There's a thousand places, (to match the thousand pieces of my broken heart) where I want to start this writing, but I'm so fucking mad, and sad, so so sad, that THESE THINGS about which I must write (or be crippled by the confusion, and pain) are things at all, that words come to me in rushes, and I think them, and write them, hate them, then delete them. And I have emotions colliding against each other with such ferocity I've felt literally for the first time in my life, over the last few days, that I might pass out. If this is where I am at, I can't begin to imagine where must be those whose pain is mine only by association, admiration, and friendship. By history. By love. This writing which had started out about 2 heartaches, I am refining, which is not to say making shorter, to be about just 1.
I want to be very clear about something; I am gutted by Chester's death, and it is a HUGE loss for everyone who knew him, loved him, and loved his music. And this time "one of us" for me, for my huge extended Arizona family of ridiculously talented creative feelers, really was ONE OF US. But I do not seek to appropriate the pain of those who REALLY lost him. The one who lost her husband, the children who lost their father. The parents who lost their son. The friends since youth, business partners, and band mates. To them I send endless amounts of love, because if my pain is at 11, theirs must be at 11,000,000.
Chester and I were not BFF's. We were more like super casual F's, (friends, just in case that might read other than intended) who were part of a brilliant, ridiculously talented, absolutely insane in the best, and worst ways, group of people in the music scene in Tempe, (really metro-Phoenix) AZ, at the same time. "Tempe Jangle Pop" was big then, with bands like The Gin Blossoms and The Refreshments making names for themselves on the national stage. But also, The Meat Puppets and their punk/country thing, and Jimmy Eat World, were (and are in the case of Jimmy's band) kinda big time too. DJ Z-Trip, The Phunk Junkeez, Dead Hot Workshop…these are just some of the bands/artists who "made it" to varying degrees, from that time, and place, and only representative of a small percentage of the talent that existed then, in the Valley of the Sun.
By now the world knows that Chester in the mid to late 90's, was the vocalist for the band Grey Daze, with his Club Tattoo business partner, Sean Dowdell on drums. I, when we first met, was working as an independent Booking Agent/Band Manager. Having also been a singer, and writer, most of what we shared was the arsty fartsy creative thing. I was later to find out we also shared being molested at age 7, and drug addiction. Lucky us, right?
Its not very often I know the exact date I first met someone, but thanks to how we met, and the internet, I know the first time I met Chester was September 10th, 1994. I think he was 18, but maybe 17. I was the Booking Agent for, "Tripping With Grace" and Grey Daze was the support act for them that night. It was my first show with Tripping With Grace, and my first show in the Phoenix scene. Literally in the hundreds is the number of shows I've been to in my life, so thousands is the number of bands that I've seen, and I will NEVER forget that night. Not because he became CHESTER BENNINGTON of LINKIN PARK, but because "who the f is the skinny kid with the braids and the HUGE voice, radiating raw passion, and energy as he sings?!" Truly he was riveting to watch, to listen to, even then. That voice. THAT voice. And him, on stage, so young, unpolished, not yet having perfected the front man thing, but riveting none the less.
Forever in my mind I see his stance, singing, bent at the waist, leaning forward, which anyone whose had any vocal lessons knows is the exact opposite of what you're supposed to do when singing. Cupping the mic in his hands, which anyone who has done any singing into a mic know is the exact opposite of what you're supposed to do. Unless you're Chester Bennington.
This is DAYS worth of writing, attempts at writing, and so little said. Because I stop to cry, and remember, and wonder, and to FEEL my sadness and my anger. I find myself unable to read most of what is written in the last week about him, except the memories written by my friends, his friends, our friends, and the tributes paid to him by fans. These precious memories we carry of this man who touched so many. Not just with his music, but with his genuine kindness, and humility. I'd say I've strolled down memory's lane, but it has been more like a sunshine filled day – running through broken glass. Looks shimmery and pretty in the light, but hurts like a bitch.
I wrote a blog a few weeks ago, after Chris Cornell committed suicide titled "Who Cares if One More Light Goes Out? In A Sky of a Million Stars… I do." Click Me Taken from the Linkin Park song which Chester, with great emotion, sang the day after Chris's passing. This particular blog is about how us ridiculously talented creative feelers are sort of fucked up in our own ways. But how some of us, inexplicably, make our way around, or through, our fucked-upness, to the other side. The side where we're still fucked up, but we're not actively, or passively, trying to off ourselves because of it. And I wrote of 3 (anonymous) people whose lives to greater or lesser degrees I have been privileged to be a part of. These 3 people who have had certain situations and circumstances sadly similar to each other, and mine, and each rose to such amazing heights, in spite of bullshit, and pain, and for a couple of them, (and me) in spite of stupid choices. And Chester was one of those of whom I was speaking. The one of whom I wrote "Rise doesn't begin to describe this story's (not yet finished) end." Because he had "made it." Until he didn't.
The last time I had a real conversation with Chester before he became CHESTER BENNINGTON OF LINKIN PARK, has always been for reasons I could never quite understand, indelibly etched on my brain. 4 years had past since the first meeting. I'd been to who knows how many Grey Daze shows, gotten my first tattoo by a Club Tattoo artist at an event called "Club Sex" which was basically live music and tattoos happening all under one roof, on my birthday (known to some as Valentine's Day), and had seen him out and about every now and again because; music scene. Now working for Never Records Group as the Local Marketing Representative, I had one of our bands playing a show at Gibson's in Tempe. (Either Lords of Acid or Curve, I can't quite nail down dates)
At one point in the evening I was outside the venue, and Chester came walking up. We hugged, exchanged hellos, and "what are you doing here" sort of questions. And then we talked about real life, and heartache. His heartache. And I see him now, just like I do every time I've thought of this the last 20 years, I see him, leaning up against the wall, hands pushed in his pockets, back curved, leaning forward, head down, one knee bent, and one foot on the wall behind him. When he'd look up, the emotion, the hurt around what he was sharing with me, was written all over his face, and reflected in his eyes. His life, and hurt at that moment in it is not my story to tell the world, and is ancient history now. What I can say is that he told me of new opportunities, and changes he was going to be making because he had to make them. I don't recall what I said, but I'm sure I offered some words in which I'd hoped he'd find comfort, and hugs, and wishes that all would turn out for the best. Then we went inside, him to enjoy a show, and me to work my show.
Within a year or so of that is when he started to become CHESTER BENNINGTON OF LINKIN PARK. Every time I've thought of that conversation over the years, I've thought about how desperately sad he was. How he had no idea that the choices, and changes he felt he had to make, were going to lead him to heights none of the rest of us ridiculously talented creative feelers in Tempe, Arizona, could in our wildest dreams imagine achieving. I know by his own admission that even in his happy moments, he was prone to self sabotage, but I'd like to believe that there were at least some periods of time where he was able to ride the wave of happiness.
Grey Daze was set to do a reunion show in Tempe on September 23rd this year, and I was flying home for it. Having only seen Chester a couple of times since 1998, and always in some sort of mob fest meet and greet situation, I've never had the chance to remind him of that day, and how sad he was, and how far he'd made it. Not just in music, but in life, with the work he did with MusiCares, and in love with Talinda, with his kids, with Club Tattoo. I wanted to tell him how much hope he'd always given me, and how privileged I'd always felt that he, the human being Chester, not the eventually famous guy, had shared something so deeply personal, and allowed me to hold that space for him. And like so many others around the world I wanted to thank him for music, and lyrics, that brought me a measure of comfort in so many moments in time when nothing else could. Even if it was just because his was a voice from home, and a challenge to "scream" with! In this last week I have mourned the loss of that opportunity to say those words, which I do know he is aware of anyway.
This really has been a tough one that has brought back around my lifelong deep think about why so many of us ridiculously talented creative feelers go so low, even when soaring so high. I have grieved for him, for the pain he must have felt. I have cried copious amounts of tears. And screamed. And sang, And danced, And walked. And run. I have asked WHY god bless it WHY? I've sent waves of love, and peace, and healing, to the hearts that need it most, so that I could at least do something. I've been moved by the tributes to him from ALL OVER THE WORLD! Over and over reading words, or watching videos in which someone is talking about how they owe their life to Chester, and Linkin Park. I have had coworkers, and friends tell me that they directly credit Chester with getting them through some of the worst times of their lives.
Tonight, the day after the memorial for Chester, I have found myself in the place I feel I have to be, and that feels right, with all of this. I, as usual, have no answers, but, what is a possible truth that resonates for me, even while knowing it doesn't comfort those he left behind, is that his work here was done. He has touched thousands upon thousands of lives with his music, and with his heart. He has been a voice to give courage to those struggling with depression, and addiction. He has literally saved lives because of those things. And now, he has "leveled up." With his passing people from all over the world are coming together to celebrate him, to mourn the loss of him, and to comfort one another. Funds are being donated in his name, which will help a someone in need someday. People who may not have reached out for help, are doing so. Suicide prevention information is being spread across social media at a rate I'm certain is much higher than usual. Chester's friends in music are openly speaking of his passing, and urging anyone who needs help to seek it, and to reach out to each other for support, and friendship. People are coming together, sharing love, trying to make a positive difference in the world, because of the skinny kid with the huge voice.
For me the loss of Chester has brought about the renewed desire to have the conversation about how the paradigm of the tortured/suffering/starving artist is played out. How there must be a way to create, and be happy, all at once. Not always of course. Not fake "church lady" happy. But that we don't need to be unhappy because its what we're "supposed" to be. We don't have to self sabotage when we do find ourselves happy. We must tell the ridiculously talented creative feelers that it is OK to be those things when they are tiny humans! Nurture that. Give them the opportunity to explore that. Don't bullshit them about it either. It's not pretty, and it sure as hell isn't always fun. The music business and all of the arts don't often give, but when they do they also have a habit of taking away. Allow the tiny humans the space to create because they need to, but maybe also help them find a practical application for their creativity that will provide a steady income. But don't tell them they HAVE to be a Dr/lawyer/scientist whatever. Teach them the value of taking care of reality, while pursuing their dreams!
I get that I'm not solving the problems with this very 101 "choose happy" sort of thing. See above and "I don't have any answers." But I am willing to shine a light, to be a light, to give a hug, or be the ear or shoulder that is needed. There can't be anything more important to do in this life than that, right? If I never remembered another time when I made a difference in a persons life, I will always know that even for just a minute, I helped a sad someone feel, if not better, heard.
The last thing I want, need, to say, is Thank You to that skinny kid, with the braids, and the HUGE voice. Thank you for crossing paths with me in this reality. Thank you for the music that was the sound track for so many moments large, and small in my life, and not just sad moments, at all!! So many happy memories of you, with Grey Daze, and Linkin Park. Thank you for writing lyrics that I understand at a soul level. Thank you for your courage in being forthcoming about your abuse, your addiction, and your depression because it helped me when I was in my deepest, most dark place, where I didn't care if I woke up the next day, feel not quite so crazy, knowing it wasn't just me who'd ever gone there.. Most importantly, thank you for giving me your trust, and the opportunity to be whatever you needed at that time, all those years ago. I will not say goodbye to you, I will simply say see you later, for whenever later may be, and I love you.
Photos not mine but were found via Google Search