By Charlotte Hollingsworth
When I was 14, my mom and I moved from the sleepy town of Newberg, Oregon, to a musty suburb of Seattle called Renton. We had agreed long before that I was allowed to go to any concerts I wanted, regardless of the content of the music, once I was in high school. She insisted on attending my first concert with me, to show me the ropes I guess, and so she’d lately taken an interest in what I was listening to. That being said, I think I took her a bit off guard when I picked my first concert, to be attended mere days before my 15th birthday. We were going to The Family Values Tour, featuring Deadsy, Static-X, Staind, Stone Temple Pilots, and my absolute favorite, Linkin Park.
Hybrid Theory played through the house for weeks leading up to the show. We went to Hot Topic and she let me pick out a whole new outfit, not a normal occurrence on her single-income budget. I picked out skinny jeans, a black shirt with a studded black widow spider on the front, and a red Paul Frank beanie, quickly my prized possession. I was angry, I was hurt, I was terrified to be the new kid again, and I funneled it all into lipsynch-screaming along to Chester and Mike, along with all the pop-punk and nu-metal I could get my hands on. Something about Linkin Park and the angry sadness they expressed, that raging despair, I didn’t know anyone else could feel like that. I was so angry and so sad, and I wasn’t the only one.
The first two acts were great, Static-X blew my mind, but I was out of my skin when Chester took the stage. And so was my mom. Chester was electric on stage. Not only was he screeching out his heart, on key mind you, but he was running from one end of the stage to the other, jumping on amps and reaching out to the crowd. We were in the back of the Tacoma Dome, my mom wasn’t about to mosh with her 14 year old daughter, but I could feel his heartbeat through everyone in the crowd. My mom tells the story of looking over at her little girl one moment, watching Chester tell the crowd to give the finger and scream fuck, and looking back at me to find an angry young woman flipping off the world and screaming in anger. I remember looking over at her, seeing her smiling at the bands and at me, and feeling like maybe she understood, too.
It was a pivotal moment. We had just moved, uprooted our lives again. I was one of three kids in my freshman class that hadn’t attended middle school with everyone else. I was weird, I was an outsider, and I was scared. My mom and I were entering into my adolescence, just the two of us, and we didn’t know how it was going to go. But she came with me while I explored new options for how to define myself, she listened to my music to understand me, and fuck if it didn’t work. (Pro-tip: if someone asks you to listen to a band or a song, it’s because they want you to know who they are way down under.)
And I was changing a lot. I was so mad and I didn’t know why. I was afraid of everything, but I didn’t want to care about anything. I realize now that the depression and anxiety that would later be diagnosed by a handful of doctors was in effect already, exaggerated by the hormones of youth, but I didn’t know that and I just thought that’s how I was always going to feel. I felt like I was cracking, and music was the glue that was keeping me together. Picking for my first concert the angriest, fiercest, scariest music I knew (I know, I know, but my other favorite band was No Doubt so cut me some slack) was a statement that I wasn’t going to shy away from being angry, fierce, and scary. I am forever thankful for that early introduction to the power of harnessing anger, and not letting it harness you.
Chester Bennington was a powerhouse. He had an unforgettable voice, an infectious stage presence, and a whole lot of pain. He spent his career sharing that pain with us so that we didn’t have to be alone, and I’ve only cried today thinking about how he thought he was alone. He made me and so many other people ok, but he couldn’t be ok. And that is the real tragedy of suicide. In the dark moments of my youth, screaming into a pillow that “in the end, it doesn’t even matter” helped get the demons out of me for the night. And after that, I knew that it did matter. That I should try hard. That I could make my pain into something good. And that art could be ugly, angry, screaming.
Sure, we make fun of it now, but for those of us that grew up during pop-punk and nu-metal, we all know how important Linkin Park really was. In the end, he really did matter. I only wish we could tell him in a way he could hear. But depression distorts everything, and it doesn’t matter if you’re surrounded by love and support and admiring fans, the disease finds ways to lie to you. And you can’t just get over it. Getting help is hard, and it’s scary, but it’s the only way to combat the disease. If you’re struggling, there is help. There is a way to get your disease to stop lying to you. Because you absolutely are loved, and your anger is beautiful and meaningful. You don’t have to break.
Let’s all take a bit of time to put away our cynicism and cooler-than-that jokes and just acknowledge what an impact Chester Bennington and his work had on us when we were scared, angry kids. Share your memories, sing along to your favorite songs, and talk to someone if you need to. Talk to me, talk to your cat, talk to whoever, just talk to someone if you need to. We’ll miss you, Chester.