Elegy to Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit) ByLevi Rogers
This past Christmas, my wife Cat and I visited Scotland for the first time where my sister Alyssa and her husband Eli have lived for the last two years. Eli was finishing up a degree in Psychology at the University of Edinburgh and we’d been meaning to visit, but hadn’t and were running out of time before they left. We’d also recently discovered that both my wife and my sister were expecting so there was a sort of pre-maternal bond happening across continents we thought it’d be nice to bridge.
We left on the 23rd of December. A de-icing issue caused our non-stop flight from Salt Lake to Amsterdam to take a quick detour to Minneapolis where we stayed the night—forced to take a flight out of Minneapolis to Amsterdam the next day on Christmas Eve. This delay wasn’t a huge deal at first, but it turned into one because we didn’t end up getting into Edinburgh until Christmas Day—our luggage lost and two days behind us. This is all to say that when we arrived to Edinburgh on Christmas and walked around the city in the rain, we never quite warmed up. Not even after a hot shower and some borrowed clothes. For the entire trip, we were cold—unused to the cold, wet humidity of Scotland compared to the dry, nippy winters of Utah. That week we walked around Edinburgh, toured the Highlands in my sister and brother-in-law’s #vanlife van, sipped a bunch of whiskey, ate blood sausages and Haggis, drove through Glasgow in the rain, and never quite warmed up. I thought about this trip to Scotland about when I heard the news on a Friday in May that Scott Hutchison, lead singer of the Scottish Indie-rock band Frightened Rabbit, walked off a bridge just north of Edinburgh in the Forth of Firth and killed himself. On Wednesday, Hutchison went missing. On Thursday night, his body washed up at the Port Edgar Marina in South Queensferry. I thought of how cold and dark the water of the River Forth must have been that night. No body of water in Scotland is ever really warm. The lochs are deep and wide. Narrow and cold. The earth nearly as wet as the bodies of water that surround and populate the small island. I hope it was a quick and painless death, as quick as the air probably rushed out of his lungs in the body of water below. I thought of my uncle Jim—a big, friendly bear of a man who exhibited barely any signs of depression—who one November day squirmed into the crawl space beneath his townhouse in Arvada, Colorado and shot himself, leaving my aunt Tammy and cousins Jordan, Mitch, and Mike behind. I thought of the famous quote of David Foster Wallace—about how suicide is like being trapped in a burning building, there are no good options either way—you either jump or succumb to the flames. But mostly I thought about the cold.
From the moment I heard the first line of a Frightened Rabbit song, I knew I was going to be a fan. It was that first line of “Acts of Man,” off Pedestrian Verse, which went like this: “I am that dickhead in the kitchen/Giving wine to your best girl’s glass/ I am the amateur pornographer/Unpleasant publisher by hand/Not here, not here heroic acts of man.” The mixture of self-deprecating self-awareness mixed with despair was something I aspired to in my own writing. You could tell the dude knew the depths of loneliness and despair and was able to transform that sadness (at least somewhat) into something beautiful through his music.
But Hutchison was not letting himself off the hook either. Never once did his music contain an ounce of blame or vindictiveness. Rather, it emanated with humility and empathy. Hutchison’s music and lyrics spoke to the great depth of melancholy, feeling (or lack of feeling), and modern sadness that many other great artists have spoken to including Elliott Smith, Conor Oberst, Aaron Weiss of Mewithoutyou, and Matt Berninger of The National. One of his most famous lines: “It takes more than fucking someone you don’t know to keep warm…you won’t find love in a hole,” still haunts everyone I know who’s heard the song.
Like many of the indie/emo/folk bands of the 2000’s, Hutchison sang with his heart on his sleeve about loneliness, breakups, and sadness. As the band progressed beyond the 2000’s, the band’s sound likewise progressed—maturing in both production quality and emotional depth—Hutchison tackled topics like anxiety, panic attacks, sobriety, and his unhappy move to L.A. But for many of us who listened to FR, specifically in in our twenties, the albums The Winter of Mixed Drinks and The Midnight Organ Fight, will always hold a special place in our hearts. Like early Conor Oberst and Tim Kasher of Cursive, Frightened Rabbit’s early work contained a primal, raw energy that perfectly mirrored the insides of us. It was emotional and true and dripping with a plea to be heard and seen. It was a hand reaching out in the darkness longing for connection.
I was very sad to hear the news when Hutchison died because it was not long ago that I imagined doing something similar. I know what it is like to be in such a place. I have been severely depressed at many points in my life—on antidepressants for over a decade. Hutchison sang openly and honestly about his depression and anxiety. His authenticity and ability to reach out and help others not feel so alone was what made Frightened Rabbit a step above many of their contemporaries. On songs like “State Hospital,” “I Wish I Was Sober,” “Keep Yourself Warm,” and “FootShooter,” you could hear Hutchison’s inner turmoil and sadness. He was Kierkegaard’s definition of a poet:
What is a poet? An unhappy man who hides deep anguish in his heart, but whose lips are so formed that when the sigh and cry pass through them, it sounds like lovely music.... And people flock around the poet and say: 'Sing again soon' - that is, 'May new sufferings torment your soul but your lips be fashioned as before, for the cry would only frighten us, but the music, that is blissful.
For many artists, including Scott Hutchison, David Foster Wallace, and Elliot Smith, their poetic form of catharsis—whether it be writing or music—one day unfortunately ceases to be enough to silence the torment. While I do not endorse suicide by any means, I can say that I 100% understand it. And while it is sad, sad for anyone to be in such a place where death looks better than life, it makes sense to me. If you haven’t been to a place where ceasing to exist appears more peaceful than existing, you will probably never understand such an act. But it’s not selfish. It’s barely a choice. I’m not even sure that’s it’s sad for the person who commits the act, sad for the friends and family sure, but for the person in torment? I don’t know. “I’m away now,” Hutchison’s last tweet read, “Thanks.” He knew his journey on this earth had come to conclusion. I’m not sure if that’s sad. I think it’s a reality of this world we live in. I’m not saying you shouldn’t get help. I’m not saying you don’t have options. I’m saying it makes sense. I’m saying Hutchison is at peace. Hutchison’s family was well aware of what Hutchison was going through and they issued the following statement:
Depression is a horrendous illness that does not give you any alert or indication as to when it will take hold of you. Scott battled bravely with his own issues for many years and we are immensely proud of him for being so open with his struggles. His willingness to discuss these matters in the public domain undoubtedly raised awareness of mental health issues and gave others confidence and belief to discuss their own issues.
Nothing could be truer. His music really reached people. He did his best to raise awareness of mental health and make others feel less alone. He battled bravely.
I made my sister and brother-in-law listen to Frightened Rabbit while we drove around the Scottish Highlands. They’d heard of the band but never listened to them (which I scoffed at as they were living in Scotland and how could they not know one of the best indie rock bands of all time?) but they hadn’t, so I set out to remedy the situation. I remember the supreme pleasure it gave me to hear Hutchison belt it out while we wound around the lochs and rocks and brown hills of the Scottish Highlands. Listening to Frightened Rabbit in Scotland was a special memory I’ll always hold. I’ve never seen them perform live. I’ve never met Hutchison. But I did listen to them in Scotland while road tripping through the Highlands and that’s good enough for me.
The day Scott died, I listened to the entire catalogue of Frightened Rabbit. There is this one song in particular that haunts all of us who are familiar with Hutchison’s lyrics. It’s an unfortunate prophecy. A disturbing moment in which a fictional song brushes too close to reality. The song comes off The Midnight Organ Fight, released ten years ago, and is called “Floating in the Forth”:
And fully clothed, I float away (I’ll float away) Down the forth, into the sea I think I’ll save suicide for another day.
He did, it turns out, but I am grateful for the time Hutchison gave us. For the lovely music that passed through his lips from the anguish in his heart. I am grateful Hutchison is at peace. Hutchison’s second to last tweet, written on Tuesday May 8th, at 3:50 P.M bears repeating:
“Be so good to everyone you love. It’s not a given. I’m so annoyed that it’s not. I didn’t live by that standard and it kills me. Please, hug your loved ones.”
The next month the news came out that both Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain had also killed themselves. Social media was abuzz with people in shock sharing the suicide hotline number. It made me wonder why these specific suicides were shocking. Perhaps it’s when 1) We feel like we know the person (even if we don’t), 2) When it feels unexpected and 3) When it feels expected and yet, there’s something about the person—celebrity, fame, “genius”—that makes us feel as if they are immune to mental health issues or have “overcome” their depression and suicide and have come out the other side. The few times I’ve felt suicidal in my life, there was no way I was going to call a hotline. Depression causes you to withdraw, isolate, and accept the distorted filter of your world as truth. And I would argue, often times—especially in America—we forget a basic fact: life is often depressing. It’s full of grief and hardship and pushes us to the brink. Counseling, therapy, medication, friends, God, music, coffee, whiskey, exercise, and chocolate can all help us cope, but one day, these coping mechanisms fall short. It happens. Sometimes, I’m surprised why many people in America today, where depression, mental health, and anxiety increase yearly, decide to keep living. Life is rough. And the more disconnected, isolated, and worked to the bone we are, the less it seems worth it.
My wife and I are expecting a daughter any day now. This fact has caused me to feel significantly removed from the despair and urge to end my life I once felt; honestly, I have never felt more full of life. But I also know that those dark desires are never very far away. Rest in Peace Kate Spade. Rest in Peace Anthony Bourdain. Rest in Peace Scott Hutchison. Rest in Peace all of those who felt the same things, but were largely invisible in their struggles—even in death.