All too often, it seems, we find ourselves here. This purgatorial and powerless state in which we mourn lives lost far too early, one more light lost under the most tragic of circumstances. On Thursday, July 20th, the world was struck with yet another blow as the news emerged that Chester Bennignton, the vocalist and front-man for the colossal and genre defining Linkin Park, had passed away. His death was ruled suicide by hanging. Chester was 41.
Almost a decade ago now, Chester sang;
“When my time comes, forget the wrong that I’ve done.
Help me leave behind some reasons to be missed”
Chester left us many reasons for him to be missed, and judging by the reaction to his death worldwide, his loss continues to be deeply felt. As more details emerge, the picture of a man, small in frame, battling a giant army of personal demons and depression, gives something of a clearer picture. And much and all we would wish he had asked for help, and would encourage anyone with dark thoughts to do so, depression is insidious in the way it works. Something against which Chester battled for many years. Yet Chester was always a fighter, right from the get-go.
Chester first came to prominence when Linkin Park released their ground-breaking debut album, ‘Hybrid Theory’ in 2000. The bands’ blend of metal, rap, electronic, and their affinity for bending the rules, helped them define the genre, Nu-Metal. Even when they broke away from their Nu-Metal giants status, they continued to bend, break and at times bypass entirely what was expected of them. Something that defined Chester as a musician, always looking for what came next. For Linkin Park that was ‘Meteora’, for many a soundtrack-of-their-life album, containing the classic song buried at the back of the track list that would become engraved in the lives of so many: “Numb”.
“I’m tired of being what you want me to be.” “All I want to do is be more like me and be less like you”.
Here, at the core of it all, pumped the very real, beating heart of Linkin Park in heartfelt lyrics and vocals, delivered with his right-hand man and counterpoint Mike Shinoda, who shared vocal duties, collaborated on songwriting and rapped over the melodies. With a voice that screamed, called, yearned and defied, Chester sent tendrils of light into the darkest of places, bringing hope, resistance, and release. Giving a sense, to many, of their hearing that one other out there who genuinely got them.
This raw honesty continued across his versatile catalogue. Chester’s one-time side project Dead by Sunrise earned him wider recognition, particularly after the release of the bands ballad “Let Down” which quickly became a fan favourite. When Chester was handpicked to replace the late Scott Weiland as vocalist and frontman for the much beloved Stone Temple Pilots, whom he fronted from 2013 to 2015, he again showed that unique talent for connecting with the listener. Unafraid to always test the boundaries, even when these efforts didn’t always ring true, Chester garnered much respect throughout his career from many of his contemporaries for seeking new challenges. You may not always have liked it, but you couldn’t deny the drive and determination, the refusal to be defined as one thing, even in the face of those who would try box him into that corner.
And now, the light has gone. But his music leaves us with a permanent torch in the darkness.
It can be hard to reconcile the image of this small David constantly battling against hordes of musical goliaths with what we think we now understand. A personal abiding memory of Chester is of a warm day in Dublin where Linkin Park co-headlined with Metallica at the RDS. A hostile crowd of Metallica fans were making their impatience felt. Chester took a moment between songs to say a few words, reminding them that they were there to do their thing too, and won over the entire audience, ending the set with a cracking finish that had everyone involved. Then again, when they returned some years later to headline the same arena, a rare and invaluable moment for those of us front row who, through the gap beneath the stage, saw him walk arm in arm alongside his band-mates from the car to the stairs and emerge from the curtains, determined to give the audience all they had to give as they did on any given night. Indeed, you need not stray too far to find just how many fans consider Linkin Park an essential, sometimes defining and lifesaving part of their formative years.
In his unconditional, at times unrivalled vulnerability and honesty, Chester made it okay “to strive, to seek, to find” the path to ones best self. Regardless of what that journey entailed, when listening to him you felt he understood. And if you ever had the privilege of watching him perform live, it was there too, in the flesh, looking you in the eye, telling you it was okay to be you.
“I used to be my own protection, but not now.” Lyrics sung in “Valentine’s Day” on the bands ‘Minutes to Midnight’ album, Chester revealed that even the strongest strings begin to fray. While he, admittedly, felt lost in himself more times than not, his words formed themselves as protection for so many fans that would follow him anywhere. Chester cared, and he cared big, showing it time and time again in his lyrics that brought the light that pulled countless out of their darkness, even if in the end he couldn’t pull himself out of his own.
Understandably, people react and mourn in different ways, and Chester’s passing has seen heartache, tears, rage, frustration, all being given vent in response to his untimely passing. All of which serve as indicators of the sincere depth of affection felt for this small, yet powerful man. Coming so soon after the passing of his good friend and fellow beloved musician, Chris Cornell, compounds the loss even more. Friends and fans alike have sent an outpouring of love to Chester’s family and band mates, to whom our deepest sympathies and sincerest love go out to at this time.
In the title track for the last Linkin Park album ‘One More Light’, Chester sang;
“Who cares when someone’s time ran out? If a moment is all we are?” “Who cares if one more light goes out?” “Well, I do.”
As do we Chester. For you.
Tried so hard, got so far, in the end it all mattered. It mattered so much to so many. Whether you were a fan or not, whether you fell in or out of love with Linkin Park at various times throughout your life, there was no denying the voice and the impact that came with it. Every time he sang, it was done with a relentless honesty and passion uniquely his own.
Hindsight gives us 20/20 vision they say, the ability to see everything clearly. But it’s not entirely true. Depression cares not about gender, ethnicity, age or celebrity status, and we lose far too many to it. And while the tragic circumstances of Chester’s passing cannot and should not be denied, they cannot be what defines him either. A point that cannot be overstated: if we can’t choose that which we remember, we can choose what, and how, we remember.
Rest well, Chester. You did the world, and many in it, a lot of good. You left behind a musical legacy that will linger long into the future, continuing to bring light into the darkness for so many others. A gift you gave selflessly. No one can ever take from you. Tonight, the sun will set for you.
Carl O'Rourke is a musician, songwriter, multi instrumentalist, sound engineer, producer, assistant editor and music journalist. He studied journalism in Dublin and covers shows, DVD's, albums and interviews. Carl has toured extensively and was twice the recipient of an Irish Young Musicians Award, and in 2013 produced and independently released his bands debut album. Carl divides his time between London, UK and Dublin, Ireland.
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