October 1, 2018

The Incredible Frightened Rabbit

I discovered Frightened Rabbit 11 May 2018, in the most morbid of circumstances. Scott Hutchison, their charismatic, magnetic lead singer, had committed suicide and his body had just been discovered. As tributes rained in from fans, fellow Scots, and touring troubadours alike, I fired up some of his songs.

What I found was a man baring his soul for the sake of art. Nothing was held back from Scott’s songs.

In Swim Until You Can’t See Land, written 10 years before his death, he suggests the doom he sees in his future:

Dip a toe in the ocean, oh how it hardens and it numbs
The rest of me is a version of man built to collapse and crumb
And if I hadn’t come now to the coast to disappear
I may have died in a landslide of rocks and hopes and fears

In Modern Leper, he begins with an allegory:

A cripple walks amongst you
All you tired human beings
He’s got all the things a cripple has not
Two working arms and legs

And vital parts fall from his system
And dissolve in Scottish rain
But vitally, he doesn’t miss them
He’s too fucked up to care

Upon first hearing these songs, it is easy to assume this is the writing of a melancholy down-and-outer. A victim of the world around him and of his own mind. That was the conclusion I came to when I first drafted a piece on this. That he was a ticking time bomb. Somebody for whom you could surmise that some horrible end would be the only option.

However upon deeper reflection there is another story.

Scott was head boy at his school, always the star in class. He was the middle of three brothers, and continually took joy in winding them up. According to his brother Grant, drummer in Frightened Rabbit, he would “plant this bomb, walk off and watch it detonate, and it worked every time.” Once, on stage, he restarted a song because Grant had messed up a section of it, calling on the audience to pantomime boo him until they began again.

Below, performing an acoustic set of The Modern Leper at the 2013 End of The Road Festival, he becomes distracted by a toddler in the crowd looking up at him, with amusing results:

A better portrait of Scott might be made by looking at him through the lens of his experience. He drank, he partied, he felt things that others couldn’t. Grant reflects on his brother’s processing of emotions, “I haven’t suffered from anxiety or depression in the same way at all as he did. So it was always hard for me to understand it, or to see it as more than just a bad day or feeling sad or down.”

As front man, Scott was exposed to the crowd, to judgement, and to fame, at least in his native Scotland. For somebody who his mother had nicknamed frightened rabbit to describe his shy, anxious nature, this was often exhilarating, but sometimes terrifying.

This can frequently be the case with people in Scott’s position. They seek therapy through their art, baring everything but finding it hard to love themselves in the same way their fans do. When they experience a greater range of emotions than others, with wider sensitivity, then it can be hard for others to relate to them, especially when the pressure of performing and living up to a rockstar lifestyle is expected.

On May 8, Scott sent out two final tweets:

To me, this reflects his frustration at himself, something we can all relate to. We set these grand expectations for ourselves and rarely live up to them regularly, and it can be so hard to reconcile that with our true nature, one of imperfection. Scott wished that he could have been better to those he loved, implying the distorted belief that he was unforgivable, and unchangeable.

Scott was depressed, and decided to end his life. However his songs are also full of hope, and to me, that is his greatest legacy.

In my favourite Frightened Rabbit song, Head Rolls Off, he sings:

When it’s all gone, something carries on
And it’s not morbid at all
Just when nature’s had enough of you
When my blood stops, someone else’s will not
When my head rolls off, someone else’s will turn
And while I’m alive, I’ll make tiny changes to earth

My head has turned, one tiny change made.

Grant & Scott’s mother Marion with a portrait of Scott unveiled at a special exhibition at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh (23 November 2019)
Grant & Scott’s mother Marion with a portrait of Scott unveiled at a special exhibition at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh (23 November 2019)
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