On losing Scott Hutchison: Swim until you can’t see land, but please swim back

I opened my eyes Wednesday morning to a message from my friend A., sharing news that Scott Hutchison had gone missing.

The moment I heard that he’d left a hotel in the middle of the night, in Queensferry, on the Forth of Firth in Scotland, I knew he was dead. I knew immediately what he’d done—thrown himself off the Forth Road Bridge, just as he’d been tempted to do many times before.

This morning, two days later, his body was identified after being found there, in the sea.

I’ve spent two nights tossing and dreaming in Frightened Rabbit lyrics, the words to “Poke,” “Floating in the Forth,” and “Keep Yourself Warm” rolling through my head. Today, I’m weeping like I’ve lost a friend. It’s a cliché, and alas, it’s true; at least my heart believes it is so.

***

I first heard Frightened Rabbit on Radio 1190, the college station in Boulder. 2010, perhaps? The band had two or three records out, which meant I had that much more to enjoy.

At this point I have so much music in my head, it’s hard for new stuff to lodge there. But occasionally, a band consumes me. I remember the evening I sat my husband Mark down on the front porch with a beer and my phone at maximum volume—we didn’t have Bluetooth speakers then. The long grass gone to seed at the edge of our driveway, the neighbors coming home in the dusk, as we heard the chorus from “My Backwards Walk” for the first time: “You’re the shit and I’m knee-deep in it…”

You know how radio stations sometimes give away prize packages to meet musicians? I always laugh and say I wouldn’t want to meet my idols. “What would I say to Robert Smith?” I’ve explained. “‘I really like your music,’ and he’d say ‘Well join the club’?”

But Scott, I would’ve loved to know. I felt like I did know him—because his music was so confessional, because we both have persistent depression, because he’s sweet and hilarious and thoughtful and a bit crass.

Here he is, funny and wry, introducing “Holy” last year when the band opened for Band of Horses (whoever they are) at the Greek in LA:

 

***

Technically, I did speak to Scott once. We exchanged exactly two words. I was meeting my friend A. for dinner at Moe’s Original BBQ before Frightened Rabbit’s show at the Gothic Theatre in March 2013. A. had already snagged a table, and as I squeezed through the crowded restaurant doorway, the band was coming out. My eyes lit up.

“Yay!!” I said to Scott. (I know, right? Come on. I’m more articulate in writing, and anyway I didn’t want to pin him down in the doorway and say something stupid like “I really like your music!” because, obviously, and furthermore I’m quite socially awkward, especially when I really care.)

“Yay!!” He looked me in the eye.

From his tone, I think he might have been making fun of me, but only a little.

I giggled through dinner because I’d brushed against Scott’s probably-sweaty arm and said such a stupid thing, and then we went to the show. We sat high in the balcony of the small theater for a bird’s-eye view.

 

My photo is awful, but the blue glow felt the way the night felt, illumined. The band was happy and alive. I sang along, every single song. I couldn’t sit still. I couldn’t keep my earplugs in because I didn’t want to miss a thing. Scott sang “Poke” alone, acoustic, and it was beautifully brutal.

Even A., who is jaded because she has worked with bands on the road for years and years, felt the magic:

***

Scott started out busking, and a series called Bandstand Busking were some of the first and most memorable of his performances I ever saw, including this version of “Poke,” which I maintain is the saddest song ever written.

***


I saw Frightened Rabbit again in 2016, this time at a bigger venue, the Ogden Theater, on the Painting of a Panic Attack tour. I brought Mark, and it struck us both how intensely Scott’s words landed with young men who need someone to tell them yes, men have feelings, and yes, love hurts, and yes, you’re going to fuck up and try to fix it, and it will still hurt, life hurts, and you can still be a man—a beautiful, awkward, bearded bear of a man with tattoos and a sense of humor—through the hurting. All around us, young men’s faces, completely engaged, singing along with every word.

I took two photos that night, one grim and grey, one shining with the same blue light.

 

***

The day the band’s fourth album, Pedestrian Verse, came out, I moved toward the F section at Twist & Shout. A guy in the same aisle came my way. There was only one copy of the album in the bin. I snatched it and practically ran to the counter. Mine!

Only later did it occur to me that if that fellow was also enough of a fan to race out day-of and buy the new release, I could have talked to him about the band—for I’ve never met another person who loves Frightened Rabbit anything like I do, although I suppose there are many out there. In that way, with Scott’s death, I finally feel the unity of the band’s fan base in the thousands and thousands of people who have poured out their worry, their grief, and their condolences.

Of course, he’s always had that bond with his fans. Kieran Devlin puts it well in a piece today in The Guardian:

Although Hutchison wrote about specific politics and relationships – he was, for instance, a vocal supporter of Scottish independence ahead of the 2014 referendum – he unfailingly and surgically captured quirks of thought, character and situation shared by his listeners.

The urgency to escape the relentlessness of everyday life is articulated by Swim Until You Can’t See Land’s couplet: “If I hadn’t come now to the coast to disappear / I may have died in a landslide of rocks and hopes and fears”, while The Wrestle comically but incisively captures the suppressed anxiety of having sex with someone for the first time: “Bare those teeth to me please, man-eater / You can see all of me, naked with fear.” Hutchison’s music touched his fans because he was fundamentally kind and honest, because he humbly extended a hand of solidarity with a wry smile and an open heart.

It’s common practice to wax lyrical about music confronting depression, to praise an artist’s candour around their mental illness, and to project a myth that the process of writing, recording and releasing these songs must be purgative for the artist, because it is therapeutic for the listener. The truth, of course, is more upsettingly complicated.

That’s where I differ a bit. I’ve appreciated Scott’s candor, but it’s always frightened me. I joked about it sometimes—I categorize Frightened Rabbit’s genre as Scottish emo garage-rock—but I’ve worried about how well such a person, who thought in such detail about death and suicide and meaning and love and duty, a person like Scott, would be able to withstand his own thoughts.

Not that well, as it happens. I know he’s not alone, and I want others not to suffer as he did.

And so, today I keep crying, at my desk, at the grocery store, wiping tears from the insides of my eyeglass lenses.

I’m weeping for the loss of a beautiful soul.

For his family and friends who have lost someone very special, and doubtless tough to love, even when he was easy to love, because it’s painful to see someone you love suffer, and he suffered much.

For the pain people feel, can’t unfeel, and can’t shake off.

And I’m crying for myself, because it hurts terribly every time another person succumbs to the overwhelming sense that things will never get better. Because it takes so much strength to go on when you realize things will not get better. Because it takes strength to remind ourselves that even when we know they won’t get better, you never really do know; they still might.

***

This episode of Metaphysical Milkshake with Rainn Wilson is one of my favorite interviews, where they conclude that Frightened Rabbit is “the sweatiest band since Motley Crüe,” and Scott’s pitted-out shirt at the end, when they “entwine beards,” supports his assertion. RIP, my friend.

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4 Comments

  1. May 11
    Reply

    I thought of you immediately when I heard the news. I’m so sorry. I saw them on that same tour in 2016 and it was a glorious show. Your description is true of my show as well. So sad to have lost his unique voice.

  2. Susanna
    May 11
    Reply

    I thought of you, too, because I know so few Frightened Rabbit fans! The videos of the shows in Glasgow, their home region, are awesome. He was truly something special–you can really feel it in how so many people feel they knew him. Maybe that vulnerability made his life harder, but it’s how he was made, it seems.

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