On mental illness for Scott Hutchinson’s 40th birthday

Scott Hutchinson (Photo credit: pitchfork.com)

“People worry about kids playing with guns, and teenagers watching violent videos; we are scared that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands – literally thousands – of songs about broken hearts and pain and misery and loss. The unhappiest people I know, romantically speaking, are the ones who like pop music the most; and I don’t know whether pop music has caused this unhappiness, but I do know that they’ve been listening to the sad songs longer than they’ve been living the unhappy lives.”

“High Fidelity”, Nick Hornby

“So you just stepped out of the front of my house
and I’ll never see you again
I closed my eyes for a second
and when they opened you weren’t there

And the door shut shut I was vacuum packed
Shrink wrapped out of air
and spine collapsed and the eyes rolled back
to stare at my starving brain

And fully clothed I’ll float away
Down the forth and to the sea
I think I’ll save suicide for another day”

“Floating In The Forth”, Frightened Rabbit (2008)

Today would have been Scott Hutchinson’s 40th birthday. He’s no longer here, but his art remains so in a way it is still his 40th birthday. On what will certainly be a very warm day almost everywhere, 60 years from today in the year 2081 it will be his 100th birthday and that fact will be noted by someone somewhere, probably a great many people. Art endures.

I’ve been reticent to write too much lately, but I’m starting to realize that one of the reasons why is that what we leave behind defines us in a way. Sometimes it’s easier to not take any chances, keep your head down and be quiet. “The tallest nail gets hammered down first” as the Japanese are known to say.

But I’m a sucker for round numbers and I’ve been missing Frightened Rabbit and Scott lately, so this is as good an excuse as any to drop some words out there, hoping they find someone somewhere and make a difference.

“Can you see in the dark?

Can you see the look on your face?

The flashing white light’s been turned off

You don’t know know who’s in your bed

It takes more than fucking someone you don’t know

To keep warm”

“Keep Yourself Warm”, Frightened Rabbit (2008)

Sometimes there is a tendency to overly romanticize the dead. They are not there to defend themselves so we must temper what we say about them. The good is remembered, the bad shuffled away to a remote part of the consciousness. So here’s something true and harsh about the dead – Scott Hutchinson could be a dick.

Certainly, substance abuse and occasionally crippling bouts of depression are compelling qualifiers, but if he were still around which I very much wish he were, he would probably be the first to admit it. I only saw three Frightened Rabbit concerts in my life. At the first one, the club’s sound system was glitchy and causing no end of issues to him and the band. (Anyone who remembers the early days of Beauty Bar saw some incredible bands in an insanely small venue with the shittiest imaginable PA.)

Scott’s response was to storm offstage in a huff yelling at the techs after playing only like 5 or 6 songs. They were opening for The War On Drugs, which in retrospect is an insanely amazing bill, but this was in 2009 or so when both bands were still struggling for acclaim and playing small clubs and venues.

I was disappointed, but I wasn’t a huge Frightened Rabbit fan at the time, so I chalked it up as one of those things that happens, because honestly they do. Go to enough concerts and you’ll probably see an opening act be too drunk to perform or have a meltdown during their set. They’ll try to get it together as best as possible and life goes on. This is why we go to concerts – if you wanted to hear songs exactly like they are on the album, stay home man and just listen to your albums.

A couple years later, Scott and Frightened Rabbit were back in town this time opening for Death Cab For Cutie at a much swankier venue, the pool at the Cosmopolitan. Incredible views of the Las Vegas Strip and if you’re so inclined you can take off your shoes and socks and stand in the shallow end of the pool and watch some great bands.

After the first couple songs, Scott acknowledged his meltdown two years earlier, he apologized and he said he had secured an extra 15 minutes for their set from Death Cab to make up for ending early at the previous show.

“If you find me, don’t wake me
I can’t be shaken awake
If you don’t stare at the dark
You can never feel bleak
Life starts to lose its taste

So I [(move, move)]
I would but I am so tired
[(Move, move)] If I can’t shake myself
I can’t dance with you

The worn-out beat of a tired heart
[(You are young)]
If this is the prime of life I wish I could skip
The blasted youth”

“Skip The Youth”, Frightened Rabbit (2010)

It was obviously an incredibly graceful move, especially keeping in mind not only had it been two years but there might have only been about 30 or 40 of us who were at both shows. There couldn’t have been more than 100 people there at Beauty Bar that night to begin with. The Cosmo Pool could accommodate a couple thousand people and Frightened Rabbit were on the ascent after the release of their third album “The Winter Of Mixed Drinks” which found the band playing to more fans, more acclaim, bigger venues.

Each subsequent album the band produced found them building on their sound and creating stronger and stronger albums, but at the core of every song and every album was Scott’s lyrics. Confessional, haunting, poetic. If they didn’t draw you in immediately, you’re probably never going to be a Frightened Rabbit fan, but for those of us who got Scott immediately, we were hooked, especially after “The Winter Of Mixed Drinks”.

As someone who has occasionally struggled with depression and if not substance abuse, then at least substances unnecessarily standing in place for real human emotion I immediately connected with “FootShooter”.

“And if I shoot at you, you should shoot at me too
And we can drown in this of the thick dark words we
And as my face turns white, I apologize, 
I am sorry, Its not your fault, its mine

Hold onto your thoughts, time your rall-all-all-allies
Pluck up your ears, we’re doing it verbal, but I am loaded
Duck under that desk, cover your neck, uh-uh uh-uuuh
Picking your skin as I begin to shoot myself in the foot again”

“FootShooter”, Frightened Rabbit (2010)

As I grew older, the band grew older with me. Until Scott died, I didn’t realize he was eight years younger than me. I had kind of assumed we were the same age. The band released another well-reviewed, highly regarded album in 2013, “Pedestrian Verse”. In the year of my 40th birthday, Scott’s lyrics continued to somehow shadow my life experiences.

My mother remains proud of her Scottish heritage (as she should) and I wonder if somehow I don’t just ascribe more gravitas and weight to Scottish bands. There are some incredible Scottish rock bands. Something about the cold and the damp? How some place with so much beauty can also seem so forlorn?

“Fear lies the first time, but I was wrong
There is no more sign, no X’s mark this spot
The ancient encounters with foreign skin
All but perish by now, 
Guess you can’t erase the grin from those

Backyard skulls, deep beneath the ground
All those backyard skulls, not deep enough to never be found”

“Backyard Skulls”, Frightened Rabbit (2013)

The first time I really, really actually contemplated suicide as something I might do as opposed to an abstract concept was only a few years ago. My mental illness is mine, the reasons for it are as unknown and as unknowable as anyone who suffers, but I’m still way, way luckier than some people. I have way more empathy these days that I probably did the first time I ever saw Frightened Rabbit perform. In fact, that’s probably the understatement of this entire essay.

Before whatever switch flipped in my brain around this time (it would be easy to blame my brain surgery to remove a tumor and maybe it is?, but that seems too convenient), I was still able to understand the pain and depression that drives the best Frightened Rabbit songs (almost always tinged with just enough self-deprecation or humor to forgive you for finding solace in the music instead of insisting that Scott come live with you, so you can just spend a year or two nursing him back to health. Or at least paying for him to get help from someone.

I know his Scott himself, his family and his friends tried. I believe he saw his art as his salvation and his attempt to fight against the forces that were plaguing him. In my imagination or in reality I’ve seen interviews where he admitted as much.

I found his music then and now as a sword I could wield against the darkness. “This person thinks like me, they can say the things I can’t say” is the basis for all art back to cave drawings at least. And as long as humans are still alive, so shall it be.

“I put my heart where my mouth is
Now I can’t thumb it down again
I’ve gone devilled my kidneys
Now he’s living inside of me
So if we can’t bring an exorcist
I’ll settle for one of your stiffest drinks
And we’ll scream hell towards heaven’s door
And I will piss on your front porch

I’m dead now, check my chest you’ll see
The light has been mined from me, burned for the heat
Oh I’m dead now can you hear the relief
As life’s belligerent symphonies finally cease”

“Dead Now”, Frightened Rabbit (2013)

So yeah, I kinda dropped a bomb back there a few paragraphs ago. I don’t want to make it all about me, but for someone who lived their first 40 years or so more or less free from the grip of mental illness (or at least so blissfully ignorant and in denial that I never realized it in any kind of meaningful way) finding myself actually really and truly thinking the previously unthinkable was a pretty decent shock, to say the least.

I wish I could say that I immediately talked to my loved ones and sought professional help, but I didn’t. Some people very close to me reading this are learning this for the first time. I’ve told it to almost no one. Of course, almost no one is able to be completely honest about their mental health, so I don’t really beat myself up about that. But still, eventually I did get some help.

I’m on anti-depressants and depending on how you feel about cannabis I’m either self-medicating or using a natural medicine to occasionally fight anxiety. I know which way I lean on that, but I also don’t give a fuck what you think.

“I’m trapped in a collapsing building.”

“The Woodpile”, Frightened Rabbit (2013)

I’m possibly giving you the wrong impression about Scott’s music. The end of “The Woodpile” despite the haunting lyric above is actually quite positive and ends with Scott expressing hope about seeking out help from his friends.

I guess I should say that while I don’t care what you think about me and it took half a lifetime to achieve a realization that some people probably correctly arrive at in their teens, it doesn’t mean I don’t realize that relationships are important. I just choose these days to only pursue relationships with people who share the same values as me, especially respect for all human life no matter who you are or where you were born.

I’m not sure if it’s my broken brain that got me to that point, but if so it’s proof that all things happen for a reason and not even the darkest moments are completely without some light in them. I learned that from Scott’s lyrics too.

“It was dawn and the kitchen light was still on
I stepped in, found the suicide asleep on the floor
An open mouth screams and makes no sound
Apart from the ring of the tinnitus of silence
You had your ear to the ground

White noise
I don’t know if there’s breathing or not
Butterflied arms tell me that this one has flown
Blood seems black against the skin of your porcelain back
A still life is the last I will see of you

A painting of a panic attack”

“Death Dream”, Frightened Rabbit (2016)

The early morning of May 9, 2018, Scott Hutchison was reported missing by his bandmates, one of whom is his brother Grant. Scott had tweeted “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”, followed by “I’m away now. Thanks.”

The next day he was found in the Firth of Forth. It is speculated he leaped from Edinburgh’s Forth Road Bridge just as he prophesized in the song at the beginning of this essay:

“And I picture this corpse
On the M8 hearse
And I half run away to sleep
On a rolled up coat
Against the window
With the strobe of the sun
And the life I’ve led
Am I ready to leap
Is there peace beneath
The roar of the Forth road bridge?
On the Northern side

There’s a Fife of mine
And a boat in the port for me

And fully clothed, I float away
(I’ll float away)
Down the Forth, into the sea
I’ll steer myself
Through drunken waves
These manic gulls
Scream it’s okay
Take your life
Give it a shake
Gather up
All your loose change
I think I’ll save suicide for another year.”

“Floathing In The Forth”, Frightened Rabbit (2008)

It is meaningful to me that the lyric changes from the first verse “I think I’ll save suicide for another day” to the final line of the song “I think I’ll save suicide for another year”. I like to think maybe that was Scott telling us that no matter how bad it is to give it another year and maybe things will be better.

My mental illness is my own. Scott’s was Scott’s. I don’t know if he gave it a year and couldn’t do it any longer. I know I’m lucky. I think I can do a year and then another year and then as many years as it takes. That is one of Scott’s gifts to me. Happy birthday.

Published by Brian

Your humble narrator on a hopefully epic journey.

One thought on “On mental illness for Scott Hutchinson’s 40th birthday

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