We lost Chester Bennington this week.
I’ll talk about Linkin Park first, because that part’s easier. I have long maintained that Linkin Park doesn’t get the respect they deserve. Their first album, the processed rock-rap hit factory Hybrid Theory, is still their biggest-selling, and I think many people assumed the band’s entire bag of tricks was exhausted on their first go-round. But Linkin Park proved to be one of the most artistically restless bands to ever sell more than ten million records.
Truthfully, they only carbon-copied themselves once – their rushed second album, Meteora, is basically Hybird Theory II. But after that, Bennington and his bandmates never really revisited that sound. Minutes to Midnight is a largely quiet and reflective thing, and then their magnum opus A Thousand Suns took them to a new level. A more mature, political work, A Thousand Suns was a patchwork quilt of influences, from Bowie to Chuck D. It still surprises me each time I hear it.
From there they kept throwing curve balls. Living Things has grown in my estimation – I gave it short shrift because it wasn’t as all-over-the-map creative as A Thousand Suns, but it’s a strong and risky electro-pop record. The awesome The Hunting Party followed that up with a full-on metal record, and I don’t mean the radio metal of Hybrid Theory. I mean old-school blast-beat metal. And just two months ago, they took a dive into glossy radio pop, the kind they’d never really made before. I’m still absorbing One More Light, but I waver between thinking of it as the ultimate sellout and considering it their most beautiful set of songs.
My favorite artists keep me guessing, and Linkin Park certainly did that. And in Chester Bennington they had a singer who could handle anything they threw at him. He could scream with the best of them, and wasn’t intimidated at all by metal epics like “Keys to the Kingdom,” and he could also sing with subtlety, as he proved one last time on the title track of One More Light. I’m not sure Bennington ever got the respect he deserved either.
Now we get to the more difficult part. Last Thursday, Bennington was found dead in his California home. He had hung himself, another victim of depression who saw no other way out. Bennington killed himself on what would have been Chris Cornell’s 53rd birthday, had he not also hung himself two months prior.
This is a lot to take in. Bennington didn’t have quite the impact on my life Cornell did, but he was a singer I always looked forward to hearing, and now we won’t get to hear him again. I knew very little about his private life, about his daily struggle. I do know this, though: depression is real. It’s a clawing, insidious thing that works on you every minute, convincing you that you’re not worth anything and the world would be better without you. It can strike at any time, but the truth is if you have it, it’s always there, coiled and waiting.
I would never presume to know what Bennington felt, or what he went through. But for many years I have glossed over his more angst-filled lyrics, the same way I did those of Cornell and Cobain and others. And maybe that’s my fault for not taking them seriously. Bennington has been telling us for his whole career that he is in pain, that he’s close to giving up. He even wrote his own eulogy in “Leave Out All the Rest”: “When my time comes, forget the wrong that I’ve done, help me leave behind some reasons to be missed, don’t resent me and when you’re feeling empty, keep me in your memory, leave out all the rest…”
I’ve been listening to Linkin Park intently since Bennington’s death, and it all sounds new to me. Even a pop song like “Nobody Can Save Me” hurts now: “I’m dancing with my demons, I’m hanging off the edge, storm clouds gathered beneath me, waves break above my head… I’m holding up a light, chasing out the darkness inside, but nobody can save me now…”
The most painful for me, though, is “One More Light,” which quickly became one of my favorite Linkin Park songs. It is a passionately anti-suicide plea: “Who cares if someone’s time runs out if a moment is all we are? Who cares if one more light goes out? Well, I do.” God, it hurts. And not just because I will miss Bennington and his work. It hurts because Bennington sung this song, believed this song, connected with it so deeply that he could barely get through it at Cornell’s funeral, and it wasn’t enough. The very idea of that pains me to my soul.
Suicide stories are always difficult for me. I think I’ve said enough about this one. Remember that you are loved, and remember to let others know that they are loved. If anything will beat back the darkness, it’s love.
On the subject of farewells, we lost two longtime Doctor Who stalwarts this week, and I wanted to mention them.
Deborah Watling played the Second Doctor’s companion Victoria Waterfield in 1967 and 1968. Victoria was a classic damsel in distress kind of companion, and I always wished she’d been given more development, but Watling screamed and ran away like a pro. The moments of her brief run where she was allowed to be fierce and inventive have always drawn cheers from me. A few years ago the BBC announced that it had recovered nine episodes of ‘60s Doctor Who, episodes that had been missing for 45 years. Watling is in all nine of those episodes, and I’m so glad we have more of her performance now to watch. Deborah Watling died on Friday, July 21 after a brief bout with lung cancer. She was 69.
Trevor Baxter had an interesting life quite apart from Doctor Who – he toured with the Royal Shakespeare Company, appearing in productions in several countries, and wrote many plays himself. But to me, he will always be Professor Litefoot, investigator of infernal incidents. 1977’s The Talons of Weng-Chiang is one of the strangest and best Doctor Who stories, and not just because it introduced the world to Jago and Litefoot. But that’s high up on its list of good qualities. Theater owner Henry Gordon Jago, played by Christopher Benjamin, and Professor George Litefoot, played by Baxter, were a classic double act, one boisterous and prone to exaggeration, the other meticulous and reserved.
The pair would go on to reprise their roles as Jago and Litefoot in an audio series from Big Finish that ran 13 seasons. To say that they are beloved among Who fans is to understate by miles. Baxter died of unknown causes on July 16. He was 84. There are some fine tributes to him on the Big Finish page.
Of course, the big Doctor Who news is the casting of Jodie Whittaker as the 13th Doctor. She’s an inspired choice to play the first female Doctor. Whittaker is a tremendous actress, an out-of-nowhere selection that instantly feels right. She’s going to be superb. I’m actually much more worried about the material she will get, due to Chris Chibnall’s imminent takeover as showrunner. Chibnall’s work for the show has been so-so at best – in fact, Whittaker’s casting is the first glimmer of hope I have had for his era. She will likely be the best thing about it, but I am very excited now to see how it goes.
And Whittaker is exactly the caliber of actor you need to succeed someone like Peter Capaldi, who over three years in the role has more than proven himself to be one of the all-time greats. I like Capaldi a lot more than many seem to – I think he may be the best actor to ever take on the role of the Doctor, and he’s played the part with a subtlety that flies in the face of the David Tennant-Matt Smith style. (Not that I don’t also like that style!) I’ll have more to say about Capaldi when he bows out at Christmas. But let me leave it by saying this: it’s a great time to be a fan of Doctor Who.
Next week, some actual music reviews. I promise! Follow Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tm3am.
See you in line Tuesday morning.