The ‘Tiny Changes’ of Frightened Rabbit Frontman Scott Hutchison (RIP)
Tiny changes. Simple enough as two words strung together: very small, alterable instances. Seemingly insignificant when compared to the vastness of the earth, let alone universe, but not so much if you think about chaos theory and the butterfly effect.
Regardless, this idea is usually a back-burner thought in our lives, as we muddle through the day-to-day kalidescope of activities and emotions that make us each unique. That is, unless you’re a Frightened Rabbit fan. Tiny changes – in those two plain words an entire fan base was given a rudder to steer through all the messes of life. It’s a microcosm for Frightened Rabbit’s entire catalog, offering support and hope in the bleakest of moments.
The particular lyric is found in “Heads Roll Off” from Frightened Rabbit’s sophomore smash The Midnight Organ Fight. The song is about life’s darkest uncertainty, death, but Scott Hutchison delivers with a reassuring shrug.
When it’s all gone, something carries on
And it’s not morbid at all
Just when natures 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
Little did Scott know (or maybe he did) just how many incredible tiny changes he was making, when he and brother Grant formed Frightened Rabbit. Life can be raw, awkward, soul crushing at times, even in the joyous moments, and what Frightened Rabbit created was the certainty that you were not alone in them. Not in an uplifting, preachy way, either; it was more a wincing in agreement. It’s real empathy for your personal situation miraculously delivered through your speakers. It reverberates in their live performances and echoes in our minds long after the earworms have subsided. Some critics harp on the dark, depressing nature of Frightened Rabbit’s lyrics, but they’re not looking closely – every song, bleak as it may be, is ultimately saying, “while I breathe, I hope.” What could be more powerful than that? And in this, they encouraged fans to make and recognize these tiny changes to earth.
One such “tiny change” happened in the early summer of 2009. I had been writing for a music blog called Radio Exile for awhile, and, growing up a tomboy, was delighted in being the only female in a staff of seven or so writers. Mostly in our mid-twenties, and scattered around the northeast, we conversed pretty much through email and Gchat. I loved them like brothers. Along came the Siren Music Festival at Coney Island. A few of the writers were thinking about going. I agreed to drive down from Boston, but was honestly more interested in seeing Frightened Rabbit, who was on the bill, play a show next to a rollercoaster (the Cyclone) – I had never been to Coney! I had seen FR for the first time a few months before, in a cozy bar in Allston, and was lucky enough to hang around and exchange banter with Scott and Andy following their emotionally charged set. Anyway, my best friend, living in Brooklyn, insisted on coming along with me to Coney – it was when meeting people from the internet was still a bit weird.
Only two guys from Radio Exile showed up to Siren that day, but one of them was getting a side project off the ground, covering news and lifestyle happenings on the Lower East Side for a website he called Bowery Boogie. A year or so later, he eventually wore me down and I started writing for him. I can’t help but think there’s something poignant in Frightened Rabbit being the first of many concerts that I’d see with one of my now closest friends, and that because of that day and that show, I was able to interview my favorite band’s frontman, and ten years later I have a place to express this unimaginable heartbreak in his passing.
And maybe that’s too personal of an example. Maybe it’s irrelevant. Maybe it’s awkward to be writing this – cathartic ramblings. But maybe I could instead make it even more awkward and delve into how Frightened Rabbit helped me survive a year of unexpected, excruciating, “afraid to drive my car five minutes down the road, let alone four hours to New York” anxiety brought on by medical stuff (the anxiety ended up being the far worse outcome, for the record). I tried everything to “fix” it – read countless books, medicine, tried to explain it to perplexed but sympathetic friends and family – the only true relief I found was woven in between Frightened Rabbit’s lyrics. Without those five albums, I might still be living in that cyclical nightmare.
I’m saying all of this because I can’t not convey these personal things, and at the same time honor the life of Scott Hutchison. Scott’s songwriting was paramount in saying, “It’s okay to be weird. Nobody knows what the hell they’re doing with relationships, sex, faith, emotions, mental illness – it’s complicated and uncomfortable, so let’s just air it out in all of its fucked up glory.” We are indeed all in need of that “human heat” he often sang about – that connection to others, the ability to breathe amid our struggles. Ask any Frabbit fan and they’ll be able to give you a similar account of how their music has helped them through at least one “something” in their life.
I was talking to one of my friends (and fellow Frabbit fan), saying how it feels weird to feel this devastated over someone I barely knew. She replied, “That’s the crazy thing about music. You hear their lyrics and you get a really intimate understanding of the musician who made them. It creates this odd closeness, even though you’ve never met. Especially when music is so relatable and beautiful.” I couldn’t agree more. Over the course of ten years, I’ve been lucky to see Frightened Rabbit over half-dozen times, but it hasn’t occurred to me until now how powerful these tiny changes brought about by music can be. They can result in incredible transformations and life experiences. They can save you in so many ways. One small act of love or a glimmer of hope is all that it takes.
Embedded in Scott’s send off, while difficult to absorb, is a hopeful rally cry in which we should all take heart: “Be so good to everyone you love. It’s not a given. I’m so annoyed that it’s not. I didn’t live by that standard and it kills me. Please, hug your loved ones.”
In these final words is all the spark that is needed to continue making tiny changes to Earth.
My deepest sympathies to Scott’s family, friends, Frightened Rabbit and Mastersystem.
If you’re hurting, please talk to someone – you matter.
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