Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington gave voice to the struggles of American adolescents before dying of suicide at age 41 on July 20. Years ago, Bennington and Linkin Park struck up a friendship with their alt-rock radio peers Rise Against; the groups toured together in 2015. Below, friend, collaborator, and Rise Against singer Tim McIlrath reflects on Bennington’s legacy.
The first time I met Chester was probably at one of the KROQ Acoustic Christmases in L.A. He just walked right up to me like we already knew each other. I wasn’t aware that he was aware of our band. He started telling me what a big fan he was.
The most shocking thing about all of this is that the Chester I crossed paths with on tour was just so unstressed and light as a feather. He had that disposition of somebody who’d just walked out of a massage: floating and smiley and happy and unbothered by the buzz of activity around him. He’d stop and talk to me, and there’d be a nervous tour manager right behind him saying, “Chester, we have to go! You’re on stage in, like, 90 seconds!” And he’d be like, “Hey, man, how was your day?” On the surface, he was one of the most untortured guys that you saw on the road.
A band like Rise Against has been a gateway for a lot of young people who are transitioning into heavier music or finding music they really identify with. Linkin Park was a bigger band of the same ilk. That’s what made me appreciate what they were doing. They were guiding these kids through adolescence and they were helping them — and there was something really positive about it too. Chester had demons that he was wrestling, but that’s the price we pay to do this. For a band like Linkin Park to happen, that requires a guy or a girl to look deep in themselves and wrestle these demons. After they do it every night, they make it look easy.
Something that I’ve learned is that you can never underestimate the role of music in a person’s life. To a young music lover, it has more influence than their religion, parents, teachers, peers, family. Music can supersede all of those things. The right music to the right person is so powerful. To have a guy like Chester be able to tap into the angst that is adolescence, that was such an important thing.
—As told to Eric Renner Brown
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).