To the best of my memory, my first real feelings of depression surfaced sometime in early high school. By the time a friend handed me a burned copy of Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory during my junior year, I had already acted upon impulses to harm myself. It was a strange and very lonely feeling – a presumed weakness in myself that I didn’t want anyone to know about. Words like “mental illness” and “depression” had never crossed my mind.
I share this because Chester Bennington’s lyrics on Hybrid Theory were the first to vocalize what I was feeling at the time. Maybe I wasn’t weird. Maybe I wasn’t crazy. Maybe I wasn’t alone.
The memory of this turning point made the news of Chester Bennington’s suicide all the more devastating. Depression is not biased and is not deterred by fame or status. It is a crushingly cruel disease that is far too often too easily hidden.
Like many others, I’ve been listening to a lot of Linkin Park lately, finding reminders of how deeply those early albums impacted me. In some ways, it’s odd that Chester’s voice became so meaningful to me. As an avid hip hop listener, I was initially attracted to the band because of Mike Shinoda’s rapping. While Shinoda’s voice gets the most airtime on those early albums, it’s Bennington’s painful howls that deliver the greatest impact.
Linkin Park would prove to be a gateway for me into heavy rock music. Chester’s screams weren’t grating – they were comforting in their familiarity. Those words and that voice encapsulated feelings that I hadn’t been able to vocalize. A few years later, I cried in my car on a campus parking lot after purchasing Meteora from a local Wal-Mart on the day of its release. I can still vividly remember hearing Chester’s cries on the chorus of “Somewhere I Belong” for the first time that day:
“I wanna heal, I wanna feel what I thought was never real
I wanna let go of the pain I’ve felt so long
(Erase all the pain ’til it’s gone)
I wanna heal, I wanna feel like I’m close to something real
I wanna find something I’ve wanted all along
Somewhere I belong”
My interest in Linkin Park faded after Meteora as I began discovering a variety of new bands that also spoke my language. Having not paid the band much mind for several years, I attended one of their shows in Indianapolis in 2012 with a few friends who were big fans. That night, standing at the front of the stage with my camera, I was in awe of the band’s performance and reminded of how much Chester’s words had meant to me.
Listening to those songs over the past week have resulted in complicated feelings. I’m pained by the loss of someone whose struggle is so near to my own and many others. I’m frustrated in my lack of progress in my own battle with depression. I’m hopeful that, just maybe, there’s still light at the end of this dark tunnel. I’m thankful that Hybrid Theory was placed in my hands that day back in 2000.
Each time these kinds of tragedies strike, it’s a stark reminder to love those around us and talk to each other, even when it’s painful and uncomfortable. Remembering the music is easy. Reaching out for help or offering an ear can often be much harder.
So many of us were impacted by the words and songs of Chester Bennington – it is truly a tragedy to lose him so soon. Rest in peace, Chester.
by Kiel Hauck
Kiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.