Music for Mourning: The Heartbreak of Losing Your Favorite Artist [Kyle Bylin]
Long-time Hypebot contributor Kyle Bylin reflects on the death of his favorite lead singer and lyric writer, Scott Hutchison of indie rock band Frightened Rabbit. He says, "Hutchison described the struggles of finding love and meaning in adulthood in a way I related to more than any other artist. He didn’t just write songs about ex-girlfriends and past breakups but explained exactly what the experience of heartbreak feels like instead."
By Kyle Bylin | @kylebylin
A haunting, familiar voice echoes within my apartment walls.
As I listen to the music pouring out of my Sonos speaker, I realize my favorite lead singer and lyric writer, Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit, will never perform this song again.
When I first read that Hutchison went missing, it saddened me. I hoped he'd be found and that his disappearance would be a huge misunderstanding. I hoped he'd crack a joke about this incident—the “bender” that went sideways—at future shows for years to come.
“Do you remember that time I went missing?” he’d ask the crowd with a wicked smile. “I dropped my phone. The screen shattered. It wouldn’t turn on. No one could get ahold of me.”
Everyone laughs out loud, nervously, looking around the venue.
“Apparently, if you don’t text someone back instantly. They’ll think you’re dead,” he’d jest. “I guess people were worried about me. Here’s a song about that night. I hope that you enjoy it!”
Sadly, that's not what happened, and no one is laughing.
I thought I'd have more opportunities to see Hutchison sing my favorite songs. I didn't know the concert I attended five years ago at Avalon would be my last show. I suppose everyone feels this way when a person they love dies all of the sudden. We start wishing we would've known the last time we saw them would be the last. We would’ve stayed more present and savored each moment.
However, Hutchison isn’t a family member or close friend of mine. He's a singer I've been hearing through my headphones for a decade now. I watched Frightened Rabbit perform live a few times while I lived in Los Angeles, but I didn’t feel like I knew him or even that I wanted to know him.
I just loved the sound of his voice and the emotion captured in his lyrics.
Hutchison described the struggles of finding love and meaning in adulthood in a way I related to more than any other artist. He didn’t just write songs about ex-girlfriends and past breakups but explained exactly what the experience of heartbreak feels like instead. He captured the moment when it feels like water fills up your lungs and only that person can save you, but they aren't there. He shared what it’s like to be broken inside and still attempt to function in this world.
Currently, most popular songs are simplified and generalized to the point where anyone could relate a lyric back to their life in some way. What people relate to is the familiar sentiment of falling in love, missing someone, or breaking up and feeling depressed instead of what the words actually say or mean. The lyrics lack the nuance, depth, and real emotion necessary to convince someone the singer wrote the words and feels them in their bones. Hutchison had the unique ability to capture the darker thoughts that transpire when a relationship fractures.
In Frightened Rabbit’s song “Good Arms vs. Bad Arms,” for example, my favorite lyric is “I might not want you back, but I want to kill him.” This rings true to thoughts I've had when I've felt heartbroken in the months following a breakup when the person I loved posts Facebook photos with someone new. I thought to myself, as Hutchinson sings in the song, that exact line.
Many Frightened Rabbit songs have this unique quality to them. They describe the lessons Hutchison learned while lighting himself on fire and trying to put out the flames. During a relationship or after a breakup, you can participate in certain situations you know aren't good for your mental health or won't lead to positive results, but you still touch the fire and feel the warmth of that person one more time. You hurt yourself, knowingly, because you still love that person.
When the news broke that Hutchison died, people shared stories online about how his music impacted them. They mourned the loss of new songs that would never be heard and seeing him perform live, but they also cried for the memories of their past selves and their struggles.
Friends and family read the posts and skim the content, but they don’t understand the full scope of what the music meant. They may listen to the melody and hear the vocals, but they can’t feel how those words resonated within someone hearing them for the first time. They can’t see the mental movie screen of memories that plays alongside the music.
In my twenties, I devoured Hutchison’s suffering because it mirrored my own. I saw myself in his image and realized I wasn’t alone. When he died, I lost the person who made me feel understood and less alone in the world—the person who penned the soundtrack to my life and empowered me to sing every word of “The Woodpile” at the top of my lungs.
Hutchison’s passing reminded me that death will take all the people I love. It’ll take my family and friends. It’ll take my favorite artists and authors, too.
As Steve Jobs once said, “Death is the destination that we all share.”
How am I supposed to live a normal life knowing anyone could die at any moment in a freak accident, or come down with a sickness, or decide they don't want to live anymore?
I wish with all of my heart that Scott Hutchison could have lived a long life filled with moments of joy and laughter with his family and friends. That he could've made peace with his demons, fallen in love, gotten married, fathered children, and formed a kindie band with his brother Grant.
I don’t want to hear more albums and songs about the crippling sadness of breakups and the numbing effects of depression if my favorite artist takes their own life in the end.
I thought we had a sort of mutual agreement; he experiences life and translates it into art, and I listen to those songs and relate to his words. Now, I feel uneasy about the idea that I played his saddest songs and that his struggles led him to take his own life.
When I listen to Hutchison’s songs now, they sound like a suicide note. It feels like my friend told me they were going to kill themselves for a decade, and I didn't believe them or just thought they were having a hard time. Then, they actually did it. They’re gone.
Both my favorite singers, Hutchison and Chester Bennington, committed suicide. I’ve spent years of my life listening to their cries, thinking that they were fine, that their music is only art.
But no one is immune to depression.
What made you feel happy and fulfilled one day can leave you empty and numb the next. You can lay next to someone you used to love and feel nothing inside, not knowing why the light inside burned out. Your colorful world turns gray. You transform into a zombie-like caricature: alive on the outside, but dead on the inside and walking mindlessly through life.
Frightened Rabbit’s songs reflect the darkest parts of us that we attempt to hide. All of our worries and fears that bubble beneath the surface and boil over from time to time. The songs capture the essence of what it’s like to walk through a city and feel totally alone while longing for connection.
I still find myself listening to Hutchison’s saddest songs and trying to understand my own emotions. Even after his death, I look to his music to help me understand how I feel.
Kyle Bylin is the author of Song Stories: Music That Shaped Our Identities and Changed Our Lives. You can read an excerpt from the essay collection here.