You probably haven’t heard of Frightened Rabbit, or maybe you have. Though if you haven’t, I’d like to explain to you why they are amazing and why, for certain people, art that is emotionally honest is not just wonderful and pretty and a bevy of other nice, floral sounding words. But I’d like to say that, for some people, art that is emotionally honest can be like a dream catcher for the rotten bits that rest in our psyche.
I’d like to talk to you for a little bit about the things that have been my best friends when I didn’t see them in anyone else and couldn’t, nor wouldn’t, no matter how hard any living, breathing being trying to convince me of something contrary to that fact.
I was first introduced to Frightened Rabbit via an interview with Rainn Wilson. You may know who that is, or you may not. If you don’t, well, he’s Dwight Schrute from “The Office.” He was doing some interview and for some reason he was asked who his favorite bands were.
Out of the names I completely forgot and never even looked up, I plucked out Frightened Rabbit and headed to YouTube to see if they were worth my ten wrinkled bills.
I don’t remember what song I listened to first and I don’t remember exactly when I had decided I’d liked them, but I do remember listening to their sophomore album, “Midnight Organ Fight” on my way to work, in my room, on my headphones, over and over and over.
Scott Hutchison, the band’s leader wrote the album shortly after a bad breakup and the album wreaked of that pain, and of the sting and desperation for closeness thereafter. It would be painfully dumb of me to sprinkle in a bunch of flowery language and describe his lyrics and the yearning within them, but nobody writes desperation the way Hutchinson did.
So, here’s an example:
“Well, we can change our partners / This is a progressive dance but / Remember it was me who dragged you up to the sweaty floor / Well this has been a reel / I’ve got shin-splints and a stitch from we / But like a drunken night it’s the best bits that are coloured in / You should look through some old photos / I adored you in every one of those / If someone took a picture of us now they’d need to be told / That we had ever clung and tied / A navy knot with arms at night. I’d say she was his sister but she doesn’t have his nose.”
If that line about looking through old photos doesn’t get to you then I sincerely envy you. It wrecks me every time I hear it, the way it conjures up the images that tie us to our past failures and the joy forever tarnished.
Or, another example:
“I’m working on drawing a straight line / And I’ll draw until I get one right / It’s bold and dark girl, can’t you see / I’ve done drawn a line between you and me / I’m working on erasing you / Just don’t have the proper tools / I get hammered, forget that you exist / There’s no way I’m forgetting this / I’m working hard on walking out / Shoes keep sticking to the ground / My clothes won’t let me close the door / These trousers seem to love your floor / I’ve been working on my backwards walk / There’s nowhere else for me to go / Except back to you just one last time / Say yes before I change my mind.”
I could post a dozen lyrics from that album and later albums that are as equally brilliant at portraying simply, in earnest and concise language, a pain as well-written as the best literary fiction writer’s prose. Hutchison was brilliant at those little details, those quiet everyday metaphors; the way crumpled pants left on an ex’s floor or old photos cut into the mental images forever burned in our mind that induce avalanches of bittersweet agony.
His later songs were filled with these as well. In possibly their biggest “hit”, “Swim Until You Can’t See Land,” Hutchison finds hope in swimming out, shedding yourself of your past and tossing yourself, much like life, into the harshness of an unforgiving nature.
In “Nitrous Gas,” one of my personal favorites, Hutchison found self-deprecation and growth staring down his aptitude for almost wanting to be depressed. For anybody who suffers or has suffered from some form of depression, the feeling is familiar. Wherein there is a comfort in sadness, because once you’ve made a home in it for a long period of time, that’s exactly what it becomes: a home.
This is where things go from sad to sadder. Cause, you see, this past May marked the one year anniversary of Hutchison’s death. On his sophomore album he spoke about a suicide attempt in which he walked onto the Forth Road Bridge, a bridge connecting Edinburgh to northern Scotland, and nearly jumped, ultimately deciding not to. In May of 2018, he jumped from that very bridge.
This is by no means an attempt by me to glorify Hutchison because he killed himself. That would be dumb. I only mention it because it happened. It doesn’t make him a better artist or a lesser person. It’s simply what happened.
That being said and out of the way, I think that it is in that sharing and understanding someone else’s sadness that makes our own sadness, for some of us, easier to deal with. I myself have spent many, many years being sad and depressed and feeling those feelings that are, fundamentally, universal.
We all feel that way, right? If not for years and years, then for a few hours here and there, for a summer, for a few months after a breakup or after the death of a loved one. It’s an unavoidable aspect of life, sadness.
But there is a bond in knowing that somebody else out there understands the feelings that you do. In fact, there are some theories in psychology that suggest that pain can act as a form of social glue, binding people together.
I myself always found that bond in mopey British rock music, or in movies designed for fellow horn-rimmed glasses wearing depressives. But I also found that there is a bond in sharing those feelings with other people and in accepting the pains of other people.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, writer of “The Great Gatsby” once apparently said, “That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.”
David Foster Wallace wrote, in his encyclopedic novel, “Infinite Jest,” “Everybody is identical in their secret unspoken belief that way deep down they are different from everyone else.”
Scott Hutchison once wrote, in a song about living in the face of death, “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. But while I’m alive, I’ll make tiny changes to earth.”
It’s the idea that life, when boiled down to its barest of elements, is merely just a period of time in which to make some sort of an effect on the people and places around you. To know ultimately that you are a transient piece of flesh marching towards an unknown end, but before that you have the opportunity to do good, if only in little, seemingly inconsequential ways. It is to leave an impact on the world around you.
It’s something that’s always stuck with me, something I’ve been able to relate to. Like all great art, it’s something that makes me feel less alone.