KEXP is celebrating our 50th anniversary this year, and we're looking back at the last half-century of music. Each week in 2022, KEXP pays homage to a different year, and our writers are commemorating a song from that year that resonates with them. This week, KEXP's Jasmine Albertson looks back at Frightened Rabbit's song "Old Old Fashioned," mourns the tragic loss of frontman Scott Hutchison in 2018, and recounts her own struggles with suicide in the past.
A quick warning: This story deals with suicide. There are resources to help you with mental health at kexp.org/mentalhealth.
It’s 4 am and I’m sobbing over the death of Scott Hutchison. It’s been four years since the singer died by suicide and when listening back to Frightened Rabbit’s music, especially their earlier records, you hear a man warning us of his own struggles with mental health and what would eventually become his demise. He was blatant, visceral, and vulnerable in his songwriting in a way that touched people and made them feel less alone
Frightened Rabbit’s 2008 record The Midnight Organ Fight is primarily a record about a toxic on-again-off-again relationship in which two people can’t let each other go but desperately need to. Unlike many other sad-sack records of this era, Hutchison’s partner isn’t the villain. The antagonist is solely Hutchison himself and the demons that plague his brain. The opening track “The Modern Leper” explores this perfectly with, “You must be a masochist /To love a modern leper like me.”
You may be surprised at the choice of “Old Old Fashioned,” when songs like “The Modern Leper,” “Good Arms Vs Bad Arms,” “My Backwards Walk,” and “Keep Yourself Warm” are usually considered the highlights of The Midnight Organ Fight but what I love about this song is that it’s the brief moment of optimism on the record. Perhaps they can work it out, if they can just go back and find the love between them. He can imagine a life without depression, or at least one where it subsides long enough to push back the coffee table back and dance around the room.
That’s the thing about depression, it comes in waves. Especially for us manic types, the lows are very low and highs are just as high, even if they’re fleeting.
I remember a few days after I consumed a large number of random pills from a dorm neighbor’s cabinet in a very hacked job at trying to end things for myself my freshman year of college and earning myself the esteemed position of the dorm’s resident “crazy girl” for the rest of the year, my mom asked me how I was doing and I said, “Great.”
She didn’t understand and it actually angered her that I could just bounce from one feeling to another so quickly. It was tough to explain. I knew it was only short-lived and circumstantial that I was feeling good. I was happy to see my dad, who had flown down to Arizona the moment he found out I was in the hospital due to a suicide attempt. I also hadn’t actually ended up seriously hurting myself which, to my surprise, I felt some relief about. But I knew it wasn’t over.
“Old Old Fashioned” sees Hutchison in one of these brief reprieves. I find it interesting that his version of optimism and looking forward in “Old Old Fashioned” is to look backward. People who deal with depression aren’t often in the present, and nostalgia tends to be both a beacon and a block against living our best lives. If we could just get back to how things used to be, then everything would be okay.
The Midnight Organ Fight came out almost a year after my, thankfully, botched attempt at exiting this mortal realm, and, for me, it was a welcome friend. Finally, someone had put into words the very complex emotions of feeling like a complete piece of shit and undeserving of or unable to continue taking up space in this plane of existence but with a level of self-awareness that, until that point, I hadn’t heard.
My first exposure to music that wasn’t the spoon-fed Christian or modern pop was emo and pop-punk, and in those songs, the protagonist’s reason for feeling sad was typically a scorned love scenario. “She did this to me and now I’m sad,” sort of mentality. But with Frightened Rabbit, Hutchison made it clear that his enemy wasn’t anyone but himself and his own demons. This inward awareness helped to shine a light on the internal succubus consuming my own mind.
Now that it’s been fifteen years since that ludicrous night when I got wheeled out of my dorm in a gurney for all to see, I listen to The Midnight Organ Fight differently. I resonate more with the storyline of fitful toxic romances where you keep finding your clothes on the floor of the room you never should’ve entered rather than lines like “I’m not ill but I’m not dead /And I don’t know which of these I prefer” and the heartbreakingly foretelling line “I think I’ll save suicide for another day,” off penultimate track “Floating in the Forth.”
The honesty and darkness laid bare are why this record has continued to resonate with legions of loyal fans, despite much fanfare upon its release. Even when Hutchison is crass and juvenile in his depictions of love and sex, he gets away with it. Not just because of his clever wordplay but by speaking to something deeper inside us. The parts we don’t want to acknowledge – despondence towards life and desire for love. An overwhelming doubt that things will ever get better.
I just wish he’d believed they would. Because they did for me.
Find mental health resources at kexp.org/mentalhealth.
Each week, we’re picking a year from the last half-century to remember that moment in music. This week, we’re celebrating the year 2019. KEXP’s Dusty Henry reflects on how Helado Negro’s “Two Lucky” guided him through grief and new beginnings.
KEXP is celebrating our 50th anniversary this year, and we're looking back at the last half-century of music. Each week, KEXP pays homage to a different year. This week, KEXP's Janice Headley looks back at the Blonde Redhead song "Equus" and the life-threatening accident that inspired it.