The second song of the night was Numb. It is a story that bespeaks the pain of living life according to the standards of others – usually at the cost of one’s own soul. Despite the heavy topic, Numb is not a sad song (link to video). Rather, it is uplifting. Its message is a simple one – sometimes we need to cut ourselves off from those external expectations. It is possible to numb ourselves to the pain of judgment in order to escape the misery of cultural oppression. When the first notes of the song blasted out over the speakers, hearts fluttered with a sense of hope and expectation. They wanted to see that it was all some elaborate prank.
On the stage, twin spotlights came to life. No band. No singer. Just a single microphone stand decorated with a garland.
We would be singing this one alone.
Far from numbing us, it severed inhibition, shattered dams of manicured restraint, and invited our tears to slip down our cheeks.
As Numb was only the second song of the night, Linkin Park were showing that they were pulling no punches. Following a solo keyboard medley of the songs Robotboy / The Messenger / Iridescent by frontman Mike Shinoda, the message was clear: Face up. This was no prank that the band was pulling on us – this was real. It meant that this was the new reality we would have to adapt to. Chester Bennington really was gone. have to grieve. Let it out.
At the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, on October 27, 2017, Linkin Park put together a memorial service for late singer, Chester Bennington, in a very Linkin Park way: by inviting as many of their friends as they could cram into its 17,500 person capacity. As the third biggest hiphop group on Facebook, the band knew that this would not be enough, that there were a whole mess of friends out there waiting in the darkness. Rather than leave the rest of the world without light, they chose to simulcast their show on YouTube, a gratuity that reached 1.8 million people.
It was this inclusivity that made Linkin Park such a powerhouse. It is no secret that musicians often struggle with the demons of their own existence – so much so that some authors even choose to write about them, but what Linkin Park did right from their debut at the end of the 90’s was to fashion songs about the struggle with those demons. Instead of making them monologues about their struggles, the band, consisting of the aforementioned Mike Shinoda and late Chester Bennington, as well as drummer Rob Bourdon, turntable maestro Joe Hahn, guitarist Brad Delson, and bassist Dave “Phoenix” Farell, opted to make their music about the emotions. Their song Crawling explored the difficulty of living in a body suffused with bad memories, Nobody’s Listening is a tale of fear, Leave out All the Rest begs for forgiveness in light of mistakes made in this corporeal world.
With their music focusing in on the emotional impacts of their daily lives, Linkin Park also reached out to fans with details of their own battles. Chester Bennington, often at the front of such revelations, shared his experiences with sexual abuse, drug addiction, and depression with his fans, not as a means to elicit pity, but rather as one would share a hug. Certainly that’s what a whole lot of their music was – a strong arm around their fans, saying “We all have to face our own troubles, but you are not alone.”
Earlier in 2017, Chris Cornell, singer and guitarist for Soundgarden, a band who helped to bring Grunge to the mainstream, was found dead in his home. The coroner’s report said suicide by hanging. When Kurt Cobain put a shotgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger, many speculated on who would be the next to go. I doubt anyone expected that Depression would take its latest victim over 25 years after Grunge first appeared.
It is exactly this insidiousness that defines Depression, however. It lingers there, in the back of someone’s consciousness. Every day, it asks the same question “Are you ready to join me?” Every day, one must be strong enough to say “No. Go away. I have a life to live.” It takes tremendous strength to continue on. It often takes more than a single reason, but when the weight of it all comes down on you, when things get a little too heavy, some find that it is life that needs to be let go.
On July 20th, when the demon reached out to Chester, the singer looked at the weight of his troubles, and cast them aside on the end of a noose.
What could that have been like for his wife? His children? For his bandmates? Mike Shinoda turned to the thing that he always had: music. Though he was not yet ready to listen to his own stuff – to Linkin Park, he did sit down and write. In a bold statement of love and trepidation, Mike showed off one result of his efforts to deal with Chester’s suicide. The result, a song called Looking for an Answer is one that Shinoda confessed was nowhere near finished. As he said this, there was a shy grin, the kind that comes with any unfinished work of art. It’s embarrassment for something unprofessional, something flawed, something that could be seen as ugly, hideous, a malformity undeserving of love. The fact that he played it for us anyway shows just how important it was for Mike to bring his fans through the experience.
He had to communicate his loss. As he and Chester, Brad, Rob, Phoenix, and Joe have always done. They know that life is a process. They know that the smooth highway we’re on will hit traffic, an empty tank, a need to hit the toilet when the next pit stop is fifty miles up the road. But they don’t care about those, as the most important part of this journey is being together through it all.
Throughout the three-hour tribute, the band were joined by a host of friends to sing, play their instruments, and share their love for one another. Gavin Rossdale, Kiiara, Alanis Morissette, Sum 41, Blink-182, members of Civil Twilight, No Doubt, Korn, and System of a Down, and many others all came together in celebration of Chester’s life to show their appreciation not only to the departed, but also to the survivors. Overall, nothing felt fully polished – this was not a show that had everything streamlined. Like the artists themselves, there were hitches, some microphone problems, an occasional hiccup of forgetfulness, some overtalk or oversing. Who cares if nothing was perfect? Chester Bennington was gone. Every single heart in that place was broken, so what if some of the technical aspects of the show were broken, too?
The point was not to nitpick, but rather, forgive. Forgive Chester. Forgive the people and situations that killed him. Forgive one another. Forgive the people who wrong us. Forgive Mike for tearing up again and again as he soloed songs that were written for a duet.
Over the course of these three hours, the audience got more than they could have asked for in the wake of devastation. They were given the cold ugly truth from the outset, the truth that a major illness took a dear friend. They were given two new songs, the one shared by Mike, and the other beautifully shared by Alanis Morissette. They were given chances to sing along, and in one memorable case, to lead a song that for years they had been sharing with the departed. They were given inclusion, surprises, and moments of laughter. They were given a roller coaster of emotions in the theme park of depression.
But they were also given hope. After the main set concluded, Chester’s wife, Talinda Bennington reminded the audience that there were a number of outreach programs to help people suffering from the miasma that took her husband. She mentioned Change Direction and other charities that seek to aid those, and who seek to minimize such sadness. Immediately following Talinda’s speech, Chester, himself, reached out to us all. At his last concert in Birmingham, England on July 6th, 2017, Chester prefaced the song One More Light with a shoutout to the people injured in an attack at the Manchester Arena from the month prior. The recording showed how the late musician felt that love could conquer hate, that we should celebrate life by loving the person next to us.
It is a good message. But it was not the overall message of the night.
As the band took to the stage after this, they did a reprise of the show opener: Iridescent, where they asked their fans:
Do you feel cold and lost in desperation
We build up hope, but failure’s all you know
Remember all the sadness and frustration
And let it go… Let it go!
I think we all felt that, one way or another. Before leaving, Linkin Park had one last message of thanks. “(sic) We don’t know where we’re going from here, but we appreciate – we certainly appreciate your support as we get there. We’ll keep sharing that stuff with you guys on the usual channels. But most importantly, keep Chester in your hearts and make Chester proud.”
In a continuance of their generosity, the band has made the entire show available to all on their YouTube page. This way, all who might have missed the show but who loved Chester can still feel the band’s message of goodwill and generosity.
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2 thoughts on “#makechesterproud”
A beautifully written tribute, Rob. Thank you for your insight and compassion.