By Jeremy Welton
The year is 1991, my older brother is in college, and much like most kids in their late teens when they leave school, his music tastes are being explored and have been expanded by the people who surround him. Much of the great music he discovered on this path made its way to his siblings, thus it didn’t take long for me, at the impressionable age of just 7 years old, to become acquainted to what became a huge part of the early 90’s rock scene in the form of grunge music.
The very first time I stepped foot in my brother’s room on this new musical venture, my introduction to this sound was something that would go on to become a huge part of my very being today and is responsible for many of the wonderful friends that surround me today. The aggressive vocals that were pounding through this little 90’s tape deck grabbed me enough to ask my brother “Who is this?” that very curiosity opened me up to a great little band out of Seattle by the name Nirvana. Hearing more tracks I knew I wanted more of this band, and despite the rather embarrassed look on my face holding my pennies at the counter in Woolworths when making eye contact with the cashier following their glimpse of the naked baby on the front cover, it was at this point that my very first album purchase was to be the album Nevermind
My curiosity of Nirvana grew and not just for the music, but who they were, the discovery of Kurt Cobain, who he was and what made him tick was just so mysterious at this young age. Whilst I may not have had a full understanding of the lyrics across each album, I was hooked enough that I bought each consecutive album I could with the little pocket money I had and borrowed the one’s I couldn’t afford from my sister when she wasn’t listening to them. Any documentaries and music videos we could find were watched by me and my siblings, we were all in on the Nirvana hype train. I never really knew how much my parents approved (or didn’t) overhearing the lyrics to songs the likes of Rape Me, but I wasn’t going to let that stop my curiosity of this amazing band and that fandom never really stopped, but it did have its share of heartache.
Come April 1994, my sisters are becoming excited by the opportunity to finally get the chance to see Nirvana perform live in Reading, my jealousy from not being able to go due to supposedly being “too young” is unfounded. Little did we know what would follow next. As my sister and I sit on her bed ready to start the day, our mum comes up with a look on her face of concern, she knew exactly how we were about to feel. A newspaper is placed in front of us and whilst I can’t remember the exact headline, the words “Cobain dead” still feel gut wrenching today and it was the very moment my heart broke to pieces. I knew Cobain and Nirvana were no more. It was the first time I had come not only face to face with the death of a celebrity role model, but had learned of a death that was caused by suicide.
For me, I was of an age where suicide was something I just couldn’t fathom, I couldn’t understand why anyone would leave behind something so substantial, especially when Cobain had both a family, including a beautiful daughter, Frances Bean, and a wealth of popularity the world over. It seemed mysterious as to why anyone would give that up for nothing, nothing made any sense to me, surely, Cobain had everything he needed? What made him want a way out? This in turn was also my first brush with the gripes associated with mental health issues, but I wouldn’t begin to understand it until much later in my life.
Cut to modern day and I sit here now writing this, listening to another impressionable artist that falls in to a similar category of music, or at the very least the same community, an artist who was also loved by fans the world over but also fell to the same level of difficulties Cobain had to take his own life. When I first heard Linkin Park I was in college, just like my brother was when he first heard Nirvana, but I wasn’t overly sold, it was a new and unique sound that I couldn’t quite grasp, but over time it grew on me, I started to realise that the same ground that Nirvana broke with grunge is the very one Linkin Park broke with Nu Metal and they continue to hold that crown even after their more recent controversial album, One More Light, which in itself could end up breaking a new mould too. Whilst I still am not a fan of the new album, I’m gradually understanding the creativity behind it and Bennington’s heart can really be felt in many of the lyrics contained within. Who knows, maybe I’ll learn to love it like I did their other work, he was very defensive of his contribution here despite backlash by many of the fans of their earlier work.
Chester Bennington had a multitude of things others strive for in his life much like Cobain, a loving wife, six kids, a great deal of friends in the rock community who supported him, and also like Cobain, he appeared to calm his demons through his creativity until the very end. It was very apparent from when Linkin Park started out with their debut album Hybrid Theory that there was some real angst behind these boys and they had a lot to say, it didn’t take long for them and the lead vocals of Chester to become the voice for millions the world over. For those who felt like their heads were a bad neighbourhood to walk through on their own, each one of Linkin Park’s songs made it feel like that they were no longer alone, but in fact they had an army in their head to face it, an army lead vocally by Chester.
Even today, 17 years since the release of Hybrid Theory, I see a young generation of new rock fans screaming at the top of their lungs to songs such as One Step Closer and In The End on almost a weekly basis, the energy Chester put into those songs remains heralded and strong enough to be passed down to the youth of today to ease the mental pressure like the generation before them.
As gut wrenching as it was to hear of Bennington’s death, based on my childhood experience, I’m no stranger as to how or why this has happened, in fact I know it now better than ever and have been facing my own demons for many years. I can only commend Chester for having focused his energy in a way that entertained countless people and spoke to them in a way only anyone else suffering could, it takes a lot of courage to put yourself in front of the world, write lyrics that represent the dark side of your life, risk your own integrity and open yourself up to criticism in that way, but I have no doubt many people have taken comfort from his courage over the years and turned it into their own positive experience and have taken creative cues from him to form their own music. Yet it does make me wonder how many 7-year-old kids out there are going through this at the same stage in their life now as I was when I experienced it with Cobain.
Now, whilst I don’t want to make any assumptions, it’s been known that Chester was close to Chris Cornell (Audio Slave, Soundgarden) who also took his own life in May this year and that the reason for his death may be due the emptiness left behind by a Cornell shaped hole. The fact Bennington passed away on what would have been Cornell’s 53rd birthday does raise several questions, but without any note left behind by Bennington, only he has any idea on why he felt like it was time to leave it all behind.
However, also being no stranger to loss of a good friend, I could relate to whatever difficulties he was facing if this was the case, and whilst I’m so glad I have had other people able to get me through those hard times to come out of the other side, it’s just heart breaking to think that Chester (a man who has already had his resolve tested for many years from what I can tell) had reached a point where he gave up through this loss and could take no more, a point that no amount of money could help him turn back on. If only he truly knew the Bennington shaped hole he has left behind, he might have realised his family, friends and fans would have returned the favour and given everything to be the army for the bad neighbourhood in his head.
So, as I continue sitting here listening to Linkin Park’s discography, I try to wonder what it is we can learn from such talented people in this world? From these great forces in the rock world, I do see some real beauty that people can learn from and that there is always an avenue to vent your emotions through, be it music or any other form of art, you need to let your emotions be expressed and, right now, if you’re still reading this, my writing is one outlet, as is being a DJ that introduces a new generation to these fondly remembered artists, you just need to find yours. So, whilst we mourn the loss of great people in our lives, we can’t let that be the end of ours, we will remember them fondly and we will learn from them in the same way we learn from many great people in history, as humans we push forward, we strive for happiness and support one another.
If you can’t surround yourself with people you love, surround yourself with creativity, find an outlet, be the fantastic person you always wanted to be and don’t let anyone stop you, and if you find it never let it go. If you can’t make anyone else proud, make yourself proud and the rest will follow, and even if you can’t do that, know that I will always be proud of you for what you set out to do, just don’t let your life go to waste and be sure to try your hardest to give other people things to aspire to. And above all, if you feel like none of this is working, please for the sake of everyone else who has yet to discover the fantastic things you have to offer, find someone to talk to, there’s always someone out there to reach and vent to (www.samaritans.org) and there is too much in this world to explore for you to just give up. Be an inspiration and in the words of Bennington himself, be sure to find a place for your head.