My whole life I have been surprised when art is more transparent than I think it is. If I admire a person’s work then I tend to project onto the creator a sort of aloof mastery, as if technical skill implies utter detachment from the fiction: every first-person narrator a character, and every character held at an amused distance. Which is a myth I think many artists would like to exude about themselves. But then I keep finding out that part of the autobiography is fiction, and the fiction is the autobiography.
There’s so much self-loathing in Frightened Rabbit lyrics. The darker the tone of the loathing, the more I have identified with those lyrics, and held them close. But I didn’t really believe that Scott Hutchison was referring to himself when he sang “I’ve got a voice like a gutter in a toxic storm.” I didn’t think he was actually rejecting his own work when he titled an entire album Pedestrian Verse. He had a beautiful voice and his verse was soaring even when it plunged. He could not have believed the converse about himself, I assumed, not in the face of the evidence.
Now I feel like Minnie Driver in Grosse Point Blank, saying, People joke about the horrible things that they don’t do. They don’t do them. It’s absurd. It is absurd. When I saw that he was a missing person, I thought, oh no, please don’t find him in water. Don’t let my favorite Frightened Rabbit song be a foreshadow. And then I thought, well, the things I guess are never right, so by imagining that course of events I have protected him. This person I don’t know and never met.
The tenth time I typed in his name today to see if they’d found him yet, the news had nothing, but Google suggested that I might try searching for “scott hutchison forth road bridge.”
Part of the reason I keep thinking art is buried in layers of swirling mystery is that I came to popular culture a little late, and music even more so. I take it for granted that everyone else got a head start on understanding it in middle school and I, at 37, have somehow never caught up. I have never felt the same attachment to most of the famously dead musicians that my peers have. But Frightened Rabbit came to me out of spiritus mundi, in a tiny anonymous twitter game I made with my friends, so their music was Mine in a rare way. I can’t count the number of times I have pounded up a Portland hill with my feet matching the drums in “Swim Until You Can’t See Land.” Actually I can count, it’s in iTunes. 68 times. That’s how often my headphones have set my pulse to its beats per minute. That’s how often I have flogged myself onward with its chorus under my breath, demanding, are you a man? Are you a bag of sand?
I’m sorry for not believing you meant what you said, Scott. The pain in Frightened Rabbit songs has been a grounding wire for mine, at times when it built up to the point of danger. I’m sorry none of us could protect you in return.