Away Now: Gone But Not Forgotten

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When I think of some of my favorite singer/songwriters such as Jeff Buckley, Elliott Smith, or Kurt Cobain, my initial reaction to their sudden departure was “How could they self-destruct when they not only have that level of talent but a following and a steady income?”  But that is reductive thinking when it comes to the complexities of mental illness, something that I’ve always struggled with too.  My favorite songwriters would write music for those who not only felt emotional extremities but fell deep inside of them to the point of losing all sense of self.  I think that’s why musicians love the art of songwriting.  It confronts the emotion while trying to make sense out of it.  One of my favorite things about great songs is the way they give you enough details to get the story but leave out enough to create space for you to make it your own.

News that another one of my favorites has left us really hit me hard.  Having seen Frightened Rabbit live, in an intimate setting in Chicago after the release of The Midnight Organ Fight about a decade ago, lead singer Scott Hutchison was one of those frontmen that I immediately identified with and respected. You couldn’t tell if he was sweating or crying and you would absolutely buy the latter because of the conviction he put forth in every note sung on stage.  There was a reckless abandon to the way he would pour his insides out, with notes that would shake and tremble, slightly veering off-key.  But again, there was such sublime purity in all that Scott did.  He sang the songs as if the wounds were still fresh, and for me personally, I was still processing wounds from a relationship that should’ve never taken place.  “Poke” especially brought me to tears and this was one of the few live shows where I felt comfortable drinking more alcohol than usual.  Partially because I was sad, but also because I wanted to tap into the same primal energy that the band was manifesting in front of an incredibly enthusiastic crowd.  I also knew that after that show, the band would be moving on to bigger venues and a following that could very well match a band like The National.

This was a time for me when I really wanted music to be raw, intense, and yet melodic.  Bands like Frightened Rabbit and The Frames stood out for me because it wasn’t always about the most clever lyrical phrase or the need for attention.  It was about honesty, catharsis, and connection.  That sense of connection that Scott found in art was clearly beneficial, but certainly not going to serve as any kind of “cure” for what ailed him.  Any sense of release is temporary.  You feel every emotion possible when recording a song, writing a song, or performing a song.  But once the act is complete, there is a dopamine drop that could be mistaken for melancholy or a deep, dark depression that is difficult to manage.  When I came home from tour once, my feelings weren’t composed of joy, but an immediate sense of longing.  I know that experiencing the euphoria of music in a prolonged state is impossible because there are bills to pay and relationships to experience.  But it has an all-consuming power, and I have no doubt that this power would transcend to the avid fans of a band like Frightened Rabbit.  Clearly, it’s true of those who still find themselves moved to tears by the crescendo of Jeff Buckley’s falsetto or the layered stillness of Elliott Smith’s heartfelt whisper.  And now, we have lost Scott Hutchison which immediately signified that depression cannot be easily taken care of with even just a combination of therapy and medication.  Studies show that both can lead to the most positive results overall, but really, it becomes a cancer that will envelop the neurons in your brain.

There are ways to cope and there are ways to seek help, but during a vulnerable state of self-imposed isolation, any human being whether a talented musician or not, might dive off the deep end as a means to alleviate the suffering they can’t escape from.  We don’t know if Scott is in a better place, but of course, we want to envision that for anyone who suddenly seeks refuge from the pains of living.  Music is a tremendous savior for so many.  I’ve told the story many times about how seeing the film PUMP UP THE VOLUME -- which involves music, honesty, and intimacy -- it saved my life.  At the age of 13, I decided it was time to leave.  My parents were on the verge of divorce, I had become unhealthy and anxious, and both my body and brain were becoming enemies.  I had tried once before, and I was set to try again.  But then I saw the movie and decided to give life another chance.  That doesn’t mean there aren’t days where I veer close to the edge again.  But there are reasons to persevere and music is one of them.  I wish the same could be said for so many, particularly Scott.  He once sent me a MySpace message saying that he liked my synth-heavy “Purple Rain” cover, and this was truly encouraging coming from a musician who I had recently seen screaming front and center at one of my favorite music venues.  It is clear based on any number of interviews and podcast guest conversations, that Scott Hutchison was a remarkable person with an inviting demeanor.  He seemed to have a great sense of humor and self-awareness to potentially an overwhelming degree.  I’ve heard at least four interviews of his where I grew, even more, fonder of him as a person.

Not to mention that The Midnight Organ Fight remains one of my favorite records, and the most recent Frightened Rabbit album could be their very best since their breakthrough breakup record.  I wish something could’ve been done to reassure him that his talent or more support groups could get him through the worst of times, but sometimes that cancer of sadness won’t listen to reason or even believe there is a way out.  The only consolation we have now is that Scott is no longer in pain of any kind.  Not to mention the fact that he left behind a legacy of amazing songs and recordings that fans will cherish for decades to come.  About a decade ago, I covered a number of Frightened Rabbit songs too, and plan to re-record or try my hand at others.  There is strength in connecting with an artist through their art, whether they’re still with us or further away than ever.  I’m sure Scott possessed a lot of love for so much in his lifetime, even if he felt otherwise to the point of true despair.  Regardless, I am grateful for having corresponded with him and seeing his band live.  His truth and remarkable talent will continue to carry so many away from the darkness that is sometimes difficult to escape from.  I’m sure many demos and recordings will surface in the future, but there’s the sad fact that none of them will be brand new anymore.  Thank you to Scott and to the band Frightened Rabbit for all that they accomplished over the years.  We won't forget that you exist, there's no way we're forgetting this for it certainly helped us during the worst of times and will easily serve as a soundtrack for so many more future generations.

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