in the end, it mattered.
So, I… was not expecting to open up the news tonight and feel like I’d been kicked in the stomach. I’d barely even thought about Linkin Park in years. They were my brief, embarrassing nu-metal mallgoth phase. They were everyone’s brief, embarrassing nu-metal mallgoth phase. Then they were the band even nu-metal posers made fun of. By that point 15-year-old me had plunged down the rabbit hole and discovered Rammstein, and the Smiths, and the Sisters of Mercy, and KMFDM, and I had so much awesome music to wallow in that I barely had time to feel self-conscious that I’d never really stopped loving Hybrid Theory. (Although I did, a little, because I was 15 and nothing was too stupid to feel self-conscious about.)
But holy fuck did I love that album. “Crawling” is the first music video I have any actual memory of seeing on TV. Linkin Park was the first rock concert I ever went to. (And fuck you, they were awesome.) I loved it for the exact reasons my entire age cohort found it embarrassing as soon as we were out of middle school. It’s a primal scream of rage and anguish, artfully bottled up and beautified, that manages to articulate a lot of the nuances of how people hurt each other and what it’s like to be hurt so badly you can barely hang on. Which means it had its finger squarely on the pulse of what it’s like to be 14. Stuck in a rat cage with a few hundred other rats, all of you hopped up to the gills on hormones, clumsily figuring out all the ways people can hurt each other, how and when to protect yourself, how to judge others’ behavior. And because people learning how to judge get awfully enthusiastic about it and nobody likes the primal anguish or the pants-on-head stupidity of their 14-year-old self, it didn’t take long for us to start finding Linkin Park embarrassing. Their angst is utterly sincere, and sincerity is uncomfortable. Especially when it reminds you of the utterly sincere, solipsistic, overblown, ridiculous angst over trivial shit that your adolescent hormones were pumping through your veins in middle school. Getting over yourself is healthy.
Coming back to listen when I’m pushing thirty, though, nothing on Hybrid Theory makes me think about my mid-teens melodrama. Some of it makes me think about friendships and relationships that turned into the kind of fucked-up shit that makes me want to grab my past self and shout “run while you can.” But most of it–speaking as a grown-ass adult here–most of it makes me think “holy shit, I want to find whoever did that to this kid and kick their ass six ways from Sunday.” It is so fucking unbelievably obvious in retrospect that none of the shit Chester Bennington is screaming about is something you just get over once you’ve grown up a little and escaped the shitheads you went to high school with.
Transmuting pain into art is a natural, almost universal impulse; doing it well is hard. Getting close enough to grab the beating heart of it, pulling it out to dissect it, ruthlessly rearranging it into something with structure and clarity, stepping back far enough to judge what you’ve made… the strange, disconcerting realization that you’ve turned it into something beautiful. Something that will appeal to other people, make them relate it back to their own pain even if it’s not the same. (Something vulnerable that can be criticized and judged and sneered at.) Maybe at first it’s for your own benefit, help you process and understand it, let out a bit of that primal scream… but let me tell you, the first time someone says “thank you” or “I needed this” or “you articulated what I couldn’t” or “this got me through a dark place”… that doesn’t just make it worth it, it humbles the shit out of you. And it makes you want to keep doing it forever. It turns the pain into shared understanding and an offer of comfort.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t make the pain go away.
Chester Bennington was really fucking good at transmuting his pain into art and offering it up with utter sincerity.
So RIP, dude. I don’t know the details of what you were going through, but you gave the world a pretty good glimpse of the broad outlines. And that glimpse got a lot of kids through adolescence, my dumb ass included; I can only imagine what it did for people who were going through the same stuff as you. Life may not be some fairy tale where turning your demons into art is always enough to save you from them, but I wish you’d made it. You saved a lot of other people. Whatever peace eluded you here, you deserve to find on the other side.