I’m Not Okay, but I’ll Get There: Swim Until You Can’t See Land (Some Thoughts on the Death of Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit)

Let me start this off on a lighter note by saying that I have absolutely no musical talent. I wanted to give Scott Hutchison some sort of tribute (I’ll get to the reasoning later), and was going to do a cover of one of his songs. I figured I used to play guitar, I own a guitar, I have a voice and a computer to record it on. All of the ingredients for a song cover were there . . . except for the musical talent. Apparently you need that to do musical things. Feeling defeated, I spent the following five minutes trying to figure out what else I was good at and remembered this blog . . . not that this blog is good, but I can write better than I can play guitar. So there’s that.

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If you’re a fan of the indie music scene, chances are you’ve heard of a band called Frightened Rabbit. Formed in Selkirk, Scotland, in 2003 by vocalist and guitarist Scott Hutchison, Frightened Rabbit’s career has spanned the better part of 18 years and has both inspired and helped countless fans and enthusiasts through the subject matter of their songs. They were originally intended to be a solo act, but plans changed with the addition of Scott’s brother Grant Hutchison on drums and Billy Kennedy on guitar back in 2004, when they were based out of Glasgow. During those days, they would record demos and send them out to record companies with biscuits, which Scott said “led to a rise in requests for the demo.” In 2006, the band released their debut album, Sing the Greys, on a local label called Hits the Fan. However, it wouldn’t be until the following year that their music – and the band themselves – would reach the United States. They followed Sing the Greys up with The Midnight Organ Flight in 2008, an album that was critically acclaimed and earned them the opportunity to support Death Cab for Cutie during their 2008 tour. The Winter of Mixed Drinks followed The Midnight Organ Flight in 2010, boosting them into the spotlight with their single “Swim Until You Can’t See Land,” which they performed on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon that May. Following the popularity of The Winter of Mixed Drinks, Frightened Rabbit signed with Atlantic and released an EP in July of 2011 with three songs that all got a limited release on vinyl. Pedestrian Verse and Painting of a Panic Attack followed in 2013 and 2016. While 2018 was shaping up to be quite a year for the band, with them going on a ten year anniversary tour for The Midnight Organ Flight and working on songs for a new album, things took a turn for the worst when Scott was reported missing.

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It was late last Tuesday night when two cryptic tweets surfaced on Scott’s Twitter feed. The first one said, “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.” Then, 20 minutes later he followed up with, “I’m away now. Thanks.” Scott’s family, friends, and bandmates reported his disappearance to the police and took to social media, expressing their concern for Scott’s mental health and asked fans to be on the lookout. Both the fans and the musical community answered the call, posting pictures of Scott all over the Internet, and telling people who to call if they found him. And for a while, there was hope that he was going to return. The family had this to say, “Despite his disappearance, and the recent concerns over his mental health, we had all remained positive and hopeful that he would walk back through the door, having taken some time away to compose himself.” According to police, the 36 year old singer was last seen in video footage, leaving the Dakota Hotel in South Queensferry around 1 a.m. on Wednesday. The next day, Scott’s body was found at Port Edgar, just west of Edinburgh around 8:30 p.m. A cause of death has not yet been confirmed. Scott’s family and bandmates were “utterly devastated,” and both his fans and the music community were left with a void in their hearts.

Frightened Rabbit’s Instagram shared a statement on Friday that said, “There are no words to describe the overwhelming sadness and pain that comes with the death of our beloved Scott, but to know he is no longer suffering brings us some comfort. Reading messages of support and hope from those he has helped through his art has helped immensely, and we encourage you all to continue doing this.” Hayley Williams of Paramore tweeted this, “These kinds of deaths are becoming more and more frequent in our music communities. I cannot lie, it scares the shit out of me. All my heart goes out to the Frightened Rabbit family – band, team, and fans. So sorry.” Snow Patrol took to their Twitter, as well, to say, “devastated to hear the news about our friend Scott Hutchison this morning,” and their frontman Gary Lightbody gave an even longer tribute on his personal Instagram account, which read, “He wrote such profound insight into loss and longing . . . He was willing to hurt in his songs so that the listener could hurt less.” Even actress and comedian Sarah Silverman had something to say, “To Scott Hutchison’s brothers and family, I’m so sorry. I’m just so sorry.” With all of the outpouring of support from big names and regular folk, it might make you wonder just what was so special about Scott’s music? The answer can be found in his lyrics, but honestly, there’s so much more to it than that.

You’ve heard me talk about mental health in this blog series, but there are always pieces of the conversation that I hold back, not because I feel like people can’t handle them, but because putting them into words – at least in my mind – would make them real, and there are some things I’m not ready to say. Scott Hutchison wasn’t afraid to say anything, and that’s why he was able to touch (and possibly save) so many people with his music. One only needs to look at the lyrics to see the truth of that statement. Swim Until You Can’t See Land talks about being overwhelmed with life and not wanting to exist anymore, “If I hadn’t come now to the coast to disappear, I may have died in the landslide of rocks and hopes and fears.” In The Loneliness And the Scream, he talks about being alone and struggle to be noticed, “In the loneliness, oh, the loneliness, and the scream to prove to everyone that I exist.” Backwards Walk talks about how difficult it is to get over heartache, “I’m working on erasing you, I just don’t have the proper tools, I’ll get hammered, forget that you exist, But there’s no way I’m forgetting this.” Floating In the Forth talks about wanting to end it all, but holding on to a small amount of hope that things will get better, “Fully clothed, I’ll float away, Down the Forth, into the sea, I think I’ll save suicide for another day.” Nitrous Gas speaks of not being able to find happiness in life and feeling yourself dying, “Shut down the gospel singers, Turn up the old heart breakers, I’m dying to tell you that I’m dying here. Throw up the sickly joy and I’ll, Swallow the sweet self-loathing I’m, Just dying to be unhappy again. Oh, where love won’t grow, I’ll build my home. And if happiness won’t come to me, Hand me the nitrous gas.” Holy is a song about uncertainty and a deep distrust with people who “speak” for God, “Cleanse my soul, I’d still have the stomach of a sinner, Face like an un-holy ghost, Spare me all the soliloquies, I’ve paid my fines, And I’ll be gone before my deliverance, So preach what you like.” Scott Hutchison sang about despair and uncertainty. His music was an anthem for the hopeless and was filled with so much raw emotion and honesty that you couldn’t help but connect with it. And though it was nice to know that we weren’t alone in our struggles, deep within his tortured words, you could hear his own battles being fought.

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I’ve never been affected by a musician’s death as much as this. Chester Bennington, Chris Cornell, Layne Staley, I was a huge fan of everything those guys did, and though I own most of their music and quote their songs, I never felt connected to any of them as human beings. For me, their music was just a point in time, an era that I occasionally look back on when I hear one of their songs on the radio. With Scott Hutchison it’s different. Though I didn’t know him personally, his music helped me through some of the most difficult times in my life. As somebody who has struggled with depression for as long as I can remember, finding Frightened Rabbit was like remembering how to breathe after years of pulling water into my lungs. Their music not only let me know that I wasn’t alone, it taught me that it’s okay to think and feel the way I do, and that it’s okay to not be okay, because though there’s not always a light at the end of the tunnel, there’s something to be learned from every experience. Though news of Scott’s death has made me sad, it’s also made me scared. Loneliness, depression, anxiety, I have and still do (to some extent) experience all of these things. While I like to think that I’ve found outlets for my own struggles with mental illness and a way to keep my demons at bay, what happened to Scott Hutchison only proves that nobody is immune to its effects, depression especially, because depression is the door to the rest of the party. Ned Vizzini summarized this in his 2006 young adult novel, It’s Kind of a Funny Story when he said, “Its so hard to talk when you want to kill yourself. That’s above and beyond everything else, and it’s not a mental complaint-it’s a physical thing, like it’s physically hard to open your mouth and make the words come out. They don’t come out smooth and in conjunction with your brain the way normal people’s words do; they come out in chunks as if from a crushed-ice dispenser; you stumble on them as they gather behind your lower lip. So you just keep quiet.”

Ned Vizzini spent his entire career trying to talk about mental health and help people who were experiencing the things that he was. He wrote young adult novels, held clinics, even reached out to fans personally. In the end, however, not even he was able to overcome it. On December 19, 2013, he threw himself off of a building, leaving his wife and child behind. Scott Hutchison’s story is much of the same. In a statement made by his family, they said, “Scott, like many artists, wore his heart on his sleeve and that was evident in the lyrics of his music and the content of his social media posts. He was passionate, articulate and charismatic, as well as being one of the funniest and kindest people we knew. Friends and family would all agree that he had a brilliant sense of humor and was a great person to be around.” The statement goes on to say, “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.” Scott was the most open and honest musician I’ve ever had the privilege of listening to, and that’s why he made the music he did. He wanted to reach out to people and let them know that they weren’t alone. He was willing to put his hurt on display to help others hurt less. In the end, however, not even he was able to overcome it, and it breaks my heart that his voice will never be heard (in the land of the living) again.

Above, I mentioned that Scott Hutchison’s death not only makes me sad, but it also scares me. I looked up to both Scott Hutchison and Ned Vizzini. I wanted to do what they did. I still do want to find a way to help people who are going through the things that I’ve gone through. What scares me is that, like them, I might one day find myself in a place where I can no longer fight it, either. Please don’t take that to mean that I’m anywhere near that point or see myself reaching it, but depression is unpredictable. It could take one bad day, one bad break up, or anything really to find yourself in a place that you can’t climb out of. And the most difficult thing about it is not being able to talk about it because if you’ve never experienced it, it’s impossible to fathom. Church, school, family, friends, creative outlets, yes, all of these things help to some extent, but the issue lies much deeper than a need for distraction. Having spent a lot of the past four years in church crowds, I’ve heard people say things like “God makes depression go away” or that “being depressed is an absence of God in your life.” Let me be real forward about this, that’s not how that works. I’ve felt closest to God in some of the darkest moments of my life, but God isn’t an antidote. Point being, I know what it’s like to want to “swim until you can’t see land.”

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Please, if you know somebody who is experiencing depression, let them know they’re loved. Believe me, having people in your life who genuinely care and aren’t uncomfortable with other people’s grief can make all the difference. Like I mentioned above, I never met Scott Hutchison, but through his music I experienced a type of solace that I never got from any therapist or medication they prescribed. In the song Acts of Man, Scott says, “I’m here, I’m here, not heroic but I try.” When it comes to the human experience and dealing with something like depression, all you can do is try. Scott Hutchison wasn’t a hero, at least not in the comic book meaning of the word, he was so much more than that to so many people, and he will be missed.

Works Cited

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frightened_Rabbit

Frightened Rabbit Singer Scott Hutchison Found Dead At 36

Stephen Thompson – https://www.npr.org/sections/therecord/2018/05/11/610352131/frightened-rabbit-singer-scott-hutchison-found-dead-at-36

Scott Hutchison: Frightened Rabbit Singer’s Body Identified

Gianluca Mezzofiore – https://www.cnn.com/2018/05/11/europe/frightened-rabbit-scott-hutchison-missing-body-found-intl/index.html

Lyrics

http://frightenedrabbit.com/song-lyrics/

Frightened Rabbit Front Man Scott Hutchison Found Dead At 36

Frank Hoensch/Redferns – http://www.vulture.com/2018/05/scott-hutchinson-of-frightened-rabbit-found-dead-at-36.html

One comment

  1. Just wanted to say thank you for writing this. I needed to read this today. I never met him either, but his music got me through some hard times too.

    Like

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