The Magnetism of Sadness and Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchison
Hutchison, 36, died after years of struggling with depression. But during that time he made joyous poetry out of being a boring adult still struggling to figure your shit out.
Image via Frightened Rabbit/Facebook
There’s a very good chance you never heard of Scott Hutchison until this week and what you heard was: Scott Hutchison was yet another “troubled musician” who sang about swimming into the North Sea and not coming back until he eventually actually did do that. But I never listened to his songs and heard a dire self-inflicted prophecy, I just heard my favourite musician finding catharsis in melancholy.
“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,” tweeted Hutchison, the Scottish singer-songwriter behind Frightened Rabbit, late Tuesday night.
A couple minutes later, he simply tweeted: “I’m away now. Thanks.”
In the days that followed, I must have refreshed Twitter every hour hoping for good news, even though the news editor in me knew these stories never end well. His body was found Thursday night, not far from the Forth Road Bridge in Edinburgh, the same place he openly wrote about suicide saying he’d “(float) Down the Forth/into the sea.” I know there’s an easy mythology there, but it’s too one dimensional for such a tremendously rounded artist.
Over the past few years, we’ve lost many artists I’ve liked and respected: Bowie, Prince, Lemmy, Gord Downie. But none of those guys felt like a real person to me — too rich, too famous, too legendary. Scott Hutchison fronted a mildly successful indie rock band with a twee name from Scotland. He wrote about relationships, the disappointments of ordinary life, and fretted about money. He was an incredibly charismatic performer, but he was no rock star. He died with 15,000 followers on Twitter. He was a real person to me, and I’m sure he was to most Frightened Rabbit fans.
I’m far too old to say “that album saved my life” but The Midnight Organ Fight is the album I’ve played the most over the last 10 years by a country mile, even if I don’t consider it their best record. They became my “favourite band” at an age when I didn’t expect to have a new favourite band again (apologies to the Replacements). During the past couple days, as I constantly refreshed Twitter searching for “Scott Hutchison,” one sentiment kept appearing over and over from fellow fans: “His music got me through a dark period of my life, I hope he’s OK.” That doesn’t fully apply to me—maybe my dark period is still ongoing—but his music has intertwined with my life in a real way over the past decade: people I’ve bonded with over a chance shuffle play at a house party, songs that made it on to sappy playlists, the album I put on when I want to sit in the dark alone instead of seeking therapy, the joyous live shows I’ve attended with people I care about.
I’m roughly the same age as Scott, so it’s a bit weird to say I really admired the guy. He was clever and charming and talented and schlubby. You wouldn’t quite get it from his albums, but he was an incredibly funny guy. It was hard for me not to squint and see attributes I wish I had.
But if I’m being totally honest with myself, I was also incredibly drawn to his sadness. It’s fun to be a certain kind of sad, until it isn’t.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been guilty of romanticizing brooding, unhealthy male behaviour—the drinking, the doomed romances, the nodding acknowledgment of the problems of both—something Scott sang about constantly. (Tell me there’s a better song about toxic masculinity than “Acts of Man” and I’ll call you a liar.) And therefore it was easy to romanticize Scott as yet another “depressed musician” who often wrote dark, self-damning material about being a disappointment to yourself and others that was sadly, far too easy to identify with.
I can only speak for myself, but I know I’m not the only person who appreciated someone being poetic and honest about the boring, ordinary struggle of being an adult and still trying to figure out your shit. And especially someone who turned those ordinary, existential feelings into something epic and eventually, life affirming. (I suspect the overlap between Hold Steady and Frightened Rabbit fans is significant.)
But while I long pictured Hutchison to be one of us Sad Bastards Who Actually Have It Quite Good, in 2016 I had to reevaluate that assessment.
In a self-proclaimed “Twitter meltdown,” Hutchison wrote a number of posts that revealed a turmoiled inner life that bordered on self-loathing far beyond anything he put on a record.
“Turns out I’m a complete arsehole. It’s important that everyone knows. I’m not a particularly good person. So don’t buy my records,” he wrote in a series of now deleted tweets. “Goodbye to Frightened Rabbit. All it has ever been is me boring people with lies and making creative currency out of other people’s hurt.”
He later made a long apology with his trademark mix of self-deprecation and raw honesty.
“I'd like to attempt to set it straight. Sometimes when life goes awry the reaction is to destroy and say ‘fuck it all.’ On the plus side I have a greater appreciation of the pitfalls of mixing alcohol, depression and social media,” he later wrote.
I’m hardly an expert but I know that suicide is an incredibly complicated act, one that has a myriad of factors and often, no real answers. I don’t know what he was feeling, what the state of his mental health was, what was going on in his life besides what he told us on Twitter or in interviews. He recently described his mental health to Noisey as “I’m a solid six out of 10. I’m drawn to negatives in life, and I dwell on them, and they consume me. If I get a couple of days a week at a seven, fuck, it’s great.”
My first thought when I read that quote was: oh, classic Scott.
He just put out a new album with his side-project Mastersystem, which I adore. Frightened Rabbit just announced their own festival in Glasgow, which was going to happen in June.
I took in one of Frightened Rabbit’s Midnight Organ Fight anniversary shows a couple months ago and I thought it was perfect, one of those intense shows where the crowd knows exactly when to shout along and when to be completely silent. Scott was in great spirits and introduced the album by saying something like “OK, now for the sad part, which is why you are here.” We all knowingly laughed.
From the outside, everything seemed to be fine until it wasn’t.
But to be completely honest, and I really am trying to be, I’m struggling with how I can listen to my favourite music of the last decade and not feel like an emotional vampire—guilty for enjoying his art while also knowing the pain he was in when he made it. I don’t know how to square that circle.
Ultimately, I doubt I can change what I’ve connected with, unhealthy or not, and I feel appreciative that someone out there could make me feel something other than cynical for three minutes at a time.
The guy wrote perfect sad songs. I don’t know what else to say.
Follow Josh Visser on Twitter.
Sign up for the VICE Canada Newsletter to get the best of VICE Canada delivered to your inbox daily.