For Chester

I remember the first time I heard “Crawling” by Linkin Park. I was in 11th grade. It was back when MTV still showed music videos and TRL was still a thing. I remember that synth intro, the build, the anticipation, the quick guitar riff and then Chester’s voice belting out the words “Crawling in my skin, these wounds they will not heal…” For me and many people in and around my age group, that was a life-altering moment.

Yes, we had Limp Bizkit, Blink 182 and others like that, but there was something about the shrill of Chester’s screaming vocals combined with the smoothness of Mike Shinoda’s flow that just seemed unique. In a lot of ways, Linkin Park was the band whose voice resonated most with me and my generation. They took rap/rock and made it a thing, not just a gimmick, but a legitimate subgenre of music that appealed to the “we want it all” late 90’s early aughts, teenager. They sounded like us, expressed how we felt about what we went through. For some of us they were our voice – and not just ours, but even those too young to be aware of their debut, but old enough to have caught up along the way.

I remember the first time I listened to Minutes to Midnight. It was the first LP album to have the infamous parental advisory label. I remember thinking, these guys are stepping out on a limb. But I also remember thinking, you know what, people grow and change and the music should reflect that. In a lot of ways, I considered the fact that my favorite band was changing and trying new things was cool and tied me more closely to their music as I was also growing and changing.

I remember when they did the mash up album with  Jay-Z and thinking about the fact that arguably the best rapper alive at the time was essentially co-signing this rap/rock group and giving them even greater recognition among skeptical hip hop heads. So much great music.

Though I was always more of a Mike guy than a Chester guy, I always appreciated the authenticity in Chester’s voice, in his lyrics. I remember the first time I listened to Dead by Sunrise’s Out of Ashes, a Chester side project.  I remember thinking how personal so much of the album felt. The music felt like it was so close to him and so important. I remember appreciating that these guys, particularly Mike and Chester could go and do their own thing and still be committed to LP after. It was refreshing to not see a band split up over differences.

I remember listening to A Thousand Suns and feeling like LP was once again growing and challenging what people thought they were. I remember a lot of the negativity, but I loved the album. I loved that they were expressing their thoughts about the broken systems around them. I loved that they had the creative freedom to be what they wanted to be and speak about what they wanted to speak about. I guess in my own selfish way I felt like they were going through the same changes I was and it felt like we were all walking this path of maturing together – and their music was the soundtrack.

I don’t know all of Chester’s story. I knew vaguely about the drugs and alcohol. Never knew about the abuse he suffered as a kid. What I did know was that his music was therapeutic for me and my generation. During times of anger, pain, frustration, and sadness, LP was often the go to choice for getting those emotions out. I remember so many times of screaming along with Chester. I remember the feeling of release after having done so.

I don’t know why Chester and those with similar struggles choose to end their own lives. I look at the six kids he leaves behind his family and friends, his band, and lastly his fans. As much as he owes us nothing, I do sit here wishing that he had chosen a different path. I wish that if there was something that could have been said to prevent this, that it could have been said in time. I wish that if he was struggling on his own, that he had reached out for help and gotten it. I wish that he could have recognized that despite his own pain and struggle, he had helped multiple generations of angsty teenagers and young adults persevere through their own moments of pain. I wish that I wasn’t here writing about how one of the lead singers in my favorite band of all time committed suicide. I wish that Chester could have recognized that there was more life to live, more personal milestones, more music to write, more triumphs to bask in and that these could have outweighed the fear of more pain and more suffering.

The one thing I will say is that Linkin Park, their music, and Chester’s voice was and remains a touchstone for so much of my generation. Looking back I feel like every LP album tied in with some important phase in my life. This may or may not be true, but as with most things, the feeling and the perception is what matters most. As you’ll see below, the perception and reality is clear with this one. This is a blow for almost everyone I know in my circle and in my generation.

To those who may be struggling the way Chester was and considering following his example, I implore you not to. Instead, reach out, get help, talk to someone, get the pain out – but please, don’t take your own life. There are both triumphs and failures in your future, happy times and sad, joy and pain. No, I can’t say life will be perfect, but I’m saying that there is more that you have to offer the world and maybe, with help, it can get better, it can be better.