Chester Bennington is gone, lost to suicide at the age of 41. News like this jabs you out of nowhere, first hitting you with shock and sadness, then shape-shifting to reflect whatever unique ways the artist’s work affected you. Linkin Park is one of the most popular rock bands of our generation, so that pain is festering in many ways for many, many different people.
The Linkin Park frontman lived a difficult life, battling depression, anxiety and substance abuse. As a child, he was molested by an older man over several years and spoke openly about this as an adult. Today, our social media feeds are flooded with words of encouragement for those battling mental difference, often with phone numbers for suicide prevention hotlines and the like. The exact messages always differ, but the common thread often boils down to #TalkingAboutIt — encouraging openness, offering support, de-stigmatizing issues that are, in fact, deeply stigmatized in American society. With Bennington at the mic, Linkin Park spent the better part of two decades doing exactly that, right through the band’s most recent hit song.
Yes, whether or not you were still paying attention, LP remained a massively popular band into 2017, and “Heavy,” the Kiiara-assisted electro-rock single from May’s One More Light, was a staple at top 40 radio this spring. It was not particularly well-received by critics, though, and the band’s pivot from metallic guitar to EDM-lite synthscapes turned off many an old-school fan. But below its marketable surface lies the emotional vulnerability that’s marked Linkin Park since Hybrid Theory: “I’m holding on/ Why is everything so heavy?” Skeptics and believers alike: Try re-listening to that chorus and not feeling an emotional jolt you didn’t feel the first time.
Soloing and then duetting with Kiiara (an LP die-hard herself), Bennington braves the wounds, dead ends and knotty contradictions of his own mind. He speaks of paranoia, self-centeredness and wanting to break free while knowing the damned absurdity of it all: “I wanna let go but there’s comfort in the panic.” He and co-vocalist Mike Shinoda even spoke plainly about all this on camera for a Genius video breaking down the song’s exact meaning.
In times like these, it’s important for us to avoid playing armchair internet psychiatrist, self-diagnosing someone else’s condition and, as those hotline offers suggest, talking when we should be listening. Still, it’s natural to wonder why this keeps happening and what we can do. I keep thinking back to a question posed on Twitter to Thursday frontman Geoff Rickly, about why suicide is so commonplace in the entertainment industry, especially among singers of bands. “Being a singer is like being a goalie,” he says. “You’re a teammate but you stand alone and often get blamed when you lose the game.” He mentions the rigorous touring, the easy access to drugs and alcohol, the ways the deeply introverted find solace in lives devoted to music. “Recovery, my relationships and service seem to be the cornerstones,” he concludes.
.in response to your question pic.twitter.com/sAEd68iYT6
— Geoffrey Rickly (@GeoffRickly) July 20, 2017
Bennington is no longer saddled with the heavy lifting, but he’s left behind a bastion of support for those who still are.