An unashamed confession: About two weeks ago, the entire Thir.st team was huddled in a karaoke room celebrating our In-Dependence Day, throats going hoarse as we screamed into the mics:
I tried so hard
And got so far
But in the end
It doesn’t even matter
A fortnight later, we woke up this morning to the news that the original singer of those lines – Chester Bennington of Linkin Park – had died in an apparent suicide.
Shocked and heartbroken, but it’s true. An official statement will come out as soon as we have one.
— Mike Shinoda (@mikeshinoda) July 20, 2017
2017 has been as brutal as 2016. All the marquee names of my youth are falling.
Following on the passing of David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, George Michael and Carrie Fisher in 2016, among the celebrity deaths this year: Tween heartthrob Tommy Page and Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell.
The difference between the names that went in 2017, compared to those in 2016: Bennington, Page and Cornell went by their own hand, all three deaths reported as apparent suicide.
* * *
You know the headlines that have significantly affected your life by the fact that you can remember where you were when you heard the news.
I remember exactly the moment on September 11, 2001 when someone told me to turn on the TV, just in time to see the second tower being struck. I remember the urgent, pounding footsteps in the newsroom that were my first indication that Lee Kuan Yew had died.
I remember April 5, 1994. I was in Sec 3, walking to Far East Plaza after school as was my daily habit, when a friend stopped and said: Kurt Cobain is dead.
Now Bennington and Cornell, joining a sad honour roll that includes INXS’ Michael Hutchence, Ian Curtis of Joy Divison and Elliott Smith.
I used to play all of their songs, train ride after train ride on my Discman, night after night in my room.
* * *
All the clues you need are in the lyrics.
Chris Cornell, dead at 52. From Soundgarden’s Black Hole Sun (1994):
Hang my head
Drown my fear
Till you all just disappear
Ian Curtis, dead at 23. Twenty-three! His bandmates would recover from his suicide to carry on as New Order, adding irony to the agony. From Joy Divison’s Shadowplay (1979):
In the shadowplay
Acting out your own death
Knowing no more
Elliot Smith, dead at 34. I probably had him on repeat the most, waltz after waltz, tear after tear, night after night. I felt I knew him, and he knew me. From Last Call (1994):
It’ll all be yesteryear soon
Church bells and now I’m awake
And I’ll sing the praises of my maker’s name
Like I was as good as she made me
And I wanted her to tell me that she would never wake me
I’m lying here waiting for sleep to overtake me
When is a lyric just a lyric, and when is it a cry for help?
When Kurt Cobain sang that “I swear that I don’t have a gun” (Come As You Are, 1991), why did we believe him?
* * *
But the lyrics weren’t just theirs. Each word was mine, too.
When Elliott Smith whispered that Everything Means Nothing To Me (2000), he was doing colour commentary for my life.
When Cobain insisted “I don’t care/I don’t care/I don’t care/I don’t care” (Breed, 1991) – I didn’t either.
“I’ve become so numb,” screamed Bennington (Numb, 2003).
And so had we.
— LINKIN PARK (@linkinpark) July 20, 2017
There’s a reason rock and roll, dark and depressing as it can be, is so popular. There’s resonance.
There’s a theory that the summit of a mountain is the same shape as the entire mountain. The pinnacle reflects the people.
Depression and suicide aren’t the exclusive preserve of rock and roll stars. They’re just the most visible ones to go. Whatever they sing – that’s the echo of our deepest hearts.
That in the end/It doesn’t even matter.
* * *
But … Bennington was wrong. In the end, it does matter.
I learnt this late. I wasted more than a decade bearing nothing but hatred for life, scorning those who insisted there was joy to be had. The meaning of life, I then believed, was to accelerate its ending.
I was wrong.
Over the years I very slowly slid off the peak of pain. Over the years the veil that depression had drawn over my eyes was lifted.
And eventually, I wasn’t numb any more. I wasn’t closed off to the purpose and the pleasures of life as it has been gifted to me. There was no epiphany, no glorious moment of revelation. The walk into the light was long and slow.
I only realised I was no longer in the same place when I was listening to a song by a band called Teenage Fanclub. They were once signed to Geffen Records at the same time as Nirvana, and briefly in the early 1990s were considered a better bet for superstardom. They were all long hair, torn jeans and flannel shirts.
But somehow they shed their grunge sound, the darkness, and started bathing their songs in light and hope and summer sounds. They settled down, had children.
And one day, walking through a lallang field near Tanah Merah which no longer exists, over my headphones played Teenage Fanclub’s Ain’t That Enough (1997):
Days that found you
Embrace that found you
Here is a sunrise – ain’t that enough
True as a clear sky – ain’t that enough
And I realised: Yes. All this I have been given – it is enough.
* * *
In the end, what happens in this life does matter. Why?
I was trying to think of a subtle way to explain this, but I don’t want to patronise you or waste your time.
This is what I believe to be true: In the end, almost everything on this Earth and in this life will fade away.
“See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.” (Isaiah 65:17)
At this point, only two things remain: The unfailing Word of God, and the eternal soul of man.
The rock and roll heroes of my youth were wrong. We should care. Everything means something.
Two things will happen: First, a check to see if our names are in the Book of Life; those who believe that Jesus is our Lord and Saviour will spend eternity in heaven, singing praises to the King.
And second, we will be called to give an account of our lives, for the things done in the body, whether good or bad (2 Corinthians 5:10).
So in the end, all this matters. The rock and roll heroes of my youth were wrong. We should care. Everything means something.
It starts when you give your life to Jesus, and receive abundant and eternal life in return – the most unfair deal of all, made in our favour. If you haven’t done so – there is no better time than now.
Tell Jesus you’re thankful that He died on the Cross to wipe away the stain of your sin, and you repent for these sins done in the body. Then say you acknowledge Him as Lord of your life. Amen.
Because in the end, all that matters is to make sure we see Him again, face to face. And forevermore.