File this under “Music Doing Exactly What It’s Supposed to”: For more than two years I’ve had the pleasure of working as a writer for Recovery Unplugged. It has been my honor to be a voice for this organization because I know, from direct experience, the enormous power that music has to improve mood, inspire change and be a catalyst for a happier and more fulfilling life…but more on that later. Last week the body of Scott Hutchison, vocalist and guitarist of UK indie band Frightened Rabbit, was found at Port Edgar in Scotland. Though an official cause of death has not yet been determined, police are not treating it as suspicious, and all signs point to suicide…he was 36 years old.
Hutchison battled depression for years, poignantly and sardonically integrating his mental health issues into the Frightened Rabbit song book. He was found near the south end of a bridge that had been featured prominently in a song called “Floating in the Forth” from the group’s acclaimed 2008 record The Midnight Organ Fight. Although the track ended with the phrase: “I think I’ll save suicide for another year”, those thoughts would eventually return, as they do for most others who battle this illness.
It seems as though week after week, we’re forced to chronicle the death of another musician due to addiction, mental disorder or both. We offer condolences to their loved ones and we write a few lines about their contribution to music and how big of a whole their death left, and it’s all true; however, as someone who is so incredibly privileged to be part of a company that uses music to help people regain their hope, ambition and dignity, I would be remiss if I didn’t write a little bit about how Hutchison helped me do just that.
I’ve been playing in bands since I was 12 years old. I’ve put out multiple records, played all over the country and have always been able to turn to playing and recording when things in my life got difficult. I’ve also experienced prolonged bouts of melancholy for perhaps even longer. During these situations, it can be difficult to muster the enthusiasm to do anything, including create art, work and even interact with friends and loved ones.
In 2012, the creative process that had always gotten me out of these moods was losing its healing power. Although playing and writing had been a sort of metaphorical switch that I could always turn on to feel better, a series of false starts in my own life and a lingering feeling that I was spinning my musical wheels combined with a general dissatisfaction with the direction in which music was heading as a whole made it harder and harder to seek refuge. I was essentially starting to think that there was nothing remotely interesting left to do in the modern musical paradigm, and it was one of the most upsetting feelings I’ve ever experienced; I know it’s a shortsighted way of thinking, but that’s just how I felt, and I couldn’t do anything about it.
After feeling this way for about three months, while simultaneously searching for something that would help me fill the hours, I heard Frightened Rabbit’s Winter of Mixed Drinks, a record that has left a permanent imprint on my brain and ears. Its rich layering, distinct and intuitive production, masterful arrangements and haunting melodies and lyrics created a listening experience that only about ten records have managed to do throughout the course of my life, including The Smiths’ The Queen is Dead, Godspeed! You Black Emperor’s Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven and a select few more. It was the perfect record for this particular time and place in my life and was singularly responsible for re-kindling my passion for music and art in general.
Why am I going on like this? For multiple reasons: first, I spend a great deal of my time trying to convince people that music can alter the trajectory of their lives, and I don’t think there’s any better way to do that than by relaying my own experiences; second, because the life and death of Scott Hutchison represent the next-level healing power of music as well as what could happen when people don’t get the care they need for their mental health issues.
There’s no telling how much larger of an impact Scott Hutchison would have had on rock and roll if he could have gotten help for his depression; if you were to ask me, I’d say a seismic one; but even in the deep mourning of the untimely death of this truly gifted artist, I can’t help but be thankful that I was able to experience his work.
Finally, I’d like to reiterate that music, no matter where it comes from or who writes it, can and does change lives for the better; it certainly changed mine. Recovery Unplugged sends our deepest condolences to the family and loved ones of Scott Hutchison, including his brother, lifelong musical collaborator and Frightened Rabbit drummer, Grant. For my own part, I’d like to thank him for living a prolific and monumentally inspiring life, however brief. Rest in peace, Mr. Hutchison.