Our Communal Heart Beats Miles From Here: Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchison
How do we describe what darkness looks like when the very absence of light strips our photoreceptors of information?
How do we give shape to the experience of depression when its very nature — simultaneously shapeless and shape-shifting — makes it so hard to define, let alone to fight?
Many musicians describe this darkness through metaphors and elliptical references — a gesture toward the abyss, leaving listeners to fill in what is unsaid. Frightened Rabbit‘s frontman took the opposite tack. Scott Hutchison documented every single detail — visceral, filthy, uncomfortable — and arranged them into songs that felt both devastating and triumphant.
He sang these brutally honest and revealing words to us in that Scottish accent, brows furrowed in intensity, eyes shadowed by the brim of a trucker hat. His voice came from a distance, piped through our headphones or from up on stage. But it always felt like he was standing right there, at the precipice next to us, pulling us back, saying: “I think I’ll save suicide for another year.”
Five albums in, signed to a major label, and consistently selling out 2,000+ person venues, Frightened Rabbit were bona fide rock stars. But Scott felt more like your older brother’s cool friend than like some mythological god bathed in stage lights. That closeness is rewarding — it gives fans the closeness we often crave — but it takes a toll on the artist, who feels obligated to absorb the pain and loss shared by fans. Despite the heaviness of adding others’ burdens to his own, Scott was unfailingly generous, responding to troubled fans with handwritten notes of empathy and encouragement.
These past few days, fans responded with their own notes, first in a plea, and then in memoriam.
We haven’t needed to reach far for the right words these past few days. Scott gave us the vocabulary to describe these very moments, and there’s a painful beauty in repeating his words to each other as we’ve collectively traveled the arc from anxiousness to dread to devastation to remembrance.
Tuesday night, a pair of disturbing tweets set off a police search and the band’s plea for help in finding their bandmate and best friend. The hours stretched by with no updates. We knew only that Scott had walked out of his Edinburgh hotel around 2am, leaving his cell phone behind, and that CCTV footage showing him headed toward Forth Road Bridge. We filled social media feeds with our photos and stories of how Frightened Rabbit’s songs helped us through. We implored Scott to return from wherever he was: “I’m trapped in a collapsing building — come find me now, where I hide.”
As we passed the 24-hour mark with no new information, the band encouraged us to print out flyers, to call in tips to the police, to continue sharing Scott’s photo far and wide. Knowing of his continued battle with depression, we tweeted with increasing desperation, trying to assure him that his loved ones would be there in whatever way he needed: “I think we’ll be fine in these disastrous times, disastrous times.“
The news came Friday morning, and since then we’ve talked of how with his music and generous heart, Scott did indeed “make tiny changes to earth” — he did that, and more.
I’ve documented Frightened Rabbit shows, mostly from the photo pit, but more recently, from behind the scenes, thanks to the generosity of band & crew. I shared a few of my favorite photos, captioned with the phone number for Police Scotland.
Since Wednesday morning, when the missing person alert went out, fellow fans have responded in the comment sections of my posts and written DMs, sharing their concern and their stories of Scott’s kindness. I responded in kind. We were perfect strangers, but we understood perfectly how the other person felt.
The audience at Frightened Rabbit shows are composed mostly of folks in their 20s and 30s. We were in high school or college when Midnight Organ Fight came out, and we stood shoulder to shoulder, crammed into intimate venues on the 10th anniversary tour of the album earlier this year.
What about all this breaks my heart?
Two Fridays ago, I got a text from a number I didn’t recognize. It was a link to the music video for Craig Finn’s “God in Chicago.” There was no accompanying message, so I didn’t reply at first.
Ten minutes later, another text: “Bet you don’t know who this is.”
“I don’t, but I know you’ve excellent taste in music,” I said.
“Well aye, you actually sent it to me once upon a time,” came the reply, followed a few seconds later by: “Shit. I’ve given the game away.”
It was one of Scott’s bandmates. We chatted a bit before falling asleep.
How strange, a week later, to be in the East Village, to see the very musician who I had been talking about with a pal in Glasgow, with all that happened in those intervening days. How surreal to watch Craig Finn step up to the mic, and with no preamble, start singing. His eyes were screwed shut, his voice, always emotive, had a husky texture of one trying to hold in the pain. “Mark my words: I’ll make changes to earth. While I’m alive, make tiny changes to earth.”
The room, full of Hold Steady and Lifter-Puller fans, may not have recognized the song. But Craig’s emotion was so palpable that the crowd was perfectly still, as if holding our collective breath. As the last strummed chord faded, Craig leaned a bit closer to the mic. “Scott Hutchison, I love you.”
I’m rarely at a show without a camera, but that night, I wanted to just be there. It turned out to be a good decision. It’s difficult to focus and compose a shot when your vision’s blurred with tears.
I keep trying to explain to myself why I’m this devastasted over someone I had hung out with only a handful of times. Partly, I’m heartbroken for my pals in the band and crew. I knew how much those guys loved each other. Partly, my heart aches with the knowledge that just because a listener can experience catharsis through a song doesn’t mean that the singer can purge his demons quite so easily.
I think a large part of it is simply admitting to myself for the first time that these songs resonated because . Depression isn’t just about feeling foggy, feeling tired, feeling like you can’t be good enough, ever. It’s that, but it’s also the immense frustration of not knowing exactly why you feel how you feel. I’m a damn fortunate person, and I know that. I know I have friends and family who care for me. But I also know what it means to feel like this diffuse exhaustion and pain won’t ever go away. To wonder about making it another day, another week, another year. It feels exhausting to think about how many year are left. If you’ve stood on a bridge in the wee hours of the night and stared into the murky water below, if you’ve stepped to the very edge of the subway platform, hearing the rattle of the train as it closes in, then you know what Scott means. It’s an existential pain. It’s the pain of knowing you have to live through countless tomorrows, some of which might feel better, and some of which will be worse, but that the average is grey, is without features, is felt as if through too many layers of clothing, dulling your senses.
And as long as Scott sang about “daybreak comes with the devil’s hum, a
A recorded song knows that it will lean forward in time. A song performed live is ephemeral. A song that is recorded is done so with the knowledge that it is meant to live on past that moment. It has hope. It will reach an ear in the future.
The last EP that Frightened Rabbit put out was “Recorded Songs.” They talked of a sixth full-length album. I know they were recording some songs while sequestered in an airBnB outside Galveston.
When my blood stops
Someone else’s will have not
When my head rolls off
Someone else’s will turn
There are so many memories to hold onto. The second time I shook Scott’s hand, when he smiled and said he remembered me. Standing off to the side of the tour bus, waiting for a Lyft, watching Scott gesturing upward, head tilted back in a laugh, relaying some story to Craig. Standing shoulder to shoulder in Bowery Ballroom, watching an entire room singing, chanting the chorus to the final song of the night, “The Loneliness and the Scream: I fell down, found love, I can lose it again, but now our communal heart beats miles from here.
You are so very loved, Scott.
Rest easy, Saint Owl John.