The day police confirmed they had recovered the body of Frightened Rabbit singer and songwriter Scott Hutchison, I was celebrating my 40th birthday in the Highlands of Scotland. It felt like a strange coincidence, that here I was, celebrating making it this far in life, while maybe a day before and just on the other side of this foreign island, Hutchison was apparently ending his own. I had made it about four years longer than he did.
I recognize that harping on this connection is vanity, but the coincidence of the two events in time and place made it an even sadder thing to me for some reason. Of course, it was sad for anyone who knew the band, although not nearly as much as it was for his bandmates, peers, and family who have been no doubt suffering since.
It also wasn't entirely surprising. Hutchison's lyrics and life pointed to a troubled existence of depression, anxiety, and panic, conditions I and many others have struggled with, although in my case to a lesser extent. A lot of writers and musicians as a kind of tribute have pointed out the Hutchison song that meant the most to them. For me, although it's kind of an obvious choice as one of their bigger singles, that song is "Swim Until You Can't See Land," from The Winter of Mixed Drinks. It was in heavy rotation in my apartment when the band released it in 2010, and occasionally playing in the back of my head ever since.
I was thinking about the lyrics and realizing that this might seem like a ghoulish song to highlight after his death, since it arguably narrates a drowning in the North Sea, which ended up not far from Hutchison's actual demise. His body was found near Port Edgar, at the estuary that feeds into the North Sea outside of Edinburgh.
But like a lot of his songs, "Swim Until You Can't See Land" is ambiguous, full of conflicting sentiments (it's the North Sea of his mind, remember). To me, it's a song that bundles up steely persistence, hope, isolation, and resignation, all in a comforting melody and guitar riff. When Hutchison sings, "All I have is a body adrift in water, salt and sky," it feels simultaneously like a celebration of life's simplicity beyond personal struggle, and an acceptance of its pointlessness. However you hear it, it still feels good to me, like an extended hand. Hutchison was an ally for a lot of people, and he will be missed.