When someone talks about suicide, you should believe them.
When someone sings about suicide, we bob our heads and hum along.
Scott Hutchison, lead singer and songwriter of Frightened Rabbit, was found dead last night near Edinburgh.
I met Scott Hutchison once. We’d bused into the tiny Scottish borders town of Selkirk to catch a show, and it was a revelation. The pounding drums and wailing guitars of Frightened Rabbit music ought really be heard in person in a tiny auditorium surrounded by Scottish kids with nothing else to do that night and no need to go to bed anytime soon. I can still hear the echoing call of The Loneliness and the Scream, oh ah oh oOOOOOOoooh, lifting off into the night as we left the theatre. Me and my drunk compatriots wandered away, intoxicated on the crowd that quickly dissipated. We’ll find a pub, we thought, as we stalked the streets of this quiet village. But we didn’t.
So we went back to the concert venue. Surely the roadies will know the best place near here to congregate, right? Roadies always know where to party.
And instead of roadies, we just found the band and a small group of friends. You, Scott, came up and introduced yourself, and invited us over for a drink (good whisky). You asked us about ourselves and spent five minutes with us before returning to your friends and your bandmates, and I felt 200 feet tall.
A lot of Frightened Rabbit songs focus on suicide. Death Dream, Floating in the Forth, Swim Until You Can’t See Land. The title of the last album Painting of a Panic Attack, is a reference to a suicide scene as a frieze of one terrible moment, one panic attack. Floating in the Forth tells the story of a heartbroken man jumping off, or deciding not to jump off, the Forth Road Bridge, just feet away from where your body, Scott, was found last night in Lothian. You spoke publicly about suicidal urges, and how much of that song is autobiographical:
“Floating in the Forth was a real tough one. It’s a real thing. It’s a real thought. It’s a thought that I’ve taken to a place that I’m far less comfortable with… I’ve gone 90 percent of the way through that song in real life. But at the same time it’s gratifying. It’s heartening to know that I’ve been through that, and I’m stood there performing that song, alive and feeling good about it.”
I’ve danced to that song. I’ve hummed it and screamed it and pressed “back” on my iPhone so I could hear it again. It feels now a little like I was dancing on your grave.
I always thought the songs focused on, or at least ended in, triumph. Someone rolls around in heartbreak, but ultimately decides to move on. Someone considers suicide, but doesn’t pull the trigger, take that step into thin air, swallow those pills.
The final lyric “I think I’ll save suicide for another year” sounds like a hopeful line when you hear it in the present tense. It sounds like a warning when you remember Scott wrote it twelve years ago.
How many self-fulfilling musical prophecies have we seen in recent years? Lil Peep, Chester Bennington, Chris Cornell. It’s a good reminder that great music about pain comes from real pain.
Frightened Rabbit is my favorite band. I first found them when one of my best friends played Good Arms vs. Bad Arms for me at the Amoeba music on Sunset Boulevard. The Twist made me feel less alone when trying not to attach happiness to Friday night benders in college. I remember laying on the ground in my dorm room with my first love, listening to one of their albums and fumbling through an explanation for how it made me feel. Things convinced me to throw out a bunch of old shit - books and clothes and dishes - that was tying me to an apartment that I hated. Holy was my anthem for getting over a break up.
But more than any concrete thing, their music brought me back to myself. I liked it, and I liked that I liked something with zero irony. Their concerts, I’ve been to five, were baths of oxytocin, and the closest I’ve felt to a religious experience.
And in all that time, all those thousands of listens, it never occurred to me that Scott might have been singing about demons he was currently facing rather than ones he conquered long ago. In retrospect, that’s downright dumb, but it’s easy to idolize the makers of art we love.
If there’s any good to be found in today’s terrible news, it’s the reminder that every remark, joke, or lyric about suicide should be treated seriously. Even the shitty memes and youtube comments. From the people you idolize, the people you work with, your friends, your family members, everyone.
Unfortunately, Scott’s not going to be making any more of that art. I suppose we should be grateful that he left us with such a large discography. Frightened Rabbit, of course, but also Owl John and Mastersystem. If you haven’t heard their music, you may want to check them out today: https://open.spotify.com/user/spotify/playlist/37i9dQZF1DX5speZs1JuCj?si=zOJgQVCXTvurTzS0EtLa9Q
And if you’re feeling generous, or thinking about someone else that’s been lost to suicide, an artist or friend or loved one, please consider giving a bit to the American Society for Suicide Prevention as I am doing today: https://afsp.org/take-action/give-a-gift/in-memory-of/
Thanks Scott. Thanks Grant, Billy, Andy, and Simon. Thanks to the friends and loved ones of the Frightened Rabbit bandmates, because of course this is your loss more than it could ever be ours. “You’re the shit, and I’m knee deep in it."