So let mercy come and wash away
What I’ve done
– What I’ve Done
Linkin Park, Minutes to Midnight
Today’s post is brought to you by the untimely death of Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington. Untimely for all of us maybe, but timely to him. I’ve seen a dozen thinkpieces pop up over the past two days since word spread that he’d hung himself on Chris Cornell’s birthday. Most people reacted with shock, anger, and sadness. Mine was surprise, but I wasn’t as surprised as I thought I would be. Anyone familiar with his work was aware, at least on a subconscious level, that this was a guy who had inner demons he dealt with every day. He sang about endings as beginnings, about sunsets over sunrise, about being numb, about things that rippled under his skin begging to be set free.
This was what drew me Linkin Park and their first two albums – the rage, the helplessness, the frustration bubbled over through the electronic stylings of Joseph Khan, the quiet, resolute anger of Mike Shinoda and most of all, the painful sonic howl that seemed ripped from Chester Bennington’s very soul. The band came out when “screamo” was starting to gain traction in the Top 40: Evanescence, My Chemical Romance, Paramore, Fall Out Boy. It was the inevitable reaction to the uncompromisingly upbeat music of the late 90’s, the other side of that shiny happy coin. And Linkin Park, with all its raw honesty, made music that sonically celebrated destruction and anger, but stopped just short of ripping your eardrums to shreds.
Hybrid Theory and Meteora were albums I related to, as strange as that sounds to anyone who does know me and my never-ending love of 90’s schlock. Just as the Backstreet Boys, et. al tapped into my nascent longing for love and romance, Linkin Park reached out to my inner angst, taking the rage that I felt at being misunderstood, being helpless, feeling trapped – all the messy emotions that come with teenage acne and swirling hormones – the albums took that mass of negative feelings, and gave them an outlet, leaving me emotionally drained. Hybrid Theory and Meteora, especially helped me do that. I connected with the way they confronted their issues, sang about their pain, and then went about figuring out what to do about it.
Remember when 2016 passed over the doors of famous people like the Angel of Death and all we could do was wait and see who was gonna fall next? Nothing. I’ve never mistaken admiration for personal connection, which is why my reactions when famous people die are muted. I don’t remember feeling much of anything when Princess Diana died, not even when a friend told me about it, crying. I wasn’t out lighting candles and creating shrines when Michael Jackson died. There was no emotional outpouring when Prince passed. It saddened me when Bertrice Small died, just as much as it saddened me when Robin Williams did. As detached as that makes me sound, I like to think these people made enough of a mark on the world, put enough of themselves out there long enough for us not to forget about them because they were brave enough to be themselves, listen to the inner urgings of their creativity and come up with something that connects with an audience, strong enough to make a mark and forge lasting memories.
So I celebrate them, the lives they lived and the music they made by revisiting their work – reading their books, watching their movies, putting on their music videos and listening to their albums. Maybe that’s what immortality is – living on in the memories of those you left behind.
If the self-imposed passing of Robin Williams, Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington is anything to go by, these things aren’t all they’re cut out to be, and if you can’t manage to rise above your own demons and somehow find the strength to go on even when all seems lost, all the material things in the world are never going to be worth it. It doesn’t matter how much fame, wealth or success one has amassed (although they may make things easier). Speaking of easy, it’s always going to be easier to run than to stand your ground and decide to see what else life has in store for you.