I had a dream about Chester Bennington last night.
We were backstage in a dingy warehouse, before some show. He gave me a hug, handed me a can of beer and then disappeared down a flight of stairs into the warehouse basement. And then I woke up. A strange little dream, but one that shows I’ve obviously been affected by his recent suicide more than I thought.
Like most people my age I had Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory debut album on constant repeat during the year 2000. I was 18 at the time, so perhaps a little old for LP’s brand of teenage angst; but it was (and still is) a classic of the nu-metal genre filled with wall-to-wall massive tunes. For a lot of people Linkin Park were a gateway band to heavier music – not the case for my friends and I; we already listened to much heavier bands than LP. For us it was more the impressive range of strong melodies, memorable riffs and samples, and crystal clear production normally reserved for mainstream pop that stood out. I certainly never felt any real affinity for the lyrics, despite not being the happiest of teenagers.
And now you look back at LP’s back catalogue of songs, from Crawling to In The End, from Easier To Run to Leave Out All The Rest, right up to Heavy from Linkin Park’s latest (and last) album and you realise that it wasn’t teenage angst at all. It was many desperate cries for help from a very troubled man. It was legitimate.
And dismissing LP’s lyrics as ‘angsty’ or ‘teenage’ can now be viewed as a parallel to how many cries for help are met by friends and family when an individual is in distress – ‘man up’, ‘get over it’, ‘stop complaining, other people have it worse than you do’. The moment you hear any of these words you can be damn sure that the person speaking them has never been truly depressed in their life. When a famous person takes their own life you will also hear things like ‘how could they do it, they had millions of dollars and they were famous’.
Chester Bennington was famous. He had millions of dollars. He fronted not only Linkin Park but got to front one of my all time favourite bands Stone Temple Pilots when Scott Weiland died. He had a clothing label, he had a Playboy model for a wife, he had six children. Yet he was also sexually abused and severely bullied as a child. He was an alcoholic and recovering drug addict. And despite all the good things in his life he still hung himself – on what would have been the 53rd birthday of his close friend Chris Cornell.
I’ve been meaning to write a post about Cornell for a while and now is sadly the time. It seems I’m having to write similar sentences to this all too often now; but Cornell and his band Soundgarden were a massive part of my musical life. During my early twenties when I was sharing a house with a friend, the seminal grunge album Superunknown was never far from my ears. Cornell had one of the best – if not THE best – voices to ever grace the world of rock music, his incredible 4 octave range soaring to some truly astonishing heights, before coming back down into his gruff-yet-smooth lower bluesy register. He was a fan of writing quirky riffs in odd time signatures; and his melodic sensibilities have often been described as ‘the Beatles crossed with Black Sabbath‘. For my money, Soundgarden’s best known song Black Hole Sun is one of the greatest songs of the last thirty years, sounding utterly unlike anything else.
Cornell also had a beautiful wife and beautiful children. He was rich. He was handsome. He was friends with the likes of Brad Pitt and Josh Brolin. His music was not only loved by millions of everyday fans but he was regarded as a truly generation defining musician and singer by music critics and his peers in the world of rock. And yet that wasn’t enough either.
There is NO insulation against depression or addiction, no amount of wealth or fame or sex or power or status than can shield you. There is no partner, spouse or offspring that can save you if you sink far enough into the murk of your own mind. The rich and poor, strong and weak are struck down equally. It is chemical, implacable, immovable.
Somewhat ironically, a couple of days before Bennington’s death I watched this video featuring many celebrities talking about fame, and how it doesn’t bring happiness. I would recommend that you watch it:
Depending on your overall worldview you will have either viewed that video as a bunch of whiny rich people being ungrateful; or like me you will have found it to be edifying and give you food for thought. As someone who has wanted to make a career out of music for at least the last fifteen years I have often found it a source of boundless frustration and despair that either I’m not good enough to be a successful artist, or I’m not driven enough, or I’m just unlucky and the world isn’t fair. I think if I’m being honest in my case it is probably a combination of all three.
I want money, I want to attain that money through music, and I want to be respected. I want to have fans, I want to be on TV. I will, at nearly 35, most likely never have those things. And it makes me very unhappy. But after viewing that video, and witnessing the suicides of successful musicians who I look up to and admire, I’m realising that I’m the kind of person who would probably be just as unhappy after achieving all those things.
Imagine climbing a really steep mountain in order to witness the supposedly breathtaking view at the top. You’ve been told it’ll take years to reach the top but when you do you’ll see the most beautiful sight of your life. So you climb, sweat, struggle, climb some more. And you get there and the view is astonishing. But you sit at the top looking at that view for years, and eventually it’s just a normal, every day sight for you. It holds no enjoyment or excitement whatsoever. Perhaps not the best analogy, but it’s the closest I can envisage to finally becoming ‘successful’ and thinking it’s the end of your troubles.
Depression can be triggered by trauma, by physical, sexual and substance abuse, or it can be in your genes. But it isn’t just ‘being miserable’ – it’s a deep dark pit of despair; the absence of all light and all hope that things will ever be ok again. It’s being stood in the middle of a party surrounded by happy people and silently screaming inside. It’s sleeping your days away in your bed because you’d rather be unconscious than aware of your surroundings. It’s finding yourself wanting to cry in the middle of the supermarket for no reason whatsoever. It’s a living hell, and no amount of wealth is going to save you.
Cornell was 52 when he hung himself. Bennington was just 41. That would have seemed ancient to me once, but no longer.
Suicide is not just a young person’s proclivity – it is still not discussed enough that there is a suicide epidemic amongst males aged between 40 and 44. I would hazard a guess it’s around then that the ‘middle age crisis’ kicks in and you realise that your life hasn’t turned out the way that you wanted it to be, but you feel too old to be able to change your ways. I can tell you right now that I personally feel that way already as I approach my thirty fifth birthday in a few weeks’ time.
A large part of my concerted effort to finally get in good (hopefully excellent) physical shape this year has been to stave off some very worrying thoughts that had been circling round my head for quite some time. The lethal combination of unhappiness with my job, my lack of meaningful musical career, my out of shape flabby body, the long bleak winter and the deaths of friends and family members had all combined to push me down to the lowest I have ever felt. I started to think about what it must be like to end it all. Nothing too serious, just daydreaming. But week after week the feelings got worse, until I was thinking about death every single day and imagining all the different ways I could end my life. My family, my children, felt more like an abstract idea than reality.
Luckily for me I’m pretty switched on and aware of my own body and mind. I realised that I couldn’t go on the way I was – I either had to seek professional help, medication, or the hardest option – change my mind, body and entire life through sheer, bloody-minded willpower.
I chose the latter and as you know if you have been reading this blog from the start; so far I am slowly succeeding. I am in a much better place at the moment and finally reaping some benefits for my hard work.
But I know it’s not so simple for a lot of people. I’m lucky – I’m not an addict and my life is very stable. That gives me a strong bedrock for recovery. Some people face a much harder struggle. I have many friends and family who are going through their own personal battles. I hope they all make it through.
If you need to talk to someone please call one of the numbers below. Or if you like, get in touch with me through the contact form on this blog. I promise I’ll listen. In Chester’s own words from this song from their new album – ‘Who cares if one more light goes out? Well I do.’
Rest in peace, Chris and Chester.
SAMARITANS 116 123
NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION 1800-273-TALK