Don’t fall…

I have a confession to make. I’m a “closet fan” of Linkin Park. While they’re not the “coolest” of bands in my circles, especially among my music friends, their first two albums Hybrid Theory and Meteora in particular sit amongst my fave albums of all time. Definitely a case of “I like your old stuff better than your new stuff,” but still…

There is so much groove in the riffs, the guitar tone is massive, and the impressive vocal performances meshed with the raw power and energy of the underlying music is just a magic combination in my book.

The interplay between Chester Bennington’s melodic vocals and Mike Shinoda’s rhymes is just gold. There’s a directness and a simplicity—dare I say honesty?—to the lyrics. A lot of them reflect on the challenges of personal relationships. They could so easily come across as naive or contrived, but they don’t. There’s a “real-ness” to it, an anger and frustration that is infused in their delivery, making it feel like a genuine reflection of lived experience, a rarity in what is ostensibly a pop-rock song.

A friend said recently “[Chester Bennington] sang so many of my sentiments over the years.” Yeh, me too. Another friend noted that working out to their music was a saving grace, helping them on a weekly basis work through their own challenges. That speaks to the powerful combination of music, energy, lyrics, and vocal delivery—all of it together is what makes it work.

That said, Chester’s voice, in particular, was a big part of my connection with the music. Not only in terms of the emotion and power evident in the delivery, but also his melodic choices—the intervals and directions he took really caught my attention and imagination. Someone more learned in music theory can probably explain why—perhaps it’s reminiscent of a lot of my favourite vocalists like Sting, Bjork, Colin Hay, Jeff Buckley… In any case—I liked it. A lot.

He had the most amazing tone to his voice too. There’s a scene in the DVD that accompanies the special edition of Meteora, looking at the making of the album, where I think it’s (producer) Rick Rubin who says that there’s an upper harmonic to his vocals that makes it sound like he’s doubling the part, when it’s just a solo vocal. In the doco they single that out and it’s really apparent, but you can hear it in all their recorded work if you listen closely.

And, IMO, he just oozed cool in terms of his visual persona. I really wanted to be able to pull off that look (but there was no chance)!

There’s another scene in that documentary that stuck with me. The first album has a lot of dark lyrics—there is often no resolution or uplift. In the end is a great example (now, sadly, being used as a reflection of Chester’s choices). Given the initial success of their debut album, it was clear this music, and these lyrics, were resonating with millions of people worldwide. Ruben highlights to the guys that their words are an influence on so many people, and suggests they consider how they might shape those lyrics for a higher purpose, to provide a light, guiding people through the murkiness, not just reflecting it…

You can see in the film that the young lyricists—Chester and Mike—really take this to heart, adding a lot of weight to the creative process and no doubt to each of them individually. (And I wonder if this weight had any bearing on recent events?) But you can also hear this shift in the music. The anger and frustration and power remains in the delivery, but there’s a subtle but important shift, that continued into later albums.

There was an introspection, an examination of the role we each individually play in creating our own situations. But also a pushing back, saying “it’s not just about me, and I don’t have to accept it.” I can move on, and beyond this. (See, for example, Breaking the Habit, Faint and Numb.)

All of this makes the recent news of Chester’s passing deeply felt for myself, and clearly some of my friends (based on what I’m reading in my social networks). It is the third occasion I’ve heard about in recent months where a talented songwriter, lyricist, singer and performer has taken their own life. And seemingly when they had it together. For example, Chris Cornell had seemingly made it out the other side of the grunge heyday, when we lost so many talents—Kurt Cobain, Layne Staley, Scott Weiland—to name but a few. They had families (Bennington leaves behind a wife and 6 kids). And both still enjoy a degree of commercial success, and the adoration of a plethora of fans.

When I was working with I recall hearing that a report of suicide in the news often triggered a spate of suicides in the community. I wonder (and worry) that this is what is happening here. (Bennington was very close to Cornell.) It’s one thing to hear about a suicide from afar, but it always hits harder when it’s a person who is close to you, or is so admired and through whose music we develop such a strong connection. If so many people drew hope and inspiration and outplayed their own anger and frustrations through this music—as is evident through my own experience and those of my friends—what happens with the people behind that music take their own life? Does this set a template? Are people “inspired” by this action to follow suit?

I hope not.

As Tim Byron, in response to the news of Simon Holmes’ passing, so eloquently stated (the whole post is definitely worth reading, but I’m quoting one bit at length here):

“I want to point out that it’s sometimes hard for men of a certain age to admit to needing help—there’s a cultural value in Australia about resilience and self-reliance and stoicism, and a feeling that getting on with tit is the best you can do. There’s a good side to this, I think—it often means you don’t get caught up in the small stuff. But it also means that people often lose the ability to deal with the big stuff.”

“Going and seeing a doctor and getting a referral to government-subsidised sessions with a psychologist isn’t going to totally uproot your identity. It’s not self-indulgent.”

“If you’ve read this, and you had a poor experience with a psychologist, and that put you off—please do try again. … Sometimes you don’t quite connect with a psychologist—psychologists do have a variety of personalities. It’s worth persisting until you get someone you do connect with.”

I wholeheartedly second this statement, especially the bit about “try again”.

I’m white, middle-class, and male. This puts me in a position of privilege, and it’s easy to think and feel when you’re wrestling with the pressures and challenges of life that “I’ve got it good, why should I need help or support? I should have all this together. I shouldn’t complain. I shouldn’t lean on others.” You could argue the same for the above people, adding to that their success commercially and the admiration of others for their skills in their chosen craft as an additional driver against seeking help. But it is so important that if you find yourself in that situation, that you do get support.

Personally I have chosen to do as Tim advises—a year or so ago I sought out the support of a psychologist to help me untangle the anxieties and constant feeling of exhaustion that I was feeling. It was a decision that has helped me tremendously. (But it took 2–3 attempts to find the right one for me…) I’ve also taken to meditating, after two good friends shared with me that they had benefited from the program (an iPhone app). I signed up, and have found a great benefit in doing so. And I’ve also found N.E.T. and kinesiology of help.

In reflecting on these recent events, I choose to see the spirit and extraordinary talent in what the likes of Chester, Chris and Simon provided in their time with us as my inspiration. To work through my own challenges via an appreciation and connection to their art, rather than any final choices they made.

I also choose to take that inspiration and channel it towards my own art, something that I have lost touch with in recent years, having done very little songwriting and performance in that time. I have renewed vigour in re-locating my creative voice, and expressing that. Even in small ways, untethered to goals and aspirations of commercial success. It’s the least I can do to honour their gift to me (and countless others) in their music.

I thank the creative spirit for their gifts and how their sharing of those gifts have helped me, and no doubt will continue to do so, through my tough times. I hope that their legacy continues to bring joy and support to others. And that our memory of them will remain on the light in their lives, not the darkness of their passing…