Remembering Scott Hutchison
Scott (left) and Grant Hutchinson of Frightened Rabbit during their 2009 Pitchfork performance.
Image Courtesy of Heidi Weber, https://www.flickr.com/photos/dirty_black_chucks/3736979274/, No Changes Made
CW: Mentions of Suicide
Well, this wasn’t the article I was expecting to write this week. Hell, this wasn’t even the Scott Hutchison-related article I was expecting to write this week. Now that the semester is over, I was finally going to take the time to write a few hundred glowing words about the debut album from his newest side-project, mastersystem. But instead, something terrible’s happened and now I have to write an obituary for my favorite musician. I figured this was coming since Grant Hutchison, his brother and bandmate, first announced Scott was missing on the morning of the 9th, last seen headed toward the Forth River Bridge from his hotel in Queensferry, Scotland. Everyone wanted to hope for the best, that he had just gone off the grid for a day or two to clear his head, as his family said he’d done a number of times before. But his body was found at a port just off the bridge on the 11th. He was 36.
Everyone seems to have that band or musician that they found when they most needed some kind of outside support. For a lot of people I know, it’s something like Jack’s Mannequin or the Mountain Goats. I have a feeling Julien Baker is going to fill this role for a lot of people in the coming years. For me, and for so many others I’ve seen on Twitter and Facebook and various article comment sections, it was Scott and Frightened Rabbit. I still remember when I was first exposed to them. It was 2012, fall of my junior year of undergrad, and the State Hospital EP had just entered the Radio UTD new music rotation. I played it during some of my shows on a whim and was sucked in by the bleak, depressed, alcoholic holiday cheer of “Boxing Night” (which I will still and forever argue is one of Frightened Rabbit’s best songs ever, EP release or no). It was a perfect entry point for me, and gave me some time to get their past music and explore it a bit before I really needed it. A few months later, my first serious relationship blew up like a slow-motion Hindenburg crashing into a nuclear waste dump. It was extremely unpleasant, pretty much entirely my fault, and left me spiraling and stewing in negativity, depression, and self-loathing for months. Frightened Rabbit’s music did a huge amount of work in keeping me going through this period because those emotions were basically Scott Hutchison’s permanent private headspace. Being able to listen to (and occasionally sing/scream along to) music that so perfectly captures where you’re at emotionally can be so therapeutic and cathartic, and it really helped me stay sane.
“Swim Until You Can’t See Land” always served as a driving force for me to keep going and fight through the awfulness, even though the song may not be particularly about going about things that way (I’m kind of terrible at noticing the meaning of great songs sometimes. Please never ask how long it took me to get what “Predatory Wasp of the Palisades” is about). “The Twist,” still my favorite love song, gave me a beautiful, wry hope that I’d eventually be able to move on to someone new, even if the circumstances that start that relationship aren’t ideal. “Good Arms vs Bad Arms” manages to put perfect words to the bitterness, jealousy, and resigned uncaring that come with seeing your ex move on while you haven’t (one of the best lyrics ever written: “I’m armed with the past, and the will, and a brick/I don’t want you back, but I want to kill him”). “The Modern Leper,” “I Feel Better,” “Nothing Like You” and “The Loneliness and the Scream,” among others, are all hugely cathartic emotional releases of a song that all build to a point where you can just scream along to the words and let it all out. And then there’s “Poke.” “Poke” is the single-most crushing, depressing song I know, because of the straightforward bluntness that it uses to talk about a dying, collapsing relationship. Sometimes you just need to have a song kick you in the emotions until you start crying, and this one is extremely up to the task. These songs and these albums got me through the darkest few months of my life, and they’ve continued to be there for me as a musical shoulder to lean on in grad school as I’ve dealt with more breakups, panic attacks, and occasional crippling bouts of imposter syndrome.
And then, after the months of shit and sadness finally started to ease up and life started to turn around, Pedestrian Verse finally came out, and it was a massive emotional, musical release. So many of the best songs on this album are just explosions of sounds and feelings, propulsing out of the emotional muck into a new life that actually feels kind of confident and self-assured and, just possibly, happy. Of course the album still had a few soul-crushers (“Acts of Man” and “Nitrous Gas” are both brutal), but so much of it was a breath of fresh air. “Holy,” in particular, has stuck with me, mostly because the image of Frightened Rabbit performing it live is still seared into my head like no other live song I’ve ever seen. I only ever managed to see them once (April 2013, at Trees in Dallas, on the supporting tour for Pedestrian Verse), but it was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. “Holy” has stuck with me because of a combination of the crowd being on fire, the lights on stage being perfect, and Scott just letting loose, almost entirely a being of pure, warm, emotional energy. He knew everyone in the crowd was there because people found catharsis and comfort in his music, and he did everything humanly possible to deliver. On stage, and by all accounts I’ve seen, off-stage, at work, at the pub, anywhere, Scott was one of the kindest people around and simply wanted to help the people around him be happy, whether it was through his acts or through his music.
After Pedestrian Verse, I kind of fell off with Scott and Frightened Rabbit’s various projects and albums. For some of it, I think it was just me not being in the same headspace anymore so I couldn’t connect to it as much. I never cared for Scott’s solo project, Owl John, because it felt raw and bitter and angry in a way that just wasn’t enjoyable for me to listen to. Painting of a Panic Attack was a great FR album (“Get Out,” “Wish I Was Sober,” and “An Otherwise Disappointing Life” all deserve a rightful place on any Frightened Rabbit best-of list), but it never clicked with me as a whole album the way their middle three did (it’s a little too The National-y to be FR, and a little to FR-y to be The National). mastersystem’s Dance Music has been really interesting in the limited time I’ve spent with it, providing a much heavier rock version of Frightened Rabbit’s usual sound, but I’m afraid this album is just going to be so tainted by what happened two weeks after its release that it’s going to be difficult to listen to in the future. I know from all the interviews and backstage talk, the past five years had been Scott and the band trying to re-find themselves and figure out who they were and where they wanted to go after the perfect coda that was Pedestrian Verse. It seemed like they had finally started to figure it out and work into that next evolutionary step but now, that’s been cut short and we’ll never get to see that potential “what’s next.”
Honestly, this is the end Scott wrote for himself, directly from The Midnight Organ Fight. Ever since the first mention from the police about the Forth River Bridge, I’ve had bits of “Floating in the Forth,” the album’s penultimate song, flitting in and out of my head for days. Like most of their songs, it’s got a crushingly sad core that’s buoyed by enough positive words and sounds that it lets the listener sit and commiserate with how awful everything in life can be but still provide an outlet of light at the end to show that everything isn’t 100% terrible. The song is all about a person standing on the Forth River Bridge contemplating jumping. Most of the song is just the internal debate about whether to do it, and it ends with the emotional and musical release of, “I think I’ll save suicide for another year.” It’s a beautiful song, and it’s a song that’s clearly written by someone who’d had a good bit of experience with these internal conversations. And now, it’s a brutal song to listen to now that we’ve seen the result of deciding against “another year.”
In the end, all I can really say here is learn from how Scott lived his life. He was a man plagued by demons (depression, alcoholism, anxiety, etc.) that he wore openly on his sleeve so that he could be an example and an inspiration and an outlet for others. Learn from one of his last tweets: “Be so good to everyone you love. It’s not a given…Please, hug your loved ones.”
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.
— Scott Hutchison (@owljohn) May 8, 2018
Be kind, be good, be supportive, be helpful, be loving. But in the end, don’t do what Scott did. Don’t just ghost and leave everyone worried for days until news of the worst comes out. Someone always cares, someone is always there to talk, and someone is always going to be there to help. Call your family. Call a friend. Call the Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255). Hell, @ me on Twitter and I’d be happy to chat if you need me. Just talk to someone and take the time to think everything through before something can’t be undone.
This has been a rough few days, so let’s end this on an inspirational note. Here’s my favorite chorus that Scott ever wrote and what seems like a pretty succinct version of his goals and outlook on life, from The Midnight Organ Fight’s “Heads Roll Off”:
When my blood stops, someone else’s will not
When my head rolls off, someone else’s will turn
You can mark my words, I’ll make tiny changes to earth
And while I’m alive, I’ll make tiny changes to earth
November 20, 1981 – May 10, 2018