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Chester Bennington: An Honest Voice of Pain and Anger for a Generation

After the shocking news of Chester Bennington’s suicide broke on Thursday afternoon, many of the tributes from fellow artists and fans had one thing in common.

A Thousand Suns got me through a horribly dark time,” Joss Whedon wrote, referencing Linkin Park‘s 2010 album.

“Linkin Park means a lot of things to a lot of people…definitely means a lot to me,” Lupe Fiasco tweeted. “[Chester’s] words and vibes helped me in my own dark times.”

Machine Gun Kelly, who had been tapped to open for Linkin Park on tour later this summer, called Bennington “a voice for those who wanted to scream out” in an Instagram post. “You were that for me since [I was] 11 years old,” he added.

At the dawn of the new millennium, Linkin Park was part of a new youth revolution, and Bennington’s voice was its blaring trumpet. Both his delivery and lyrics melded earnest vulnerability with unhinged anger. Songs like “In the End” and “Crawling” have him violently shifting between those moods, tenderly delivering declarations of defeat before rage bubbled up through his throat for vein-popping screams of angst.

For the young people who stumbled upon Bennington’s fits of sadness of rage when Linkin Park first broke, he embodied their repressed pain that could not be expressed or released or even understood. Once they dug deeper beyond the anger, they found passionate expressions of desperation, hopelessness and fear. He spent his career being honest and upfront about his struggles with depression, addiction and trauma, specifically from being sexually abused as a child.

In songs like the visceral “One Step Closer,” those bearing similar demons to Bennington found a defiant mirror image. “Everything you say to me takes me one step closer to the edge, and I’m about to break,” he howls into the atmosphere, delivering frustration as only a then-24-year-old could.

Though Hybrid Theory was released in 2000, it broke in 2001 and became the biggest album of that year. The late Nineties found angst heroes in rising stars like Eminem and Limp Bizkit and veterans like Nine Inch Nails, but the national taste was being dominated by a Disney-fied bubblegum pop movement, led by boy bands and budding divas in their late teens. For Linkin Park to break through and outsell more family-friendly acts like ‘N Sync and Britney Spears meant that the market needed a mainstream icon that also reflected increasingly blurred lines of genre with a rock edge. 

As nu-metal blazed on, they re-wrote its possibility. The genre’s Limp Bizkit-fueled machismo became less potent with how nimbly Bennington’s voice would play off of Mike Shinoda’s subtle yet effective rapping. They embraced electronic music in a way that complemented their musicianship rather than overpowered it. All the while, it was the vulnerability between the screams, heavy riffs and icy tones that set Linkin Park a step ahead.

Even as he got older and more successful, Bennington served as a primary example of how mental illness is a daily, lifelong struggle and unpacked his pain in more complex, mature ways up through his final album with Linkin Park, this year’s One More Light. In an interview with Music Choice earlier this year, he described his mind as a “bad neighborhood, and I should not going walking alone.” For a conversation with The Mirror, in what is claimed to be his final interview, Bennington seemed to find a light at the end of the tunnel, seeing the creation of his last LP album as “therapeutic”

For many, listening to Linkin Park is like recalling a memory of survival, further adding to the tragedy and circumstances of how Bennington’s life came to an end. He offered catharsis to those who wished they could scream like him, the same type of catharsis he felt listening to bands like Stone Temple Pilots and Soundgarden as a teenager. Bennington would go on to front STP after Scott Weiland was fired in 2013, the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. With Linkin Park, Bennington got to tour with Chris Cornell back in 2008 and even sang “Hunger Strike,” the Temple of the Dog hit, with his hero on stage.

In the same way Bennington’s fans lost their own light that had inspired them during their youth, Bennington witnessed the tragically young deaths of Weiland and Cornell, the latter of whom had been a close friend of his for years and whose birthday would have been on the same day Bennington took his own life.

“Your voice was joy and pain, anger and forgiveness, love and heartache all wrapped up into one,” Bennington wrote in an open letter following Cornell’s own suicide, his words echoing much of what his listeners over the years heard in Linkin Park songs like “Numb” and “Heavy.” “I suppose that’s what we all are. You helped me understand that.”

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