Sometimes goodbye’s the only way
JULY 23 — I first heard Chester Bennington’s voice from a tinny radio in the winter of 2000, sitting alone in a cold living room somewhere in the East Midlands, United Kingdom.
I was 16, an awkward, self-loathing, self-conscious teen who was spending his end-of-year school holiday with his family who was abroad, only to soon return to an all-boys boarding school to be on my own for the rest of the year — to deal with a medley of emotions from torment to longing.
All in all, the perfect audience for Linkin Park.
It was One Step Closer, their breakthrough single, and in the coming year they would sweep the world with their neatly-packaged and slickly-produced combination of metal, hard rock, pop, hip-hop and electronica.
By the time Bennington screamed “shut up when I’m talking to you” in the pummelling bridge, I was already all ears.
By then, I was already going through several stages of rebellious rock, from grunge to pop punk to nu metal. Compared to the poetic Deftones, noxious Korn and juvenile Limp Bizkit, Bennington’s clear voice and message was a breath of fresh air.
Bennington sang plainly of not being comfortable in one’s own skin, of rejecting expectations, of searching for one’s own identity, of rising above the din of emotions and negativity.
From One Step Closer to 2002’s Faint, Bennington told listeners that they will not be ignored, they will be heard.
What he sang in Leave Out All The Rest 10 years ago — “When my time comes, forget the wrong that I’ve done/Help me leave behind some reasons to be missed/Don’t resent me and, when you’re feeling empty/Keep me in your memory, leave out all the rest” — probably did the most in convincing me to leave a lasting legacy.
I could never listen to the song the same way again after his death on Thursday.
By now, there would be dozens of articles written in tribute to Bennington, and some of them would be from Malaysia. I have read several revealing how the band and him got them through the hardest times in their young lives, many of them victims of bullying.
The fact that his song spoke to one brown kid thousands of miles away, reveals more about the universality of music, perhaps as much as, if not more than any other ideas that claim how universal they are.
Many would just hear angst in Bennington’s voice. But it was more than that. As more than one writer has pointed out, Bennington not only channeled that angst, he soothed it. As one sang out loud, screamed their emotions out, they let go all the bile rather than let it fester.
It slays the demons inside. It is joy. It is triumphant.
Whenever I sing “The sun goes down/I feel the light betray me”, I feel relief. It is catharsis.
This is perhaps what many do not understand about music, especially heavy ones.
Like many, I would always remember when Linkin Park came to rock Stadium Merdeka in 2003. They were then rising with the popularity of second album Meteora, at the peak of their nu-metal dominance. I was just ending my teenage years, still awkward, no less foolish. But by the end of that night, thousands of us were overjoyed, if only for once.
More than a decade later, it is getting harder and harder for rock and pop artists to drop by Malaysia so they just skip us altogether for Singapore or Bangkok. Misguided moral police see evil in metal bands, they see lust in pop stars like Selena Gomez.
Now they have the viral hit Despacito in their sights, resulting in its ban by state broadcasters. No matter that the song is sung in Spanish, and as Singaporean comic Fakkah Fuzz has shown in his hilarious skit, Malay tongues are not exactly the best at singing it. No matter that it is now the world’s most streamed song — that ban achieves nothing, and they know it.
The moralists would never appreciate how the song’s hyper-sexualised genre, reggaeton, started off as a way of expression by the urban marginalised youth in Puerto Rico. The fact that the song blew up was just phenomenal.
In the end, music is just that — a means of expression. It is both an escape from life and a companion to living. It has been with us since the birth of man, and it would perhaps outlive us all.
If the moral police thought banning Despacito would stop kids having sex, then they are perhaps decades way too late. The same complainers, now in their old age, perhaps have forgotten how they may have made their own kids to them sexy songs.
Heck, they may themselves have been made to the same kind of songs.
You cannot stop music, no matter what your broken moral compass says. The moment you try to, you get the fatal catastrophe that befell young Ariana Grande’s fans in Manchester. That is what you get when you hate music, and when you hate young people for loving it, especially young women.
I found out about Bennington’s death from my youngest brother who texted us in the early morning — Linkin Park is perhaps the only band all four of us could agree on. He had just seen them “live” two weeks ago, perhaps Bennington’s last major public performance.
While Bennington has a history of coping with depression, Linkin Park has evolved over years to become a better therapy. Its latest album was a surprise ray of positivity, but it was lambasted harshly by many, most of all by fans, like me, who would now only have gaping holes of regret.
I cannot ever understand what people with depression go through. But it must have been hard to get out of bed some days. The only thing that got me through that morning was the cheeky grin of my baby daughter who climbed on our bed.
Not everyone is as lucky, and we should try to be there for them instead of being idiots and accusing them of being attention seekers.
“Who cares if one more light goes out in a sky of million stars?/Who cares if someone’s time runs out if a moment is all we are?” Bennington asked in this year’s One More Light.
Well, we do too, Chester.
* If you cannot bear the pain and think of giving up on life, consider speaking to Befrienders KL at their 24-hour hotline 03-7956 8145 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.