“Good arms vs. bad arms will win hands down, down…”
Ten years ago today I was going through my normal morning routine of scrolling through my RSS Reader’s new article queue while the girls watched Disney shows when I came across a blog post that changed my life.
The I Am Fuel, You Are Friends blog, which was one of my favorite music blogs at the time, published an interview with the lead singer of a young band from Scotland. The blog’s author, Heather Browne, was effusive in her praise of the band and its songs. I went out exploring on The Hype Machine, found a few of the band’s tracks, downloaded them, and listened. The first song was a mournful, country-tinged track about a breakup. It was really good. The next song was another sad song about a breakup. It was also really good. I immediately used the iTunes gift card S had just given me for my birthday to buy their album.
The band was Frightened Rabbit, the album was The Midnight Organ Fight, and the first song of theirs I ever heard, on June 20, 2008, was “Good Arms vs. Bad Arms.”
That summer of ’08 I listened to TMOF endlessly. I remember one day I was walking around, moping, feeling sad, snapping at people for no reason. I wondered what the hell was wrong with me. Then I realized I had listened to the album several times in a row the previous night. That may have been too much, as Scott Hutchison’s tales of romantic failure had apparently pulled me into a funk.
I set the album aside for a bit. I couldn’t stay away for long, though.
At first the big tracks were the ones that grabbed me. “The Modern Leper” joined “Good Arms” as songs I could not hear enough in those early days. The duo of “My Backwards Walk” and “Keep Yourself Warm” are, quite simply, motherfuckers. By fall, just before L’s birth, I was addicted to “Head Rolls Off,” and Hutchison’s promise to “make tiny changes to earth.” I knew if I had done, and would do, nothing else in life, by having three daughters I had made tiny changes of my own.
But the album was about more than just those songs on their own. It was about the sequence in which they were presented and the combined impression they left on the listener. It was about Hutchison’s painful, at times cringe-worthy, accountings of all the worst emotions that come with a breakup. It was the push to the furthest extremes of pain, then drawing back for little, brilliant moments of relief. He’s mad at himself. Then he’s mad at her. Then he’s mad at the new man she’s with. Then he rages at himself for believing a one-night stand would magically make all the pain go away. He begs. He threatens. He’s pathetic. He’s insufferable. He’s cruel. But, in the end, he stares all that pain dead in the eye, finds glimmers of hope, and decides to move on.
The Midnight Organ Fight may well be my favorite album ever. I still listen to it often, certainly more than I do to London Calling, OK Computer, or other albums that filled my most recent top 10 list. As much as I love all of FR’s music, I always come back to the album I discovered them on.
But it’s tough to consider it ten years after I first heard it. I was leaning toward slotting it in as my #1 album whenever I re-do my Favorite Albums list before the events of May. Now, with Scott gone, I don’t know if I can make an honest, dispassionate assessment of the album. I simply can not listed to “Floating in the Forth” right now, knowing he was predicting the exact location of his suicide 10 years in advance.
It’s a bit too much right now.
Scott’s death doesn’t change that the album is an absolutely brilliant piece of art. It changed my life, at least in that I’ve listened to it countless times over the past decade. It has given me, as some folks might say, all the feels over that time. Right now I can’t make it all the way through. I hope that sometime, in the not too distant future, I’ll be able to focus on to that big, bold moment of hope at the end of “Floating in the Firth” again and forget about how real the sentiment behind it was.
Scott Hutchison was a fucking brilliant song writer. Every song is loaded with turns of phrase and observations that are mind blowing. Here are some of my favorites from TMOF.
“Well I am ill, but I’m not dead
And I don’t know which of those I prefer
Because that limb which I have lost
Well it was the only thing holding me up, holding me up”
– “The Modern Leper”
“I’ll stow away my greys
In a padlocked case and in a padlocked room
Only to be released when I see you walking around with someone new
This is the last song, this is the last song
This is the last song I’ll write about you”
– “I Feel Better”
“I am armed with the past, and the will, and a brick
I might not want you back, but I want to kill him”
– “Good Arms vs. Bad Arms”
“I’ll turn off the TV
It’s killing us we never speak
There’s a radio in the corner
It’s dying to make us see”
– “Old, Old Fashioned”
“I’m working on erasing you
Just don’t have the proper tools
I get hammered, forget that you exist
There’s no way I’m forgetting this”
– “My Backwards Walk”
“Can you see in the dark?
Can you see the look on your face?
The flashing white light’s been turned off
You don’t know know who’s in your bed”
– “Keep Yourself Warm”
“You should look through some old photos
I adored you in every one of those
If someone took a picture of us now they’d need to be told
That we had ever clung and tied
A navy knot with arms at night
I’d say she was his sister but she doesn’t have his nose
And now we’re unrelated and rid of all the shit we hated
But I hate when I feel like this
And I never hated you”
“Fully clothed, I’ll float away
(I’ll float away)
Down the Forth, into the sea
I’ll steer myself
Through chopping waves
As manic gulls
Scream “it’s okay”
Take your life
Give it a shake
All your loose change
I think I’ll save suicide for another year”
– “Floating in the Forth”