By Gloria Mari

There’s a lot to be said about music. It moves us. It invigorates us. It makes us think. It makes us feel. We breathe, live, laugh, love and dance around it. We turn to music when we feel a certain way. We pay attention to this lyrical poetry when we want a certain message. Understandably, sometimes you just want a banger to accompany your alcohol induced haze to keep your heart pumping, your booty shaking and your boobs wagging- and whatever men do when they hit the club scene. But sometimes, music means a lot more to us. It gives us meaning. Gives us answers. Tells us which questions to ask.

It is one of the few artistic forms that mean almost as much to me as books. And I am someone who would turn to a book for anything. And I mean anything. People google, I book. When I wanted to find out if anuses had taste buds, I scoured a library (I mean, how come when it burns when it goes in, it burns when it goes out); when I wanted to know about clitoral vaginal stimulation, I got a book. When I wanted to know why male circumcision is something that should be encouraged, I got many books. When I wanted to know how to get rich or die trying, I dropped the books, watched the movie, paused it, and went on with my hustle… Sometimes you need to just quit dawdling and get to working.

But I digress, music is almost as important to me as books. I am a writer. And sometimes we get in states where we need external stimulant or create unconventional writing rituals to get the creative juices flowing.  Talking about unconventional writing rituals:  Dan Brown, probably the most famous modern “enemy” of the Catholic Church with his Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons novels, is said to hang up side down when he gets writers block; Vladimir Nabokov, butterfly collector and author of infamous novel Lolita, composed all his works on index cards and would write scenes non-sequentially and re-order the cards any time he wanted; Francine Pose, author of Blue Angel, wrote while facing a wall; Victor Hugo wrote naked when he was writing The Hunchback of Nôtre Dame.

In my case, I usually get situated in a very comfortable position, my notes surrounding me, an energy drink like Guarana or Red Bull within reach and loud music on headphones at full blast. The music selected is carefully picked based on rhythm, tone, boisterousness, number of instruments and story. When writing, I have to listen to music telling a story. Owing my affinity for rock music, it’s no surprise then that most of my playlist is dominated by Linkin Park.

I was first introduced to rock music by my friend, Joy, with whom I was part of the drama club in school. She was an odd girl. A kind person would call her eclectic. A judgmental bitch would call her a freak. But Joy wasn’t just that. She was amazing. One of the few girls I knew would disregard school rules to “feel like herself”. She regularly dyed her hair blonde in clear violation of school rules.  Joy couldn’t be deterred. She was also a rock head. We once got an opportunity to commandeer the radio we were using during drama practice and she put in her rock mix tape (a CD, but saying mix CD sounds like a warning that comes on a flavored condoms packet). The very first song on that mix tape changed my life. It was Linkin Park’s Numb.

I was hooked from then on. A lot was going on at home. And I always found an escape in music and novels. When I went home for the holidays, I made sure to get as much rock in me as I could. Around the same time, X FM, Nairobi’s only all rock radio station, had been launched. I listened to X religiously. Unfortunately, back then X FM didn’t have the best reception in Kiambu, where I was living at the time. So I would have to find odd places to turn on my mini radio so as to make sure I could get in my daily dose of rock music. I didn’t know majority of the singers and songs. It was like being dropped smack in the middle of an indigenous island where nobody spoke my language. But I was desperate to learn. And by the time the holiday was done, I was a budding rock neophyte.

I first heard Linkin Park’s Crawling around the same time. The music was so bang on that I felt as though the band had ripped my heart open and used my blood and tears to write the song. As was the case with many of Linkin Park’s songs, it always felt like they were omniscient. Looking out in the vastness of human desolation, the breaking of the human spirit. Be it personal, mutual or political, they took that pain, that vulnerability, that anger and turned it into some of the most beautiful music I have ever listened to. A Light That Never Comes is one such powerful and amazing song. The video was fodder to animations nerds everywhere and with an EDM track even my country dad could jam to, the poetry in that song was just- ugh- I can’t do it justice.

In most instances I never sought their meaning behind certain songs. It was only about how it made me feel. How it healed me. How it made me whole. I took their music for the packaged gift it was and just writhed in how meant-for-me it felt. And now I feel horrible.

On Thursday July 20th 2017, Chester Bennington, lead singer of Linkin Park was found dead in his house by his maid. The coroners have ruled it an apparent suicide.

Chester Bennington, legendary front man for Linkin Park, is a man whose personality is as varied as his vocal range. He was a man in love with music from a very young age. He was born to a nurse and a police detective in March, 1976. When he was 11, his parents got divorced and he began to use marijuana. He was under the custody of his father. His drug use eventually spiraled into cocaine and methamphetamine abuse but he eventually overcame it, denouncing drug use through his career. In an interview with Kerrang, Chester spoke of sexual abuse he suffered at age seven at the hands of an older male friend and the abuse continued until he was thirteen. He turned to art, music and poetry for comfort. Unable to speak of the abuse due to fear of stigma but eventually notified his father. He opted not to take any further action upon discovering that his abuser was a victim himself.

Chester later moved in with his mother but was unable to leave the house when she discovered his drug use. He also revealed that he was bullied a lot in high school for being too skinny and looking different.

Chester got his big break with Linkin Park after Jeff Blue, a VP with Warner Bros. music, intervened. First, to help him audition with Linkin Park (then called Xero) for a lead singer position. The band gelled well together but were unable to get a record deal until Jeff’s second intervention. Jeff got them a record deal with Warner Bros. Music, where the band first recorded and released Hybrid Theory. And thus, Linkin Park took over the world.

Chester’s angst filled vocals characterized by his musical scream and his alternative metal beats made him stand out in the rock genre. His music touched many souls. The band’s music, as seen on social media, helped many people get through their pain. Helped them overcome their sorrow. Helped them accept the things they couldn’t change. Chester did so much for us. And it saddens me that we didn’t or couldn’t do anything for him.

A close friend of his, Chris Cornell, had committed suicide earlier in May and Chester eulogized his friend at his funeral. The eponymous song, One More Light, from their latest album, was dedicated to Chris. His death affected Chester a lot and that may have led to the suicide, as the date of his suicide was Chris’ birthday. While all of this is speculation and conjecture, it is also a way of us trying to explain why. What did we miss? Perhaps giving a reason as to why we couldn’t do more. We weren’t even close to him and we didn’t know him personally but how could we ever repay all that he gave to us? I cried all night when I learnt the news of his death. And I still am thinking about how it’s affecting me.

I wish we could have thanked him more. I wish we could have helped somehow. I wish we could have seen through the lyrics of his latest album. And how it affected him rather than me. But I don’t know how. Or what to do now.

I just hope that Chester’s messages will never be lost. All his words. All his poetry. All his music. All his art. He will be immortal to we who loved him and listened to him. Goodbye Chester. Rest well.

Should’ve stayed, were there signs, I ignored?
Can I help you, not to hurt, anymore?
We saw brilliance, when the world, was asleep
There are things that we can have, but can’t keep If they say
Who cares if one more light goes out
In the sky of a million stars
It flickers, flickers
Who cares when someone’s time runs out
If a moment is all we are
Or quicker, quicker
Who cares if one more light goes out
Well I do
Linkin Park, One More Light.