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Why Losing Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchison Hurts So Much

Five years ago, as Scott Hutchison was about to perform a song marked by despondency and self-loathing, he spotted a small child in the audience at England’s End of the Road Festival. The Frightened Rabbit frontman paused to point out the absurdity of the situation, a wry smile crinkling his ruddy beard. “Life might be good just now,” Hutchison said in his genial Scottish burr, gazing down at the kid, “but there’s a lot of hard times ahead.” The crowd laughed, and after another quip or two, Hutchison launched solo into “The Modern Leper,” a deceptively uptempo highlight from Frightened Rabbit’s 2008 breakthrough, The Midnight Organ Fight.

Video of this performance has been circulating these last few days along with the heartbreaking news of Hutchison’s death. To me, the clip beautifully captures what he did so well, the candid yet joyful vulnerability that connected with Frightened Rabbit fans. Hutchison sang about the pain of living, in a humble way that underscored just how universal this existential anguish is. Somehow, he turned it into jangling folk-rock that routinely sounded light-hearted, charming, and even triumphant. Essentially, Scott Hutchison mined the abyss and brought back a glimmer of hope. Even in his final tweets, he urged, “Hug your loved ones.”

The groundswell of love and support for Hutchison, since he was declared missing earlier last week, has been nothing less than staggering. From a surprising number of people I know, who live in a wide range of places, the common theme is that Frightened Rabbit’s songs had helped them get through hard times. Revisiting The Midnight Organ Fight, in particular, it’s not hard to see why. The album is strewn with boozy breakup songs that turn deeply messy moments into arena-worthy shout-alongs, occasionally with a laugh (like when Hutchison says he doesn’t mind being called the wrong name during sex). Like a drunken heart-to-heart at a wedding reception, Hutchison’s songs reveal frailties in a familiar, celebratory setting. They make it easier to grapple with the shortcomings in ourselves. They might even help us understand each other a little bit better.

Like many of Scotland’s best bands, Frightened Rabbit was a testament to the idea that you don’t have to be the biggest band in the world to mean just that to certain people. Over the years, the group—which also included Hutchison’s brother Grant on drums—grew more polished and bombastic without losing its sense of self, right up through 2016’s Painting of a Panic Attack. But the songs Frightened Rabbit recorded ages ago, as a little-known indie band, have left a lasting stamp on its far-flung community of listeners. Earlier this year, the group toured behind the 10th anniversary of The Midnight Organ Fight, a record that Hutchison recently said was essentially the reason for Frightened Rabbit’s entire career. In a line from the album that’s been going around lately, Hutchison sang, “While I’m alive, I’ll make tiny changes to Earth.” Clearly he meant it.

It’s impossible to listen to some of Hutchison’s songs now without thinking about the circumstances surrounding his death, as well as the highly public struggles with depression that preceded it. The fact that his body was found in a body of water called the Firth of Forth, where on The Midnight Organ Fight’s “Floating in the Forth” he had imagined his own suicide (before rejecting the idea “for another day”), became the stuff of tabloid news. Or take “Swim Until You Can’t See Land,” from 2010’s The Winter of Mixed Drinks, which seemed initially like a festival-friendly ode to persistence; its lyrics about a baptismal “drowning of the past” are tough to hear today. That Hutchison apparently couldn’t find the same relief that he brought to so many others, through his songs and his work with the UK’s Mental Health Foundation, is what’s most tragic.

Hutchison was open about his struggles from the start. The first words heard on Frightened Rabbit’s 2006 debut are, “What’s the blues when you’ve got the greys?” It was right around this time that Frightened Rabbit first released its cover of the UK electronic duo N-Trance’s rave-era hit “Set You Free.” Listening to Hutchison’s sweetly ramshackle version now, I’m struck by how his earnest delivery lends some shred of real emotion to throwaway lines like, “Only love can set you free.” Through Frightened Rabbit’s music, Hutchison gave the world so much love, and was loved in return. If it’s too late to show him that, then the least we can do is pay his generosity of spirit forward to each other, especially in those bouts of grey. After all, there’s a lot of hard times ahead.

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