21st Century King of Rock ‘n’ Roll: A Tribute to Chester Bennington

Article Chad Thomas Carsten
From July/August 2017 Vandala Magazine

Chester Bennington’s music will forever remain inside my musical soul. I was sitting on break at Reese and Ray’s IGA when my own mother (She knew how much I loved Chester’s music.) texted me about Chester’s suicide and my eye’s immediately flooded with tears and I started sobbing profusely and jetted to the employee bathroom so no one could see me crying. I just had a dreadful feeling it wasn’t a crude online hoax. Sure enough, my instincts were sadly correct. My teenage hero was gone and it felt like the Reaper ripped out my heart out and I somehow watched my own heart stop beating in front of my own eyes. I closed my eyelids shut and whispered, “Thank you for all the music you created Chester, rest in peace” and I ended up leaving my 9 to 5 early, so I could get home as quickly as possible and blast every single Linkin Park record from start to finish nearly full volume on the Sony home theater system. Dead By Sunrise’s “Out of Ashes” was played on full blast soon after, followed by various Grey Daze tracks and Chester’s appearance on the Queen of the Damned soundtrack with “System” on continuous repeat.

My childhood and early teenage years were pretty intense growing up in Flint, Michigan, but I survived the aftermath of moving out of the city of broken glass, shattered dreams, and burnt buildings thanks to the music of Linkin Park. I was twelve in the Fall of 2000 when I first heard the “Shut UP” bridge and the chorus to One Step Closer on Flints Banana 101.5 when one of my Father’s friends drove me to McKinley Middle School around 6:45 a.m. I had no clue it was Linkin Park for over a year, because the Everlast single “What’s It Like” directly played right after and I arrived at school rather quickly, being it was only a five-minute drive. But the hook stayed in my head for hours upon hours that week. Something about Chester’s voice resonated with me that day on my way to school and I literally instantaneously had goose bumps form across my arms with how astonished I was with Bennington’s prodigious vocal range. That very same day I had to do a two mile run in the gym class I constantly was bullied in the final hour of the day. The bridge and hook for One Step Closer was still pounding in my head relentlessly for the better when the two-mile run started. I was the second kid to come back from running the entire two miles without stopping and the track somehow granted me this new breed of confidence inside me to finish the run and prove to my peers that I’m not the skinny weak push over they think I am. I was felt so accomplished and I was on the hunt to figure out who the artist was behind this “Shut Up” song (that’s what I called it), but no one at school knew what I was even talking about because they were obsessed with Eminem.

Fast forward nearly two weeks later and I’m at a friend of the family’s house in Burton ( a suburb of Flint) Michigan. I’m looking through this older teenage boy PlayStation video game case. I’m slowly flipping through the pages admiring the CD art on the discs when suddenly I stumbled upon Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory inside the case. I asked him if the CD was any good. not realizing this was the band I heard on the day of the two-mile run. The older teenager replied with “Nah, someone gave it to me because they didn’t like it and I decided to keep it”. The band name seemed a little bland, but the winged soldier holding the flag was “bad ass”, exact words of mine. I asked if we could listen to the disc, but that’s when My father decided it was time to go home and eat dinner. So I didn’t even get a chance. Not long after that, some crazy shit went down with my Grandfather and someone hired a gang banger to try and kill my father but didn’t succeed. We got the hell out of Flint rather hastily after that occurred and only took the bare minimum, left the house vacant, and headed towards the woods of Northern Michigan to start a new life. A year later a family who was close with my family came up to hunt for deer season. I’m flipping through their adopted son’s torn up CD case and behold there was Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory and I promptly put the album in my shitty dollar store bought boombox and immediately fell in love with the album. I had a holy shit moment when “One Step Closer played”, because at (long) last I finally figured out that Linkin Park was the band I had heard the day of the two miles run in Flint. I played Hybrid Theory over and over for so many countless hours that whole weekend and asked my mother pick up the album as a Christmas gift. Well, I was super lucky. Christmas 2001 my own copy of Hybrid Theory was finally in the palm of my hands and I jumped up in down in joy, accidentally knocking over the Christmas tree. My Father catching it last minute. I took Hybrid Theory every where I went and showed it to all my new friends, who were also stunned by Chester’s awe-inspiring vocal range. I couldn’t believe that the kid in Flint attained Hybrid Theory because someone didn’t like it. I thought they were clinically insane for giving away such an epic CD!

Fast forward to the Summer of 2004. I convinced my parents to pick my Father and I up tickets to Linkin Park’s Projekt Revolution featuring Korn and Snoop Dogg. I was 16 years old and it’s still one of my greatest concert experiences ever. I was the happiest 16 year old alive and all my friends were super jealous that I was finally seeing Linkin Park live. During the performance Linkin Park performed a flawless cover of Nine Inch Nail’s “Wish” and my father turned to me and said, “That guy who screams has some amazing pipes! I like this shit!” I was shocked because my Father was (still is) stuck in the glory days of Hair Metal and he was impressed with Chester’s vocals?! Whoa!? I made sure on the first day of school that year I was wearing my Projekt Revolution 2004 tour shirt (that I still own) and showed it off proudly! It was the only time I was able to see Linkin Park live because shortly after that, the band went on hiatus for awhile and I ended up moving to Montana after Michigan’s economy took a massive plunge.

Linkin Park only came to Montana once in 2002 (When I was still in Michigan) and never came back, so I was shit out of luck. Tried to go to Denver a few times to see them, but my jobs at the time were dicks about giving me the time off. When I arrived in Montana at first I hated it. I started experiencing crazy anxiety trying to get used to the polarizing environment and then an incident from my childhood in Flint started haunting me again at the very end of 2008. From the middle of 1997 until early 1999 I was black mailed, hit, and bullied by an older female cousin of mine to have intercourse and ended up being molested by her countless amount of times from the age of 8 till almost 11 years old. She even went as far as breaking a dish set that belonged to a relatives of ours and threatened to blame it on me if I didn’t give in. The anger and guilt were bottled inside of me for over ten years and I kept silent because I didn’t want it to ruin our family. I thought it was all my fault. I kept escaping to the local Laurel Montana library to keep the memory from coming back and that’s when I stumbled upon an early 2008 Kerrang article where Chester revealed his own sexual abuse. I was beyond shocked, but Chester’letting out his own personal struggle also gave me the courage to finally let out the built up horror inside of me and tell my parents what exactly occurred. I will forever be thankful to Bennington for giving me the strength to heal and allowing other victims of sexual abuse to know that’s it’s okay to speak out.

When “One More Light” dropped in stores worldwide I respected Linkin Park’s choice to explore pop music. I admired the risk they were taking and listened to the record with an open mind. It slowly grew on me and then I honestly ended up falling in love with the entire record and it too played on repeat continuously just like every LP record before it. Chester’s vocals displayed on the track “Halfway Right” gave me the same chills and goosebumps on my arms just like “One Step Closer” did 17 years ago. It was a total mind f*ck, but further proves Chester Bennington is the 21st-century king of rock n roll. He touched the lives of millions and his music will always continue to inspire people for the greater good. The music of Grey Daze, Linkin Park, and Dead by Sunrise, and every project Chester has been featured on deserves to shine on forever!

Top 5 Chester Bennington Essentials You May Have Missed

1. Grey Daze – Drag Release: No Sun Today:Chester’s cleans inside this incredible Grey Daze track are beautifully haunting, yet unforgettably magical at the same time. It’s a song that focuses on the subject of battling with addiction and you can literally feel Chester’s struggle of not wanting to make life become a drag and escaping from intoxication through every single line as if he were pouring out his thoughts and feeling right in front of you! A powerful grungy Grey Daze classic that deserves to be heard by every single fan of Chester!

2. DJ Z-Trip Walking Dead Featuring Chester Bennington Release: Shifting Gears: This song proves that Chester can dominate on any type of production no matter the genre and completely make the song his own! A pop masterpiece about holding on to a deceased loved one and hints at possibly digging up their own grave to see their significant other again. The hook Chester delivers inside this trip-hop titan will latch on to your musical soul and stay inside any one who listens to brain for weeks on end! DJ Z-Trip is the man for inviting Chester to bring out one of his best cleans to date!

3. Linkin Park-And One Release: Hybrid Theory EP: The opening line “Where should I start?/disjointed Heart” could possibly send chills down any rock music fans spine right when first hearing it! It’s just the way Chester delivers the line so soft and innocent like, yet it somehow sounds so dark and intriguing. That part a lone could make anyone a Chester fan. Another strong point inside this beast of an old school Linkin Park oldie is the slowed down guitar bridge with Chester bringing forth soft, emotional vocals and sings the line “it’s too late to love me now”; it pulls on the heart and tears may welt up, yet it showcases Chester’s true raw talent as a vocalist.

4. Dead by Sunrise- My Suffering Release: Out of Ashes: This punk rock induced anthem will have you inviting all your friends to mosh all over your parents living room floor thanks to the Black Flag inspired quickness and the way Chester growls. It’s like Satan himself is pouring from Chester’s mouth into your speakers. So kiddies don’t get grounded for life from destroying your parent’s place when blasting this Dead by Sunrise classic!

5. Santana-Riders on the Storm (Doors Cover) featuring Chester Bennington & Ray Manzarek Release: Guitar Heaven: The Greatest Guitar Classics of All Time: Whoa! Carlos Santana and Chester Bennington on the same song?! And it’s a kick ass cover of The Doors legendary hit “Riders on the Storm” with Ray of the Doors providing newly recorded keys too!? Yep! This exists! The way Santana shreds along side Ray’s breath-taking keyboard skills with Chester displaying soft spoken compelling cleans that would even make Jim Morrison proud, justifying creates a cover that shines so bright you’ll have to wear a welding mask when blasting this one!

Close Friends/Artists React and Share Personal Memories

Sean Dowdell (Club Tattoo/Grey Daze): I was the best man at his wedding, played drums in Grey Daze with him for 7 years, Sd & His Friends for 2 years, we put out 2 CDs and 1 demo tape. He was Thora (my wife) and I’s partner in Club Tattoo for 23 years and we opened 6 studios in Arizona and Las Vegas together. He will be missed tremendously. I can still very much remember the day I met him. He was 15 years old and a sophomore in high school in 1992. We had recently formed a band and were looking for a new SINGER to join our group. One of our band members had mentioned he knew a kid that could sound just like Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam when he sang, and could probably be a GOOD singer. The only issue was that he was 2 to 3 years younger than everyone else in the band. When he came in for his audition all of us were hoping that he might sound GOOD enough to join the band. He walked into the rehearsal space and he was not at all what I was expecting.

Chester with Thora and Sean Dowdell of Club Tattoo

I remember thinking to myself quite ARROGANTLY and being disappointed. I thought that he didn’t look like a typical rock star at all? But then again, in hindsight: Chester was anything but typical. He was maybe 90lbs soaking wet and had tight curly hair and was wearing glasses. I thought to myself, “oh man, I don’t think this kid has what we are looking for at all”. Then he began to sing… and my heart dropped into to my stomach and my throat dried up. Every note, and every word was BEAUTIFUL. It was at that very moment that I thought to myself, wow, this kid is unbelievable. He’s got “IT”, and whatever “IT” was; Let me tell you…he had a ton of “IT”. He was by far the most talented of any us. We asked him to join the band immediately and for the next 8 years, Chester and I were inseparable in our friendship and in our quest to conquer the music industry together. I felt FOOLISH for years that I had judged him by what I was looking at that day and not what was inside of him. I am forever thankful for that LESSON he taught me that day I met him. His mother Susan and father Lee were initially concerned about letting their son participate in the music industry; but I gave them my word that I felt like he was my little brother and felt the need to make sure I protected him. I honestly did my best to do that.

He was clearly very talented with many things, but he was so much more than that. Chester was HONEST, CONSIDERATE, and BENEVOLENT; he was unyielding in his convictions in the things that he believed were right. He would consistently stand up for the underdog or the little guy.Those were the TRUE gifts he gave to the world. Yes, he had an INCREDIBLE voice and sang BREATHTAKING, AWE INSPIRING music that we will all remember forever. He also was one of the KINDEST and most GENEROUS individuals I have ever met.

Ryan Shuck: We were picking on each other before this Julien-K show (he was the unofficial 5th member and played with us many many times) – he’s laughing because we were making so much fun of my “passionate performance” before the show… so much fun. He was so loving and so funny. He laughs at our joke earlier while still hugging me onstage. THAT’S CB for you. We always had a total joke running between us at every performance. We would be laughing in between singing parts together. I loved it. We tried to hide this from the crowd.

Ryan Shuck (Dead by Sunrise/Julien-K): When I was in the studio rehearsing some of the songs that we’re gonna do (Vegas Memorial) and some of the songs that we wrote together, it did remind me of some really, really, funny shit that Chester did. And he did funny shit all the time! Being with Amir and kinda just working on the songs that we wrote together and me singing Chester’s part and us remembering him in that process was really funny. It reminded me of a day that we did exactly what we’re doing now. Rehearsing, writing, and re-working parts and everything. I got tired and ended up going to bed. I was just laying in bed and the studio was at my house. So that’s where we recorded everything. During this time Chester lived with me. He lived with me for quite awhile. He and his wife Talinda. Honestly it was one of the most fun times I’ve ever had in my life. Every night was stupid stuff. *Laughs*

So anyways, I was in bed but the other guys in the band, Chester being the leader, still stayed up till three a.m. or later. The writing process had devolved into what typically happened, which is either a Call of Duty match to the death or just some other stupidity in the studio. I can hear them all laughing and yelling from my sound proof studio that’s on the complete other side of my house. The bedrooms of my house are in the back and the studio is in the front of my house. Literally fifty feet away. Double sound proofed walls! This is just the perfect example of how funny and silly Chester could take his talent. Literally his ability to sing and his ability to make voices/make sounds. I could hear that somehow they started a game where Amir would play a note on the guitar and Chester would sing the note. Well that turned into in about ten minutes of Amir going higher and higher and higher up the scale, up every string! And Chester matching the note full voice until they got up/close to the highest note that you could play on guitar. Amir would play a note and I could hear this as loud as if it was in the room. Like I was just sitting outside of the room, but I was fifty feet away protect by three different sound proof walls! Amir plays a note and then they all start laughing.

NFL Game Ryan Shuck: Chester took me to the NFL playoff games in PHX a few years ago as a little BFF hangout. We sat in the crowd just like everyone else. No rockstar attitudes. No special treatment. So fun. Chester NEVER acted like a rockstar. We screamed for PHX the entire game. Only one of us lost they’re voice.

They sounded just like eight-year old’s. Amir plays another note and Chester just screams the note right on, right in key as loud as you can imagine! And then more pure laughter. You could tell that they were falling off the couch laughing. And then another note! You could hear Chester shout “Okay! Okay! Okay! Higher! Higher! Higher!” and then Amir plays a note and then Chester would go*high pitch girly scream* “AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH”and sing it full voiced as loud as you could imagine. I started laughing in bed because at first I was getting mad. I was like, “Oh my god these guys gotta stop. It’s f*cking almost three thirty a.m.” But it was so f*cking funny. They made it up the entire scale of the neck. The closer they got to the highest note, the more they were devolving into total laughter. Just silliness! And you could hear Chester yelling, “No! No! No! Play it! Play it! Play it!” and you knew they could barely finger the guitar because they were laughing so much. Delirious and just being so silly. Chester ended up hitting the highest note on the guitar full voiced and full volume, louder than the guitar! Part of you is absolutely dumbfounded and amazed that he has that level of talent and the other side of you is laughing, almost tears in my eyes! I get up and walk in there and go, “What the f*ck guys?!” completely laughing out loud and every one of their faces were totally red and had tears in their eyes. They were delirious from just working for twenty hours straight. After that much work and that much focus on music. Chester could still take his talent and make it funny and fun.

That’s what working with Chester was like. The guy could focus so hard. He actually made us work harder than we ever worked and I know that work ethic comes from Linkin Park and the awesome culture that they created and how they do their music. He could do that with us and then we completely at some point we’d devolved into complete children. That’s just what he was like. This insanely talented angel with a voice of a demon. With this like eight-year-old personality mixed inside of it. It made him so sweet and so cute. Honestly, I think that’s why, I don’t care who you are in the world, you even hear his voice/know anything about him/or you even just seen him on TV or in person, you love him!

Sonny Sandoval (Payable on Death): We had taken Linkin Park out in 2000 when they first signed. It was actually P.O.D., Hed P.E., Project 86, and Linkin Park opened. Which was crazy! We heard LP’s first single and we knew they were this up and coming group that had just signed to Warner Bros. We just knew that obviously there was a powerhouse behind them. That these guys were going to take off. We would hang out and they were very sweet guys. Always goofing around and just having fun. You could tell they were on the break of something incredible. Even when we’re doing these little theaters and club tours, we knew this would be the last time Linkin Park would play these venues. We knew something was going to happen. The next couple years they exploded. Linkin Park literally went from nobody knowing who they were to just this overnight success. They asked us to be part of the Meteora World Tour to return the favor. We were friends and fans of each other and they asked us to come out.

At that point, they were arena status. We would always hang out afterward in each other’s dressings rooms. It was cool for all of us! Story of the Year, Hoobstank, us and Linkin Park. A lot of the times we would just stand around, hang out and have fun and just look at each other like, “This is the best tour ever!” All of us had been on different tours, but it was the way everybody had gotten a long. Sometimes you get on tour no bands even talk to each other. Just business. But this didn’t seem like business at all. You could go in anybody’s dressing room and it would be bands and their crews mixed up together. Everybody was just one big happy family! We didn’t want this tour to end! Linkin Park continued to do their thing and take over the world. They were always good live. You could tell that they loved what they were doing. Chester was always singing from the heart and it meant something to him. Their interactions with the fans were always warm and always real. It wasn’t just a bunch of guys getting up there performing and just doing their thing. As far as the connection with the crowd I always had respect for them with the way they treated the audience/the fans. Definitely a positive connection. Chester was the man! He had a unique voice. He could scream at the same time and switch up to cleans right away. Which was crazy powerful! He could sing and hit the high notes just as well as he was screaming.

I was blown away by Chester’s death, man. I know that he struggled with certain things and stuff, but it was weird. Just like Robin Williams for example. They could make you feel loved, they could make you feel happy and make you smile. But they’re battling these inner demons on the inside. You never really know how crazy it can affect somebody. I’ve been in the business for a long time and I’ve seen these guys go through this stuff. They struggle with addiction/struggle with their own identity as people. We live in this rock ‘n’ roll world where everybody is the yes man. You kinda have to prepare yourself for that and not be caught up in that. Me being a man of faith I don’t buy into it. I don’t buy into the rock ‘n’ roll facade. A lot of time these guys can go and be these rock-stars and might be on top of the world, but they still haven’t found that inner peace. But if you would’ve been around Chester, you would’ve never guessed it. That’s what’s crazy about it. It’s a sad thing. You can have the whole world and yet still feel alone inside. It’s crazy to be surrounded by thousands and thousands of people every night, yet still feel alone. As much as I was shocked, at the same I was overwhelmingly just heart broken. And then there was the side of me that was pissed off, not at him, but just pissed off (again being a man of faith I believe in good and evil) that these evil things can taunt us and get at us. So I saw it as a victory of evil constantly picking at Chester’s soul, heart, and mind. You just wished that during some of our intimate conversations, that there was something there that’s real and meant something to him or to anybody that I’ve encountered. At the end of the day it just makes you want to have a heart and understand people that are depressed/suicidal. It makes you want to love them more. It makes you want to love people more!

Mila Angelova (Vocalist/Fashion Designer): One of my first three tatts is of Chester’s name. A part of my heart will always be heartbroken about Chester. The loss will always be felt throughout the world and for his family. He influenced me profoundly as a musician and I will forever be grateful for that. I listen now to his music with the heavy sense of appreciation and sadness that the world has lost such a great singer and person. The way we can honor his memory is to listen to his music and know that this will remain forever from one of the greatest vocalists of all time.

Johnny Richter (Former Kottonmouth King): I remember back in the Fall of 2000, the Kottonmouth Kings took Linkin Park on their first national tour. Their album Hybrid Theory wasn’t even out yet, and they were traveling in an RV just touring punk-rock DIY style. I can remember watching Chester on that tour, sitting backstage or in the green room playing around on an acoustic guitar before their set. He would be sitting there belting out their songs on an acoustic just playing around and it was amazing to watch him play. Watching Chester and Linkin park on that tour was special because they only had a single out so they were playing songs that fans had never heard before, but every night they would kill it onstage. Shortly thereafter they went from our tour to Ozzfest and that was it, they just blew up overnight. It was just amazing to watch them develop and see how truly talented that Chester was before they were a band everyone knew and loved.

Jay Gordon (Orgy): Just a couple days after his death I was on stage performing and during the second to last song “stitches” all of the sudden, everything just hit me. I realized someone who I came up with and had even been successful with, who I really cared about, was gone, and I couldn’t get the words to the song out of my mouth no matter what I said or did, but I was totally coherent. I felt this overwhelming presence, almost like he was there on stage with me. I couldn’t believe it cause I’m the last person to believe in stuff like that. My eyes filled up with tears, which is also the last thing I would ever expect to happen to me. No matter how bad I’ve ever felt about something or someone, I usually just stay the course and get through it, but it pretty much took my breath away. Then just like that it was gone. By far the most bizarre set of circumstances I’ve ever experienced on stage.

Joey Simpson (Kissing Candice): I remember sitting in my living room after school watching MTV and seeing this band called “Linkin Park” drop a new video for a song called “One Step Closer”, hearing his voice I was hooked, it wasn’t like anything I’ve heard. Brutal screams mixed with an amazing catchy clean singing. I was hooked! I needed more. That weekend I remember going to the mall and finding Hybrid Theory. After playing that album countless times I knew I had to see them live in concert. In 2003 I got to see them live on the ‘Summer Sanitarium’ tour and let me tell you it’s something I will never ever forget. Hearing them play these songs was like listening to the album, but better! Everything was nailed right on the head! Fast forward years later, I’ve used Linkin Park as an inspiration for my band’s music. In some way shape and form Linkin Park played a big part in me wanting to create music.

July 20th 2017. I woke up and was scrolling through Facebook news feed and I see Chester Bennington found dead. Clicked the link and started reading. I didn’t buy into it. Another fake news link. I clicked back and refreshed and boom it was everywhere like a plague, I didn’t know what to do. I really didn’t. I felt anxiety come over me. I felt sadness. I honestly felt lost. The passing of Paul Grey was very hard on me, Slipknot is my all time favorite band. But this.. this news of Chester passing hit me like a ton of bricks. It’s so surreal I still can’t believe it. Linkin Park songs have always been on my play lists. From burnt CD’s to Apple Music. Hearing an LP song come on knowing that this voice will never sing another note makes me anxious. The world lost a hero. Lost a legend. Lost something that can never be replaced. If I had just one word to say to Chester. I’d say “Thanks”. I wouldn’t need to explain why. Just a simple “Thanks”. He may be gone. But I know the world will never forget him.

Chester Bennington
March 20, 1976 – July 20, 2017

Chester Bennington at 2016 Rhonda’s Kiss Benefit Photo Credit L. Paul Mann

Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK Crisis Text Line, the free, nationwide, 24/7 text message service for people in crisis, is here to support.

For support in the United States, text HELLO to 741741 or message at www.facebook.com/CrisisTextLine.

For support outside the US, find resources at www.suicide.org/international-suicide-hotlines.html


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