Ill but not dead: The art of resilience

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The first time I ever listened to Frightened Rabbit was the week before my college graduation. I’d said some goodbyes, but there were plenty more to come. As I desperately tried to navigate my emotional state, I hit play on a song that somebody had posted from a band I had never heard of. Listening to it as I scrolled through my feed, I came across the news — Scott Hutchison, lead singer of the band I was listening to, Frightened Rabbit, had died.

The song was “The Oil Slick” and in it Hutchison claims that only an idiot would swim through the shit he writes. This line wholly captures the heart of his music. At turns self-deprecating and self-dismissive, the songs are also fiercely defiant of this hopelessness. While Hutchison claims his writing is shit, there is also the, perhaps unintentional, reminder that since these songs are about life, the shit is inevitable. Maybe there are days where you feel like an idiot swimming through life. So we’re all idiots — there are worse things to be.

“There is light but there’s a tunnel to crawl through,” Hutchison finishes the song. “Still got hope,” he sings, “so I think we’ll be fine / In these disastrous times.” I think we’ll be fine.

This sentiment is not certain and it is not confident but it is more comforting than countless other platitudes I’ve heard when I’m at my lowest. It is an acknowledgement of what it’s like to be in that dark, lonely place — when you’re not even capable of believing that better exists, let alone whether or not you will ever see it. In those moments, sometimes the best you can do is believe in the maybe.

As I delved deeper into the band’s discography in that first week, I came across “Head Rolls Off.” In the chorus Hutchison notes that when his “blood stops, someone else’s will not.” It is haunting to hear Hutchison almost prophetically declare that regardless of what happens to him, others will continue on.

I know a lot of artists have mournful songs that would seem even more meaningful if listened to in the context of their passing. But Hutchison’s songs are different. They aren’t just about sadness; they are about depression. And I’ve listened to little else in the past month — I haven’t wanted to.

You could argue whether Hutchison’s music tends more toward despair or hope, but it’s impossible, and missing the point. You shouldn’t try to separate the two.

Part of me wonders if it’s possible to have one without the other (it’s easy to wish it was). Life is devastating, he sings, but I’m here anyway, and so are you. Maybe suffering and healing leave us feeling isolated or cause us to isolate ourselves, or maybe both, but we can at least take comfort in knowing that we are not alone in this loneliness.

The isolation inherent to depression is a nasty thing. In “The Loneliness and the Scream,” Hutchison asks, “I have fallen in the forest / Did you hear me?” And even more unsure — “Am I here?” Ultimately, the song never sheds its loneliness, but it holds on to the existence of a communal heart that will go on beating.

Hutchison’s lyrics are always shockingly, almost painfully, vulnerable. In “I Wish I Was Sober” he begrudgingly admits to his lover that the best of him left hours ago. Many of his songs are far from hopeful, as he details turning to substances and sex to dull the ache. These songs are not coming from the perspective of somebody who has seen the worst of life and managed to get through it. They are coming from someone who has seen the worst of life and is desperately afraid that is all there is — but despite that, they are still choosing to go forward.

Listen, slogging through the shit every day can be incredibly demoralizing. Some days you keep going because it is simply the thing to do. Some days doing even that seems hollow and pointless — but you do it anyway.

“Head Rolls Off” closes with Hutchison declaring that while he’s alive, he’ll “make tiny changes to earth”. The world is overwhelmingly shitty right now, and in the face of all of this it can be really hard to hold on to the commitment to getting better. And I guess, more than anything, that’s why I’ve taken refuge in Frightened Rabbit’s music. Because in this music, I’ve found someone who managed to decide that though “the perfect place may never exist” and “the perfect time might be years and years away” they still wanted to stick around.

Contact Danielle Hilborn at [email protected].