A sad salute

Judge me for the subject matter if you want, but I can’t not say this.

Last night I was sat with family watching TV, idly checking Facebook, and a headline caught my eye in the corner of the screen. A name I knew. Chester Bennington dies age 41 in reported suicide.

“Oh my God…oh shit…oh shit..!”

I rarely show much emotion in front of other people, so unsurprisingly my Mum looked at me in alarm, and my aunt sat bolt upright on the edge of her seat. “What is it? Is it terrorists? Is it a bomb?”

And for a second I hated them. “No, it won’t matter to you, someone’s died, not someone you know.” Leave me alone to process this.

“Who is it? Come on, who is it?”

“Chester Bennington, lead singer of Linkin Park.” I was heart-breakingly embarrassed as I admit this, like a lot of people are when they feel a connection to a group that everyone else seems to laugh at or put down. So they shout sometimes. So what?

“Oh right…oh, well they were your favourites when you were a teenager, weren’t they? Oh dear. Oh look, it says on my phone this Chester guy did drugs. Oooh, six kids by two different women.”

We’ll put that aside for a minute.

I’ve never seen LP perform live (now I never can), and I’ve never met Chester Bennington, but in the world of celebrities he’s probably the one who means the most to me. His voice is unbelievable. Sometimes hauntingly soft, sometimes furiously loud, sometimes rough and raw, sometimes smooth, measured, and always utterly captivating. Many of Linkin Park’s song lyrics stay with me in one way or another, and I don’t know who in the band wrote them, but I think at least 50% of my attachment comes from Chester’s delivery.

I’ve been an LP fan since I was 11. Hybrid Theory was the first album I found I could sit down and listen to in one go, fully absorbed. I remember as a kid listening to With You on my Walkman in the car, miming along, and I got so swept along by it that my parents had to tell me to shut up because actually I was kind of breathily shouting. LP can do that to you. Hybrid Theory, Meteora, Reanimation, A Thousand Suns and Living Things are my go-to comfort music.

At 19 my mental health started to deteriorate, and singing along with Chester helped me to express feelings I didn’t really understand at the time. Most memorably, there was a time when I ran away from uni, from home, to the coast, with the intention of commiting suicide. I went to a rocky beach in the dark, intending to go and sit in the water until hypothermia took my life (it was Winter), and it occurred to me I could listen to LP while I was waiting. The music brought me back. I walked up and down this beach in the dark, probably a couple of miles in total, and screamed the lyrics into the wind. There was no one else around, no lights, and I could let everything out. I didn’t kill myself. I went back to my hotel, and the next morning I went home.

I’m not being dramatic, or trying to imply that Chester Bennington saved my life, but he and Linkin Park helped me to keep it on that occasion, and have been helping me hold onto sanity for years. I am so, so sad that Chester committed suicide. I’m sorry that he was in enough pain to feel the need to do that. And naturally, I’m so sorry for his wife, his children, his friends, his bandmates, and everyone else who will be mourning this loss. I didn’t know Chester at all and I feel so much pain – I can’t imagine what it’s like for those who did know him.

Here’s hoping he’s found a better place now.

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