Photo credit SNS Group / Paul Devlin
Gwyn and I spent the summer of 2009 at a camp in Northern California, surrounded by giant redwood trees. I spent the summer of 2009 in the throes of anxiety attacks and quick-flash, blinking panics. I spent the summer discovering new music in the cover of night, too unsettled to sleep, too brittle to relax. One night, I committed myself to finally falling asleep and searched for an album to bring me some peace. I pressed play on an album called The Midnight Organ Fight by a band called Frightened Rabbit.
The record calmed me. But I still fought with a deep uncertainty, the kind that settled into my bones and wiggled into my identity—a deep uncertainty around my worth and value and design. I felt it all summer long, and that night particularly. The album weaved toward its penultimate song, “Floating in the Forth,” and as the last few chords faded away, I knew I was going to make it. I knew all would, eventually (maybe even a long eventually), be well. I played the song through once more and cried through the whole thing, feeling this strange amalgam of joy and sorrow and catharsis that I’ve never experienced again, at least not as viscerally.
I fell asleep.
Almost nine years later, on May 9, 2018, I saw the news that Scott Hutchison, lead vocalist and guitarist for Frightened Rabbit, was missing in his native Scotland. He’d sent out two worrying tweets and disappeared. Twelve hours passed, then twenty-four. On May 10 police found a body in a marina on the banks of the Firth of Forth. On May 11 they confirmed that body was Scott’s.
The Midnight Organ Fight resonated so clearly with me that night in 2009 and every day since because its heart-bared vulnerability and honesty named things in me that I didn’t feel comfortable naming. It’s technically a break-up album, and though I was at the beginning of a new love and not wrecked by the end of a relationship, the way Scott’s lyrics wrestled with the insecurities plaguing him post break-up shattered my assumption that I couldn’t (or shouldn’t) articulate the depths of my own despair. Frightened Rabbit’s albums after The Midnight Organ Fight have the same ethos, if not the same content. In every case, Scott’s words beautifully lay bare the effects of depression and anxiety and heartbreak. As Marc Hogan says in a piece for Pitchfork, “Scott Hutchison mined the abyss and brought back a glimmer of hope.”
Not so long ago, back in February 2018, Gwyn and I saw Frightened Rabbit play through The Midnight Organ Fight on their tenth anniversary tour of that album’s release. The performance captured, I think, the deep beauty in public and communal honesty. When it came time for “Floating in the Forth,” the sold-out crowd sang along with Scott: “I think I’ll save suicide for another year!” I fought back tears. This mess of humanity, each person wrecked by their own frailties, resolved to choose life and light, at least for the moment.
That resolve abandoned Scott Hutchison. In the days following his death, I felt more emotionally and mentally fragile than I have in a long time. Scott’s music routinely brought me light and life, and I was (and am) devastated by the dark that ultimately consumed him. The dark that consumes too many.
Two days after Scott’s death was confirmed, I preached a sermon from the Beatitudes, which begin, of course, with this: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” I’m convicted by the fact that Jesus’ blessing here has no prerequisite. Blessed ARE the poor in spirit, those who are poor in spirit already, who feel death in their heart now, who can’t shake darkness. If that’s you, the grace of God meets you in that place. If that’s not you, you know someone who is there. Be with them.
I’m a Christian. I’m not sure if Scott was, but the songs he wrote and performed with Frightened Rabbit communicated more than some divine grace to me, and to countless others, I’m sure. So thank you Scott, for your words and for your life. I’m so sorry it ended this way. Rest in total peace.
Brad Zwiers (’12) graduated from Calvin College in 2012 and Western Theological Seminary in 2015. He will not be graduating from any more schools. He often stares at books he wishes he could read but knows he will not finish and goes for long walks with his wife, Gwyn. Sometimes he plays basketball and always he follows the greatest sporting club in the world, Liverpool F.C.