I’m struggling to understand why I’m so emotional about the death of man I never knew and whose music I only encountered occasionally. If I am completely honest, I’m not struggling with why. I’m struggling to explain it and struggling mightily with the need to bleed it out into words from me to you.
Last night, the body of Scott Hutchison was found in the Firth of Forth – an inlet that brushes up beside Edinburgh and leads out to the North Sea. Scott was the singer and songwriter for Frightened Rabbit, a Scottish band I was introduced to by one of my best friends, Billy Crawford. The music was evocative and catchy and deep and I connected to it for reasons I didn’t really understand. Maybe initially the connection was simply because it meant something to a friend. Then Billy sent me a video of “Scottish Winds”. It’s a song that captures the fierce pride of my family heritage.
Come gather in my lungs Scottish wind
Belt out your blackest poems
As the sea around you sings
When that drone takes to the air
A single note to raise my hair
Carry songs beyond my lungs
Cold Scottish wind
In a single verse Scott tells a story that has lived within me since I was a wee’un, when the drone of the pipes was the only thing that would silence my sick and tired infant soul.
Since I heard that song, I’ve been a fan. I’ve followed their releases, downloaded their music and tried, unsuccessfully, to see them in concert. On Wednesday, Scott’s bandmates sent out an urgent message for him to come home and for others to watch out for him, “He may be in a fragile state and may not be making the best decisions for himself right now.”
That, more than beautiful Celtic melodies and passionate appeals to my ancestry, got my attention. If you’ve read through my musings here, you know I’ve suffered from depression in the past. These days I feel as if I’ve conquered it for the most part. Sure, some days the black dog is scratching at the door but when he does, I turn up the music, turn on the computer, belt out the words, belt out the paragraphs and eventually, he goes away. It wasn’t always that way. In fact, on one day in particular I stood, much as I assume Scott must’ve done, at the edge of some dark billowy waves. I’ve never told this story but knowing that the world has lost another tortured, beautiful soul, maybe it’s time.
One of the things that depression does is coax you into isolation. You can fight and tear away at the walls but that takes strength and the black dog weakens you. Often it’s easier just to give in and leave the walls to stand against the world. On this day, my friend Ron had come by and convinced me to get out of bed and make an effort. With his help I battered away at the walls and walked out. That day we talked about music and my band and he helped me come up with a strategy. The first thing I’d do was use my connections to accomplish something for me and for my band. It was just a blues band that played small gigs but when we did, it lifted my spirits and Ron knew it. Rehearsals were the hard part and I often let the band down, leaving them in a lurch. But they were patient. Ron had seen us play and together we formed a plan.
I arranged for the band to appear on Breakfast Television; partly to thank the band for its patience and partly to promote the band, play more, and keep the black dog at bay. So I booked the show. We got up in the middle of the night, piled into a van and drove to Toronto. We arrived at the studio, loaded in and awaited soundcheck. But something wasn’t quite right. The floor manager was whispering to somebody else and looking our way. As it turned out, I had the dates wrong. We were actually scheduled for the next day’s spot. I begged and pleaded with the band that WAS scheduled and they rightly refused to give up their spot. My band was furious with me. Some had taken time from work. Others had rearranged plans. Friends and family were getting up early to watch. Now, none of that would happen. No TV, embarrassing explanations and on top of it all, we had to bail on our original commitment because not everyone was available the next day.
As I write those words, I realize how trivial it all really was. It wasn’t life or death. And yet, it felt like that because my mental health was compromised. I packed my kit into the van and then went round to the driver, “I’m staying here.”
“Yep, I’m not going home with you guys. I’ll get a ride or something. Have to work this out.”
“Yep. I’ll call once I have this resolved.”
I had no intention of resolving it. No resolution was really possible. We wouldn’t get another shot (we actually did) and my band was probably going to dump me (they didn’t).
As I left the studio, the black clouds were gathering inside and invading every corner of my thought process; refusing to give way to the light. I walked and walked until I reached Queens Quay in Toronto. I had a friend who lived nearby. I stood at a phone booth and thought about calling him….but how could I admit this colossal screw up? This was before cell phones so I certainly couldn’t call Ron. Instead I walked to the water and found a quiet and unattended pier. I stood staring into the black, rolling surface of Lake Ontario. The sun had only peaked out from the horizon and the day had barely begun. I was alone. I stepped over the fencing and leaned back against it. I could feel the frigid air rising up from the water. It was early May and while the sky was warm, ice had only been gone from the lake for a few weeks. I thought about how cold it would feel enveloping me. I would probably just start swimming, get numb, give in and drift down. Nobody around to save me. This would be best. I stood in that same place for what felt like hours contemplating the only end I could see. The only end the black dog allowed me to see. Around me I could hear the city beginning to wake up and somewhere through the sticky tar of depression, I was reminded of another day; a day in my youth when life was full of promise. On THAT day Ron and I had walked through my hometown at dawn watching an entire town come alive and reach out into a new day. I had seen beauty back then. Beauty in the commonplace. Beauty in friendship. It felt as if life was stretched out before me. That one, single fading memory of life, love and friendship saved me. It woke me up somehow and I stepped back over the fence. I walked for a few more hours before finally catching a bus home.
I was lucky and perhaps not as deeply affected by depression as Scott Hutchison or the hundreds of others who give in to the blackness.
I don’t know if it helps for others to understand that you can rise above it and you can keep the black dog away from the door. I DO know that without friends, in isolation, it’s easier to allow yourself to be swallowed up.
If you know somebody that is suffering – don’t give up on them. Reach out even if they don’t or won’t engage. Keep reaching, keep talking, keep loving. It helps even if it feels like it doesn’t. It gets through even if it feels like the walls are impenetrable. It can save someone even if it feels like they are beyond redemption. Even if you’re two hundred miles away.
And thank you in advance, Scottish wind……
And the whisper to my mouth, soft Scottish winds
Just enough to say I love you
To the girl who keeps me sane
Take the stupid things I've said
Blow them miles and miles away
Thank you in advance, Scottish wind
Thank you in advance, Scottish wind