At approximately 9:00 ESDT, Chester Bennington was found dead in his home, the cause suicide by hanging. He was hardly the first musical artist to end in this tragic way, his mentor and close friend Chris Cornell killed himself just a few months earlier. He would have turned 52 the same day Chester decided to end his life.
Throughout his entire career, Chester made his angst, depression and even suicidal thoughts explicitly clear in his lyrical work. This is the chorus to “One Step Closer,” Linkin Park’s first single that began their staggering ascension.
“Everything you say to me
Takes me one step closer to the edge
And I’m about to break
I need a little room to breathe
Cause I’m one step closer to the edge
I’m about to break”
Here is the chorus to Heavy, the first single on what is now definitively the last album in Chester’s career.
“I’m holding on
Why is everything so heavy?
So much more than I can carry
I keep dragging around what’s bringing me down
If I just let go, I’d be set free
Why is everything so heavy?”
These songs are complete opposites stylistically. “One Step Closer,” is an incredibly aggressive metal/rap hybrid. The other is a chill low-fi/pop song with euro house influences. They also use the same exact structure.
Both start with a brief, quiet intro that trickles into the first verse. The first verses build in intensity, then dial back just a bit in volume and instrumentation before hitting the listener with louder, more instrumental choruses. Both songs repeat this in the 2nd verse/chorus. Both shift suddenly into their bridges which both repeat the same line over and over again and then transfer to a third and final chorus which sung twice for additional emphasis. Both songs then die suddenly with brief outros that trickle away in the same manner the intros trickled in.
These songs also parallel each other in how they were received by listeners and what they meant for Chester and his Linkin Park band mates. “One Step Closer” shot up the Billboard 200 and raised them from obscurity, while “Heavy” was their most radio played single since “The Catalyst” which was released 7 years prior and marked the release of “A Thousand Suns,” a now critically acclaimed album that marked a free fall relative to the wild commercial success of Linkin Park’s first three albums.
A return to roots is hardly a new idea for musicians, and often a surge in critical or commercial success follows. Bob Dylan released the album “John Wesley Harding” that returned to his famed acoustic-folksy sound after years of backlash for going electric to critical acclaim and staggering commercial success, but Dylan and most other artists do this stylistically. What makes “Heavy” so unique is that is pushes entirely new sonic qualities in Linkin Park’s discography , instead returning to their roots in a structural way. It’s this structure that made Linkin Park resonate with so many fans worldwide.
“Minutes to Midnight,” was Linkin Park’s third studio. It would be the last time Linkin Park’s album sales came anywhere close to rivaling their pop contemporaries, selling over 20 million units worldwide in the golden age of Limewire and Pirate Bay. It also marked the first stylistic deviation in their career. While songs like “Given Up” and “Bleed it Out” continued to their signature aggressive metal/rap hybrid style established on Hybird Theory and Meteora aka Hybrid Theory 2.0, the song also featured several soft pop ballads such as “Leave Out All the Rest,” “In Between,” and “Valentine’s Day” that featured no rapping what so ever.
I want to focus on “Given Up,” the song in Chester’s career that more than any other makes painfully crystal clear the depression and suicidal thoughts Chester experienced throughout his life.
“I’ve given up
I’m sick of feeling
Is there nothing you can say?
Take this all away
Tell me what the fuck is wrong with me”
And just to make sure his point is made absolutely crystal clear that he absolutely wants to die, the bridge is “PUT ME OUT OF MY FUCKING MISERY” screamed four times as loud as humanly possible.
“Given Up,” also features a nearly identical structure of quiet intro>building verse>chorus 1>verse 2>chorus 2>bridge>chorus 3>sudden outro. I posted the chorus lyrics to all three of these songs for a reason, because everything about this structure is built to emphasize these choruses. They furthered the quiet verse>loud chorus signature go to move of Nirvana by adding a gradual build up before pulling back and then hitting with the chorus. Most importantly, they emphasize their message (the chorus) in the simplest way possible through relentless repetition. All three of these brief sub-3 minute songs spend dedicate half of their run time to their choruses when time is at a premium, and even within these choruses the repetition runs even further with phrases like “I’m about to break” and “Why is everything so heavy.” inside the 3 or 4 times repeated choruses.
In their subsequent albums, Linkin Park moved away from both the lyrical themes of personal suffering and the chorus emphasizing mutual structure. The move from this structure correlates pretty clearly with their commercial success as mentioned above. The most common critique I’ve read relating to post Midnight Linkin Park is usually phrased as “they didn’t have that magic that made them unique/amazing anymore.” What these people mean, but can’t articulate in precise terms, is that the band no longer emotionally resonated with them when they moved on to more complex song structures and grander themes about the wider human experience. That doesn’t make their post-Midnight work bad, but it does make it objective much harder to relate to on a personal level.
The genius of Chester Bennington in his peak is the way he expressed the simplest, purest form of the simple human emotion of pain. Linkin Park after their fall from mainstream popularity was often thought of in popular culture as a flash in the pan driven by edgy wannabe emo-kids going through a phase.
“Given Up” in particular was often derided in its time and in hindsight for being simplistic and over the top “edgy.” For having a cartoonish quality of angst that critics didn’t feel was believably human. In the hindsight of Chester’s suicide, listening to him scream “PUT ME OUT OF MY FUCKING MISERY” over and over again is incredibly uncomfortable and raw. Chester never wrote lyrics that detailed the sexual abuse he received as a kid, or the heavy drug usage he began when he was eleven years old, or why he thought he couldn’t fit in school and was afraid his classmates thought he was gay. He repeated that singular message of reasonless pain over and over again with a laser focus never before seen by any popular artist.
That’s the fundamental truth of depression. You feel hurt. Sometimes it’s quiet and lingering. Sometimes it’s loud, but it’s always bearing down like a crushing weight. That simple message is what resonated with hundreds of millions of people around the world of every gender, sexuality, race, age and nationality.
I don’t know if that shared experience is comforting, or the saddest fucking sentence I’ve ever typed.