Before Jay-Z collaborated with Linkin Park, their music was already bumping in the strip club. And no, it wasn’t a predominantly white club either. Hybrid Theory was on regular rotation at DC’s Penthouse, the premiere strip club for thick, African-American women, The customers were unaccustomed to the hard rock style screaming for which Chester is known, but many of them ultimately bobbed their heads to the beat and admitted that the band was legit. Jay-Z sealed their street cred in 2004 with Collision Course, but Linkin Park had our hearts long before that.
Back in 2000, the dancers and I were headed to the salon when one of the girls asked if I had heard of Linkin Park. They were shocked when I said no then immediately popped in Hybrid Theory so I could listen. From the first chord of the opening song, Papercut, I loved it. Alternative rock was the name of this “new music” since it infused elements of metal, hip hop and electronica with programming and synthesizers. We sat in the car for a few minutes listening to the lyrics and it’s there we decided that our DJ needed to play it in our club. We didn’t care that our customers were unfamiliar with alternative rock or Chester’s unique ability to use his raspy voice to not only deliver quiet melodic moments but to also belt out screams or powerfully long notes that would leave most gasping for air. The music was hypnotic and the lyrics were emotional; we had grown tired of superficial rap songs. We felt every word Chester sang and screamed. We were lonely, unappreciated, and tired of being judged for living the life we chose.
Please don’t be offended by the timing of this article and the fact that we played Linkin Park in the strip clubs. It’s been a fact that the music industry considers strip club as the hot spot for new music. Even little Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5 performed at various clubs between the girls’ acts.
Every time Linkin Park came to town, my friend, Cherry, and I got our tickets. We had become more than fans; we were completely committed followers. Linkin Park’s lyrics spoke to the wounds in our soul. Chester vocalized the pain and anger we were trained as children to suppress. But at their concerts, we were free to cry, reflect, and scream every feeling their songs evoked. According to Mike Shinoda, their lyrics were taken from “sappy therapy time” and broken down until they reached a happy medium. Unlike R&B and rap songs that talked about love, sex, and money, their lyrics are derived from the other stuff they’ve gone through but he says, “you don’t want to know where the lyrics come from…you wouldn’t know how the hell we go it to become that song.”
And somehow, Cherry and I felt that.
Shortly after retiring from dancing, I introduced my boyfriend, who later became my husband, to Linkin Park. There was no way I was going to spend my life with someone who lacked the capacity to love them as much as I. So months later when Linkin Park came to town, he joined me and Cherry and had a good time. This particular concert was my fondest memory: we were in the front row and Chester and I were singing to each other and vibing off the energy. He wasn’t surprised that this black chick knew the lyrics; I just wish he had passed me the mic!
As life got busy with an infant, teenage daughter and the corporate world, my love for Linkin Park never waned. I raised both of my children on their music, explaining the lyrics and seeking their thoughts behind its meaning. Believe it or not, I have no tattoos but seriously considered getting the LP logo permanently seared on my body. My husband thought I was insane so I let it go. I was in my thirties and considering my very first tattoo so I may have been a little out of it.
In 2013, I lost my friend and Linkin Park road dog, Cherry. Having retired from dancing, she was attending a friend’s birthday party at a club when she was murdered by a vengeful male customer. Devastated, it took me months to gather the courage to listen to Linkin Park again. Every song, especially With You, reminded me of our time together. But when I learned that the band would be in town for a concert, a new friend agreed to attend with me. She wasn’t a huge fan of alternative rock or their music, but she admitted to enjoying herself.
With Linkin Park’s upcoming concert for August 1st, it didn’t seem as if nothing would ever be the same again. Cherry was gone. I got divorced. I moved to a new city with virtually no friends; no one I would even want to ask if they’d like to join me. I was resigned to just going alone when the news broke about Chester’s suicide. I’ve been crying all day. And LP has been on repeat.
NOW, nothing will ever be the same.
Just as it’s impossible to replace Kurt Cobain, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson or Prince, Chester’s style and love for humanity will go unmatched. He made Linkin Park. But amid all of his success and love for his six children, he didn’t feel as if he could go on. His best friend Chris Cornell, lead vocalist of Soundgarden, hanged himself May 18, 2017. So Chester saw it fitting to end his life in the same way and on the day of Chris’ birth, July 20th. Everyone has been grieving and paying respects nonstop via social media. Most tweet Linkin Park lyrics and share pictures and memories while some have called attention to depression and suicide.
I understand the grief felt over the loss of a friend. Cherry did not commit suicide but it was just as sudden and heart wrenching. Now, she and I were not as close as Chester and Chris were, but I wondered why he chose to end his life—especially on his best friend’s birthday. When I read Chester’s interview in a Rolling Stone article, it became crystal clear:
Bennington was born March 20th, 1976 in Phoenix, the son of a police officer. He had a rough childhood and was molested and beaten up by an older friend beginning around age seven. “It destroyed my self-confidence,” he told Metal Hammer. “Like most people, I was too afraid to say anything. I didn’t want people to think I was gay or that I was lying. It was a horrible experience.”
When he was 11, his parents divorced and he was forced to live with his father. He eventually discovered drugs, taking opium, amphetamines, marijuana and cocaine alongside alcohol. “I was on 11 hits of acid a day,” he told the magazine in 2016. “I dropped so much acid I’m surprised I can still speak. I’d smoke a bunch of crack, do a bit of meth and just sit there and freak out. Then I’d smoke opium to come down. I weighed 110 pounds. My mom said I looked like I stepped out of Auschwitz. So I used pot to get off drugs. Every time I’d get a craving, I’d smoke my pot.”
After a gang broke into a friend’s house where he was getting high and pistol-whipped his friends, he ditched drugs in 1992 [he was 16!], though addiction would creep back into his life later. He subsequently moved to Los Angeles, where he auditioned for the band that would become Linkin Park [in 1996].
Honestly, I had no idea we’d be discussing child sexual abuse!
For years, I’ve been attempting to explain to friends that there is a difference between depression in child abuse victims versus depression in those who were never abused. An article in Current Psychiatry titled, EARLY LIFE STRESS AND DEPRESSION: Childhood Trauma May Lead To Neurobiologically Unique Mood Disorders, analyzes recent data drawn from the National Comorbidity Survey which showed that patients with a history of childhood trauma often struggle with…depression and anxiety. It offered evidence that depression in patients with a history of early life stress (ELS) is biologically and clinically distinct from depression in patients without childhood abuse or neglect. Childhood sexual abuse in particular, was associated with both an increased risk for major depression and sensitivity to the depressogenic effects of stressful life events (such as a friend’s death). Moreover, research in human gene-environment interactions identified a functional polymorphism in the promoter region of the gene for the serotonin transporter which appears to moderate the influence of stressful life events on the development of depression and potential for suicide. Those abused before age 13 are at an equivalent risk for developing PTSD or major depressive disorder (MDD), whereas those abused after age 13 are more likely to develop PTSD.
So I get it. The pain was too much to bear and Chester didn’t feel as if he could move on. I’ve been there too. But if there is anyone who feels the same, please know that there is hope. And help. And things will always get better the next day and the day after that and the day after that. If you feel as if you need to speak with someone though, please call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
And to Chester, “you’ve helped so many of us. We just wish we could’ve helped you.”