Linkin Park frontman mourned in Myanmar

The death of Linkin Park lead singer Chester Bennington in late July saw an outpouring of grief across Myanmar, where the band enjoyed huge popularity.


AROUND MIDNIGHT on July 20, a storm erupted on Myanmar’s social media platforms. #RIPChester began trending as news emerged of the death of Chester Bennington, the lead singer of American rock band Linkin Park. He was 41.

Myanmar’s internet users took to Facebook to share their condolences and grief, expressing shock when a coroner later ruled the popular singer had committed suicide by hanging.

“I didn’t believe it was true,” said Ko Thet Tun Zaw, 25, a civil engineer in Yangon who has been a fan of the band since 2004. “I couldn’t believe it at the time and searched the internet to see if it was true, but I could hardly accept that he had died. I don’t know how to say how I feel.”

Thet Tun Zaw said the first Linkin Park song he heard was “Crawling” from their debut album “Hybrid Theory”, which was released in 2000 and propelled the band to worldwide fame. The album has sold more than 30 million records worldwide.

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“I remember my teacher scolding me for singing [Linkin Park’s] song ‘Crawling’. My friends still sing the intro to the song when we talk about the album,” said Thet Tun Zaw.

Many people born in Myanmar between the mid-1980s and early 1990s were heavily influenced by Linkin Park, who were originally formed in California in 1996 (Bennington joined as lead singer three years later).

Many young people’s first experience of the band’s music came with the boom of internet cafes in Yangon around 2004 and 2005. The cafes would provide free songs from other countries, particularly countries in the West.

“I found a shared folder in [an internet café] which had ‘Hybrid Theory’ and ‘Meteora’ [the band’s second album, released in 2003]. Then I copied them to my mp3 player and began to really like their music,” said Ma Rachel Tin, who describes herself as a hardcore fan of the band.

Due to a lack of exposure to international music for many fans – and a lack of intellectual property laws – many bands in Myanmar became famous by recording Western song with Myanmar lyrics.

Ma Sandy Oo, 29, a sales and marketing manager in Yangon, said she never enjoyed the music of Myanmar bands, and instead preferred songs by international bands, most notably Linkin Park.

“I remembered the lyrics and songs all by heart. I was so crazy about Chester that I engraved his name on my left hand and leg with an awl,” she told Frontier.

Photographer Ko Htoo Tay Zar said that Linkin Park was the biggest inspiration for teenagers of his generation in the mid-2000s.

“I had three ‘Hybrid Theory’ cassette tapes, and one was original. I bought those spare tapes just in case one jammed in a cassette player. I used to draw their album cover art in my sketch books and there were posters [of the band] on the wall in my bedroom.”

Bennington was well known as the lead singer of one of the most popular bands in Myanmar, but many people in the country also felt connected to him because of his difficult childhood. Born in Phoenix, Arizona in 1976, his parents divorced when he was 11. According to a Guardian obituary he fell heavily into alcohol and drug abuse. In an interview with Metal Hammer magazine, he admitted to using drugs including acid, crack cocaine, methamphetamines and opium.

He also suffered sexual abuse at the hands of an older acquaintance when he was between the ages of seven and 13.

“It destroyed my self-confidence,” he told music magazine Kerrang! in 2008. “Like most people, I was afraid to say anything.” He was also bullied at school, the Guardian article said.

Blogger Ma Nang Nyi, 30, said she was sexually abused as a child and told Frontier she felt a connection with Bennington when she learned that he had also suffered abuse.

“I felt like he would feel like me, would feel pain and hurt, but he could still be strong and successful. So did I, and I looked up to him. But now I feel helpless,” she said.

There had been some rumours that Linkin Park were planning to hold a concert in Myanmar later this year, but that was never confirmed.

Ye Ye Hein, a journalist for Popular News Journal, said he had been hoping that the concert would go ahead so that he could interview Bennington.

“But the man who sings and sweats so hard and with arteries and veins on his neck has died,” he said.

For avid fan Rachel Tin, the day the singer died was a “doomsday for the world”.

“Every morning when I wake up, I wish it was just a dream,” she said of the singer’s death.


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