During high school, I was deeply concerned about Chester Bennington‘s vocal chords. The wail that you could immediately place as Linkin Park’s frontman seemed both painful and natural at the same time. I wondered if he could possibly keep up that visceral octave over the years. Would there ever come a day when he’d just have to hang up the mic?
But I loved it.
I grew up listening to an eclectic mix of music thanks to my DJ parents, so it was not uncommon for me to hear Bill Withers “Use Me Up” cued up with Eric Clapton’s “You Look Wonderful Tonight.” As I discovered my individual taste in music, Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready To Die and Aaliyah’s One In A Million took up most of my Discman’s real estate right alongside Alanis Morrisette’s Jagged Little Pill and everything Radiohead. I even secretly played Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” on lower volumes so my parents wouldn’t be alarmed― you know, that “I wanna f-ck you like an animal line” and all.
My love for rock music is not far off the mark because I also grew up on Prince― where a wail and a guitar mixed with intoxicating (and exquisitely dirty) lyrics can change your life.
Enter Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory in 2000. My high school friends and I would vibe to Hot 97, Angie Martinez’s countdown at 4 was the Gospel truth for us. But when it came to rock music (and an extensive knowledge on ’70s soul), that was just “Jada’s thing.” But when they were introduced to the rock-rap stylings of Bennington, Mike Shinoda, and Mr. Hahn, it became “their thing” as well. And when the band caught a Jay-Z remix― and then later a full-on album―Linkin Park had crossed over to something that they could enjoy along with me. They no longer had to begrudgingly attend rock concerts with me as protection against my skinny teen self getting lost in a moshpit. And not only did Linkin Park become this multicultural gateway, the group members themselves were multicultural. Yes, a dope Asian DJ can murder the tables fusing rock and rap, and not have to stand on the sidelines of two cultural worlds that ultimately raised him.
Black rock fans exist, and no, we aren’t all wearing dark black eyeliner with a brooding disposition to match. We can be dressed like a Gossip Girl prepster—as I was a couple of years ago—or we can actually be Kendrick Lamar, who holds his own while rocking alongside Imagine Dragons. Black rock fans can even be Hov himself, who made it is his business to enlist Pearl Jam and Nine Inch Nails to headline Made In America.
And not only did Linkin Park become this multicultural gateway, the group members themselves were multicultural. Yes, a dope Asian DJ can murder the tables fusing rock and rap, and not have to stand on the sidelines of two cultural worlds that ultimately raised him.
It is heartbreaking to say goodbye to Bennington, who was only 41 and died in such a shocking way. The band had just released a new album, One More Light, earlier this year, and it seemed like we’d be seeing LP back on tour again. We’re starting to live in an age where we’re starting to question whether or not the expiration date for music from our favorite stars will come sooner rather than later. And when their lives are cut short due to suicide, it’s doubly painful. Was Bennington’s friend, the late Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell, not able to feel the love from cult fans who lived for his smokey voice? Was there anything we could have done differently to help? The answers around suicide and depression are never simple or easy.
It’s clear that Bennington was a game changer for ’80s baby millennials in a short span of time. This fan is forever grateful for the solace that his voice provided through so many tough times. If only his fans could have done the same for him.
Rest well, Chester Be.