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Be Good To Artists

Chris, you were not the rolling wheels, you were the highway. Chester, we’re shouting ourselves hoarse a day late, frantic to reach you somewhere and say, in the end, it mattered.

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Since the news broke, all my timelines are in grieving. Friends from around the world are unanimously distraught: why couldn’t we save the man who saved us?

Set in bedrooms variously in Mumbai, Kanpur, Chennai, Bangalore, Muscat, New York, London, Dubai, every post has painted the same picture – of a teenager alone, unable to find the vocabulary to voice myriad insecurities, fears, angsts, instead plugging in earphones and borrowing Chester’s voice to do it for them. For us.

It was a tall order – just make us feel ok! or less bad! or anything! – and he did it somehow.

For a boy in IIT JEE coaching in Kanpur, he was consolation.

“Put under the pressure of walking in your shoes, every step that I take is another mistake to you.”

For a girl battling loneliness in Riyadh, he was home.

“I kept everything inside, and even though I tried, it all fell apart.”

For me in Chennai, I don’t know. He was some anger I didn’t understand myself, but was relieved to feel through somebody else.

Now, we’re all on the other side of the angst that drew us to his songs. Today, conversations are alive between school friends who haven’t talked in years, to say: did you hear the news? Are you ok?

But even as we survived, we forgot – or didn’t know yet – that to make art that heals pain is to confess a deep pain in oneself. It is to feel alone enough that you can only vanquish loneliness by creating something and conjuring, through the very act of creation, an audience for whatever you create.

I spend many evenings now, in my apartment, scribbling thought-scraps into a notebook to feel less alone. Others pick up a guitar and write songs. Or paint pictures. Or mix tracks. Or bake cakes. Or choreograph dances. Whatever.

If the end result makes a stranger feel something, imagine the anguish of the making.

But seeped in our own punishing adolescence, and happy to be saved, it was impossible for any of us to pull out toward rationality and ask: Why is a grown man feeling these feelings? Is someone helping him? Will he be ok?

Grown up, now, we’re able to articulate that question: why can’t we save the artists who save us?

The question itself, of course, gives us more importance than we have – we couldn’t, that’s it. None of us knows what saving he needed. None of us knows his reasons, his mind. We were lucky to know his words and his voice, but that’s it. The helplessness hurts.

As with every celebrity suicide, Chester’s death has already made us all more committed to be better allies to those suffering mental illness and discontent. I’m glad.

This, then, is just another plea – translate the pain of not having been able to save him into a gentleness to the artists you do know. They feel so much. Be kind to creators. They deal, full-time, in translating aloneness to art. Listen better. Which of your friends are calling for help via creativity? Who’s making things because they aren’t able to say, with words, “I am depressed” or “I am anxious” or “I can’t scream but I want to”? Say what needs to be said.

Chris, you were not the rolling wheels, you were the highway.

Chester, we’re shouting ourselves hoarse a day late, frantic to make you realise that, man, in the end, it mattered.