Almost every Black person I know who has said they like Linkin Park always refers to their collaborations with Jay Z as the starting point of their awareness in the band. My connection went back a little further than that though. “One Step Closer” was the song that pulled me in. “In the End” was the song that solidified them in my heart as one of my favorites. It was 2000, and bands like Linkin Park, Staind, and other hard rock bands with angst-riddled lyrics were getting airplay on all the local radio stations and of course making the TRL rotation. While I had always listened to rock music in the past, my college days plunged me ever deeper into the hip hop and R&B world to the exclusion of everything else. So listening to this music as a college graduate back in my hometown while I was going through yet another life transition, (the “so I’m a graduate, now what?” time) was a change but yet an appropriate one. They mixed rap with rock. There was screaming, rhymes, scratching, loud guitar riffs…and I loved it. It all resonated with me. I was hooked.
Part of it was timing. Without going into a lot of detail, the latter half of my senior year in college was a time when some pretty dark feelings and emotions resurfaced in my life. I pulled through and did it with a smile, as I always do, but I knew that upon graduation, there would be some things I would finally need to deal with. With music always being a big part of my life, it helping to be the soundtrack to my experiences, the universe stepped in and gave me what I needed to start that process music-wise with Linkin Park. Although I remember reading that they purposely wrote their lyrics to be vague on Hybrid Theory, everything felt so clear when I listened to that album. I played it continuously on repeat, never tiring of it. Where were they when I was in high school and needed them while I was dealing with my father and his overbearing insistence on plans for my life? Where were they when I was so over my high school and everyone there that I was ready to chuck up deuces and never look back? “And how did these strangers, years later, take all this anger I’d had and channel it into music that felt like they’d been reading my diary because. That’s how much I connected to them. And that voice. As much as I enjoyed Mike (Shinoda’s rhyme), it was the anger and vulnerability and honesty in Chester Bennington’s voice that hooked me. I keep saying hooked because that’s what it felt like, like a hook that grabbed a part of me and never let go.
Song after song after song. I braved mosh pits for the first time in my life, watching bands I didn’t care about that opened for them on multiple occasions trying to see them. I’m grateful that I can personally attest to how pure, clear, strong, and perfect Chester’s voice was. How full of energy he was on stage. Everytime.
It’s hard to explain to people who aren’t empathic why I’m affected when people I don’t know (well or at all) pass away or suffer a loss. When it’s someone I’m a fan of, even I feel selfish in my loss because I feel like I don’t have a right to it. I didn’t know this person personally. They weren’t an intricate part of my day-to-day existence. Their family and friends are the ones that really have a right to grief. Practically, as a stranger, it feels like I don’t have a right to feel upset. And so of course I feel all those things now. My prayers and thoughts are with his kids, his wife, his family, and his friends.
But still, when someone whose art has greatly affected your life, you feel something. I felt something when Prince died. When Michael Jackson died. Those deaths felt as surreal as this one does. You never think of your favorites dying. Somehow in their art with their talent, it’s like they become larger than life in our minds somehow. Impervious to tragedy…until, of course, they prove that they’re not. My first thoughts were , “but no…this can’t be…they’re going on tour. My sister was just asking me if I’d be able to fly in and go with her. This has to be a hoax.” I said that even as I saw the news coming from NPR (i.e. a generally trustworthy source). Denial.
But beyond denial and disbelief, I’m just sad and troubled over this lost life. This spirit taken too soon from the monster that is depression. This monster that has taken SO many people. Just like addiction and cancer, and all these illnesses we say “fuck you” to because of how many people they ravage and claim, depression and mental illness is right up there in those ranks. But in our society we don’t have walks and campaigns to raise money for treating mental illness. We whisper about depression because of this stigma that it’s a sign of weakness. So many people only talk about it when they’re on an upswing and doing well. So many others don’t talk about it at all.
There’s a reason why “Leave Out All the Rest,” one of my favorite songs from the Minutes to Midnight, immediately came to mind when I heard the news. I know those words by heart. I thought of them at different points in my past. Moments when my mind wondered to some of the darkest places one’s psyche can go. I felt that.
As I sit and listen to my favorite songs, so many have an added context that I was aware of but now have new depth to them. And I can’t help but feel sad and feel selfish even in that. Because this same music, which was such a blessing to me and helped me through some of the darkest moments of my life, wasn’t enough to save the person who was the channel for it.