Lost to a moment
Some thoughts about Chester Bennington, and suicide.
I’ve been thinking about Chester Bennington today, the late singer in the phenomenally successful nu-metal band Linkin Park. Were he to have navigated the moment that took his life on July 20th, 2017, today he would have been 47 years old.
And this last half decade, I’ve been thinking a lot about suicide.
Before July 2017, I’d seriously considered suicide maybe twice; a few months into the onset of my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, aged 19, then during a prolonged bout of OCD aged 30, when it was impossible for me to think of any other way to escape the cycle of doubt I was lost within. Since then, I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve tried, certainly how often I’ve thought about it. I’m done with all that now, I have emerged a wiser if physically, mentally scarred man. Here is what I’ve learned; the danger isn’t in the thought itself, but in the moments that follow it.
Today I’ve been specifically thinking about the day a few months before Chester died, when I went to see he and bandmate Mike Shinoda talk and play acoustically in the foyer of Warner Records, the record label that the band were signed to. I never cared much for Linkin Park, really – their brand of metal was just that bit sporty for me and when they were most popular I was listening to Pulp - but going to see members of Linkin Park talk and play songs is the sort of thing someone who is the then editor of Kerrang! magazine does. I can’t remember what songs were played, but I do remember what the singer said. He talked, extensively, infront of every significant rock music industry figure of that time, about how he often thought of taking his own life.
I haven’t just tried to take my own life repeatedly in the last five years. I’ve lost friends to their own hand too. One I think about daily. His pleas for help on Twitter haunt me, I have to wrestle to remember the man I knew and not the cries of anguish that peppered his final days. That might sound like it wasn’t a moment that took him, that there was foreboding, but I remember the jokes he cracked between the moments of desperation. It wasn’t a consistent message. He was trying to pull himself back. The day after the last time I tried to kill myself I signed a book deal and went for a Chinese meal with my wife. I was happy and logical - and sore. In the moment I was not.
Like almost all discourse in 2023, that which surrounds suicide is broken and noisy and dashed with performativity. The section editor who shouted at me down a telephone line twenty years ago for late copy, oblivious or uncaring that the OCD I was lost to meant that I could hear ‘demons’ in the wall of my flat, recently wrote a book about mental health in the music industry. I become incensed, because I just don’t know where to put the respect I once had for him, when a former boss tweets suggestions in the wake of a music industry suicide to ‘reach out’ (the texts and emails to him, sometimes from a hospital ward, asking him to share some responsibility for the mistake I made at work as a younger and inexperienced man go unanswered).
I don’t mean to throw shade. I am 42 years old. I have been hypocritical many times myself. Anyone who has lived a full adult life will have. I have a book I’ve written en route about mental illness. I also have a last desperate twitter DM from my friend asking if I would call them, that remains unanswered, him not around to pick up now, even if I called. A tombstone in my direct messages. I miss him.
When I think about Chester that day at Warners, I think about how desensitised I was to someone taking about taking their own life. Take it from a teenage Nirvana fan; suicide is part of the currency of rock music, a sales bump for magazines and the re-issue department, a diversion from release cycles and festival announcements. What could I have done to save Chester from the moment that took him? Who could have helped me in the moments when I’d forgotten about the love and joy that surrounded this present feeling in time? (My mum, my wife, my friends Danielle and Mariel actually, but it took a gang to do it). Why didn’t I call my friend when he needed help? I said I was thinking, not that I’d arrived at any conclusions.
These moments? They don’t just arrive. There isn’t one reason why we’re lost to them. No one person, event or one thing is to blame. During the moments I ended up on a train track, a bridge or with a knife in my hand, I’d arrived there at the end of a long journey. Like erosion topples cliffs or tumours break out, these moments ready themselves for criticality over time, I don’t doubt that there will be more moments to come for more people; the world is breaking us, as the world breaks apart. What moments are being forged today for tragedy tomorrow?
Be gentle with yourself. And each other.