There are very few things I know for certain in this world after nearly 40 years here: love is rare and should be cherished where you find it. Sleep is just as lovely as it is dangerous. The right songs can not only bring us to tears, but help keep us alive.
And that’s why I’m writing this, after multiple days of difficult mental health: when I’m having trouble, one of my go-to artists helps me to both cry out some energy and remind me that the world isn’t as bad as my brain chemistry is telling me it is. Even if the music that saved me makes me sad.
Even if the music couldn’t save its creator.
Back in 2013, I was a wreck. Not only was I single, not only had my immediate family all finished moving far enough away I couldn’t visit without a plane ticket, but I had just come off of over a year being unemployed. More than that, I was back on minimum wage–less than I was given on my dwindling unemployment checks–and working a dead-end job in a slowly-dying retail giant. Rent was barely paid, food was ramen and boxed mac and cheese, and anything else was a luxury I was rarely afforded.
So when I saw that my favorite band, Frightened Rabbit, was playing in San Francisco and for a ticket price I could scrape together (a printout of my ticket I still have today), I jumped at the chance. Being a band from Scotland, they did tour, but not too many places in the United States; thankfully, my home turf was in that small list of tour dates. And $30 may not sound like a lot for some indie band from Great Britain, but buying it and taking that half-day off work added up, and that’s before taking the train into the city (which was half the ticket price again). It was tough; on short notice I was able to find the way. And I’m so glad I did.
The entire way there I thought about what I’d thought about for the previous year-plus of my life. Money was tight. Family seemed to be everywhere I wasn’t. I wasn’t in a good place even for the handful of friendships I did have around me. That ticket was a slim ray of sunshine that I could hold on to in those dark days of my darkest period.
And what a ray it was. Frightened Rabbit may be my favorite band ever, but for hard, beautiful, heartbreaking, empowering reasons. Their lead singer, Scott Hutchison, had been open about his demons and troubles through songs; heartbreak and frustration though “Nothing Like You”. Alcohol addiction through “I Wish I Was Sober”. A rallying cry through “The Loneliness and the Scream“. Scott’s writing grabbed my heartstrings when I needed to connect to something. I’ve always appreciated good poetry, especially when I can connect the sensations conjured into what I really need in the moment.
I was fourth in line to get in the door. I got there early, couldn’t risk being too far back in the crowd. Music had always been a deeply personal thing for me, so being in the center of the crowd would only put me on edge and distract from what I needed from the band, the connection I was looking for and didn’t know needed finding. Being so early, I wasn’t “in the crowd”; I was in front of literally everyone else. Anyone who got up for a beer, buy a t-shirt, use the bathroom (it’s amazing how long a human can go without “going”, I have learned), the space they would otherwise take up helped me gradually find the front guard rail. The only thing between me and my favorite band was about 5 feet of security gap, and the height of the stage.
Exactly two pictures were taken with my blurry pre-2013 cell phone camera. Both of them were of the stage, between when their opening act the Augustines were moving their things and the double-line cross set pieces of FR were place behind their instruments. Maybe it was a different time, but I wasn’t interested in so many pictures. I didn’t need them. I needed the experience I was about to receive. I needed the sound, the screech of guitars and pounding of drums. I needed the songs that made me feel better, before I had any medications resulting from mental health diagnoses or meeting the people that would improve my mental state so profoundly for the better.
I needed to be. And it was the greatest show of my life.
Less than a month later, I was working the register at my dead-end retail job when a customer came up with their products, wearing a hoodie with a logo I recognized. A month after that, I’d passed my interviews and turned in my two-weeks notice at that job to work at that logo, and have moved on to a better job since. And I directly credit that concert with being a catalyst: I did a thing, for the first time in years, that had made me feel like I wasn’t on the brink of total collapse. When standing that close to the stage, I was just someone enjoying the music… no worries of money, or family, or anything else. I could just be.
In the years since I’ve been incredibly fortunate; I’ve cut out a lot of toxicity, started working out (I can deadlift a few hundred pounds now, that’s neat), and I’ve found the love of my life and married her surrounded by amazing friends. All of them, people I can be myself around, for better and for worse, with support and kindness and no insult or malice. And, at my wedding, one of the songs that played? “The Woodpile”.
Because my beautiful bride brightened my corner. The lit torch to the woodpile. And it helped me realize I’m not just a modern leper.
Stand Tall, friends. And thank you, Scott Hutchison. Without hyperbole, your songs helped save my life. I’m just so sad they kept you from continuing yours.