My most prized possession is a small tan poster that hangs on my wall just feet from my bed. It’s a drawing of a long-bearded man with a hat emblazoned with the word “JOHN” in all-caps. But beside him reads “THANKS MAN! Scott” in scribbled handwriting.
It was given to me by Scott Hutchison, frontman of Scottish indie rock outfit Frightened Rabbit, after his solo show on October 14, 2014, at the Bell House in Gowanus, Brooklyn. He was performing under his Owl John moniker, and had just come off the stage, sweaty and multiple whiskeys deep, making a point to talk to every fan that came up to him. I held back at first, too nervous to approach my favorite lyricist of all time. Never mind the fact that I had interviewed him a few weeks prior. I couldn’t move a muscle.
Finally swallowing the lumps in my throat, I mentioned that it had, in fact, been my voice on the phone. Before I could finish my sentence, his face lit up and he gave me a giant hug, thanking me profusely, mentioning that he could tell that I “gave a shit.” After a minute or two, I encouraged him to talk to the others in the growing line behind me. He told me to meet him backstage for some wine.
I was dumbfounded. One of my favorite musicians wanted to hang out with me? I couldn’t believe it.
We ended up over at Mission Dolores for a few more drinks and I remember almost feeling let down by how normal he was. The guy who had written The Midnight Organ Fight — still my favorite album of all time — just wanted to talk about burritos and his girlfriend. But more importantly, at some point in our mutual drunken haze, he told me to keep pursuing writing, saying that my piece on him was one of his favorites.
At that point in my life, I was very recently unemployed, and had yet to be paid a single cent for my words. Scott Hutchison gave me the confidence to keep pushing to make it as a writer, no matter how difficult and scary it seemed then. Without him, I doubt I’d be writing these words today.
I interviewed Scott twice more over the next few years, most recently about the tenth anniversary tour of The Midnight Organ Fight, which hit the Bowery Ballroom and Music Hall of Williamsburg in late February of this year. In that conversation, I asked him the same question I had asked him twice before, one that I designed especially with him in mind almost a decade earlier: “How do you manage to sing these ultra-personal songs night after night in front of hundreds, if not thousands, of people?”
This time Scott gave me a variation of the answer he’d given me before: “Who is the protagonist? It’s not me. It’s going to be them. It’s their life. They projected their lives to these songs and that makes me very proud that a song can be specific, yet universal enough that it can allow people to walk into their own experience. Yes, they’re singing these lyrics that are personal to me, but they are not considering my life too much.”
That is why every tribute written about Scott’s passing feels so deeply intimate; his brutally honest and strikingly heartfelt lyrics soundtracked our lives, got us through our worst breakups, and pulled us out of our lowest lows when we needed something, anything, to grasp on to. It’s why it’s nearly impossible to write about Frightened Rabbit without first mentioning some random memory we associate with their music.
And Scott’s been there for me for years. He was there when my freshman year roommate first played me “My Backwards Walk” in the dorms. He was there when my friend Jenna died, and our mutual friend Travis and I listened to “Poke” in silence while driving back from a concert a couple of weeks after the funeral. He was there when my friend Elli left Berkeley to study abroad in Scotland for a year, and I’d play “Scottish Winds” each time I knew she was tuning in to my college radio show. He was there when I was terrified and left my native Bay Area and moved to the East Coast, listening to “Swim Until You Can’t See Land” on the flight to calm me down. He was there when I was broken up with for the first time in New York, using his “All is not lost” refrain on “State Hospital” to get me through it.
He was there for me then, and I know he’ll be there for me in the future. He’ll be there for all of us in the future.
I’ll never hear his voice again on the other end of a phone call, never again get a sweaty hug from one of the few musicians I felt like I could call a friend. But some kid experiencing his or her first heartbreak will find The Midnight Organ Fight and it’ll show them that they’re not alone. Because, for as personal and specific as Hutchison’s lyrics were, they are universal and applicable to all of us, no matter what we’re going through.
In his song, “Head Rolls Off,” Scott sang, “While I’m alive, I’ll make tiny changes to Earth.” He made colossal changes to my personal world, influencing my career and life in ways I didn’t think possible for a musician from halfway across the world. And for that, all I can say is “THANKS MAN!”
If you or someone you love is in need of help, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. It is free, operated 24/7, and provides confidential support for people in crisis.