Scott Hutchison tribute

I don’t usually write about people that I don’t know when they die. I’m not generally affected by their passing or if I am, it’s usually just the cultural impact of a big news story, or I’m impressed by the words and experiences of others - I wasn’t a big Bowie fan but it was impossible not to be moved by everyone’s intensely personal stories about how he made a difference to their lives and outlooks.

I also think such writing runs the risk of coming across as distastefully self-obsessed, there’s a thin line between paying tribute to someone and paying tribute to yourself by describing experiences of your own that they soundtracked, facilitated or inspired. Equally, though, it is those very experiences which are the reason you’re raising a glass in the first place, so to ignore them simply results in the dry commentary of a wikipedia article. That’s to say nothing of the inherent risks of reflecting on anyone who has died - triteness, sentimentalism and clichés.

So it’s with trepidation that I write about Scott Hutchison, the songwriter and frontman of Frightened Rabbit. Scott’s music did mean a lot to me and I’m as saddened by his loss as you can be by the death of someone you didn’t know personally. About ten years ago a friend gave me an illegal download (sorry Scott) of their second (breakthrough) album The Midnight Organ Fight. Despite the amount of analysis and writing that I’ve dedicated to music, I am no nearer to knowing why I like what I like. I can listen to two artists who sound very similar, but I have no idea why one sticks in my head while the other sticks in my craw. And so it was with Frightened Rabbit and that album. Any quick description comes up woefully, cringe-inducingly short. Well, I guess I now have the opportunity to articulate just how brilliant he was.

The melodies were beautiful but not hackneyed, and that voice - broken, lilting and kind. I’m not suggesting he always said sweet things - although there were plenty of songs that revelled in the beauty of romance and companionship, many laid bare the horrible things of which he and others were capable. However even when he performed this public evisceration of himself, describing his unpleasant behaviour, there was a deeply moral core. It was what allowed him to see the shitty things in himself, even if forgiving himself seemed to be more difficult.

There will in the next few days be a lot of words written about depressing and prescient lyrics,by journalists looking for sensationalist angles. These are certainly there and they make for very difficult listening, but to focus on his writing through the prism of his passing does Scott a disservice and misses the point by a mile. ‘Depressing’ is what the musically illiterate use to describe any song in a minor key that speaks of sadness. Scott Hutchison’s songs were not depressing - his songs had an arc.They fearlessly confronted and described the darkness, but they were about his belief that there could be light at the end of it. He wasn’t just telling himself that - he believed it and he wanted you to believe it too. In State Hospital as he describes the sad story of a girl whose life seems pre-determined for tragedy, but the song ends in glorious style with Scott singing “all is not lost”. Even the song that predicts the nature of his own death ends in cautious but heartfelt optimism.

What made him unique as a lyricist wasn’t the subject matter, but his emotional eloquence. Whether he was describing relationships, railing against religion or relating the lives of others,he always managed to express himself in ways you’d never heard before. He could be bitter, tender,funny and heartbreaking. Sometimes in the same verse. When he wrote about others he could be understanding (“Brought home to keep warm in the arms of a plumber, ruddy and balding who just needs a spine to dig in to, a chest for the head and a hand for the holding”) and he could be brilliantly disparaging (“You sit on your high horse spouting high horse shite. I’m afraid you’ve been misled - your high horse, in fact, is a pony”).

He was never less than aware - of himself and others. Knowing your flaws and describing them with such a horrible honesty - that’s real strength of character. His awareness of his insecurity and fragility only made him stronger. His tale isn’t of a man who ended his life early, it’s of someone who kept going for as long as he could, helping others at the same time.

I met him very briefly and I knew I just had to thank him, I had to explain how lucky I felt to have discovered an artist during my middle years who could mean so much to me. I managed to mumble a garbled version of some of what I have written above. I read today, in a lovely tribute on NME.com, that every time someone told him his music had touched them that it meant a lot to him and was in many ways the point of what he was doing. Knowing that, for a moment, I was able to give him something back has brought me comfort today.

If Scott’s passing has affected you, don’t dwell on the details of his death, or probe the sore tooth of contemplating his decision. Just play his music. He spent a lot of time preparing you for difficult times such as these. It was his gift - accept it with grace.