I’ve been to a lot of concerts. But on September 20, 2016, I experienced one of my favorites ever. It was at The Pyramid Scheme here in Grand Rapids. I had been waiting so long to see them, as I was a long-time fan of Frightened Rabbit. And they did not disappoint. In fact, they absolutely soared above and beyond my expectations.
I’m trying to think of a few reasons why that concert was so incredible, and I can only say that it was literally everything about it. Fans packed into a small theater. A band celebrating the release of a new album, playing new songs. The excited buzz that would flow through the room when they played an old song. The fact that they played all of my favorites. The novelty of a band of young Scottish men remarking on Grand Rapids, MI. The way they said they tried Rubeaus at Founders and found it, pardon my Scottish-French, “Foo*in’ delicious.” The way they led the audience through the happy songs and sad songs, but left us on a high note, the whole room echoing together, clapping and singing along.
And I’d always known it, but that night solidified it for me: I was in love with Scott Hutchison. He had a great voice. Sometimes you see a show, and something just sounds off. He was the opposite. Hearing him in real life, sharing the energy and space with him, he outdid what was heard on recordings. He was an incredible performer, absolutely overflowing with raw talent. It was so inspiring and his energy was contagious.
Not only was he the lead singer, but the songwriter. Some of his lyrics are difficult, some are joyous, but all are thoughtful and absolute art. He was one of my favorite songwriters.
Scott died by suicide on May 10, 2018.
I cried off and on all day.
I didn’t know him, so I didn’t truly love him. But I did love him. His words and music meant so much to me. Sometimes his words made me feel less alone. When I felt like I needed to be sad, I could find a sad song of his and find release. When I needed uplifting, Frightened Rabbit could do that as well.
Scott struggled with depression. He never shied away from it in his lyrics, and I think that’s just another way he made me feel less alone.
In the days and months after May 10, 2018, a Frightened Rabbit song would come up on a playlist and I’d have to skip it, tears in my eyes. Hearing his voice, his words, some of which were telling of what was to come, was too painful. His brother and bandmate said that he did talk about his depression, but maybe it wasn’t enough.
I wish he’d gotten more help. I wish our brains weren’t wired to attack us sometimes. I wish Scott was here to put more beauty into the world, because while I treasure what he gave us, I always wanted more.
After fan support, Scott’s family created a mental health charity: https://maketinychangesonearth.com/. The name comes from a line in the Frightened Rabbit song “Head Rolls Off” and it says “While I’m alive, I’ll make tiny changes to earth.”
With his music and words, he made so many big changes, and I’m so grateful.
This morning, a good year after his death, I laid in bed and listened to a few tracks from the recording made on December 3, 2018 at Rough Trade NYC, named “A Celebration of the Songs of Scott Hutchison,” and I cried. I cried for his beautiful words, for his suffering, for the loss of him.
The recording features artists performing Scott’s songs: Jenny Eliscu, Julien Baker, Kevin Devine, Aaron Dessner, Craig Finn, and Ben Gibbard.
Jenny Eliscu opened the show with a tearful and moving letter. She read, “So what are some of the things we love about Scott and his music? We admire, as Craig put it, his ability to make sadness into something he wasn’t ashamed of. Like he knew we all get sad, and that singing a sad song together with a bunch of other people is acknowledging that we all suffer. Or as Aaron put it, Scott was able to turn the darkest corners of his mind into pieces of art. Poetic songs that are almost sculptural in their cutting clarity.”
The letter went on to encourage those in attendance to laugh and cry, hug and sing in their worst Scottish accents. I’ve noticed it’s difficult to sing along to Frightened Rabbit and not mirror Scott’s delightful accent. It was a part of the music, his pronunciation, his feeling in words, the way he carried them on a note.
So I laughed through tears as Ben Gibbard said, “I told myself I wouldn’t do two things tonight on stage. Number one, obviously, is cry….Number two, is sing with a Scottish accent.”
It sucks that he’s gone. I’m sad that his darkness overcame his light. But I am so, so happy that he’s still here through his music. Although it’s been hard, I’m listening to a bit more of his songs again and every time my brain tells me to mourn the loss, I’ll try to do what they did on that December night and celebrate the life.
We all do suffer, but we don’t have to suffer alone. Pain and loss and anxiety and fear are all a given. But when it feels like too much, I hope everyone takes the opportunity to talk, and I hope those listening can help, or help to find better help. Because yes, there is darkness. But we all get to celebrate together, too. Because life is messy. Like his songs, there is happiness and sadness, and there is hope always, even in darkness.
My heart still aches for his bandmates and family, and friends who really knew him. I only loved him from afar, through his words, through the utter joy he had on stage, through his absolute brilliance. But again, I am so grateful for him. And I’m grateful for the recorded celebration of him, so I could heal a little this morning too.
If by some random encounter you’ve found this blog post and are in need of help, the suicide hotline is available every hour of every day at 1-800-273-8255. There’s only one you, and you are precious and you are needed here. Truly.
And to Scott, thank you for sharing. Your art took bravery and you did it so beautifully. I’m so glad your music and words will remain. I know they’ll continue to move me for forever. I also vow that while I’m alive, I’ll do my best to make tiny changes to earth.