I wanted to write something for my friend Scott, who’s been gone for a week now. What I’ve ended with is a five-page history of our time together, compiled from old texts, emails, and soggy memories, really for me as much as anyone. I want it all down so the details can’t grey.
I first listened to Frightened Rabbit at the end of my junior year of college. I had been putting off studying for finals by watching music videos on Youtube, and landed on an interview with Ben Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie. They asked him what he was listening to, and he talked about The Midnight Organ Fight and how brilliant it was, and after I heard “The Modern Leper” I was hooked and bought the album. Late to the party as I normally am, I was about three months too late to catch their tour that brought them through Philly by way of Johnny Brenda’s, but I was so in love with the album that I held out hope they’d return. And they did. At the end of April that following year The Winter of Mixed Drinks brought the band back through, this time in the basement of the First Unitarian Church. Scott stood next to me during the opening set, and we joked a few years ago that I hadn’t had the balls to actually say anything to him. I was star struck.
And that was it for a while. Life pushed ever forward. I was teaching, got married, bought a house, and eventually decided to go back to school to study poetry.
Toward the end of my MFA program, my professor suggested that I consider finding someone to illustrate my manuscript. He thought it felt like the type of book that would work really well if I found the right person. I immediately thought of Scott. On June 5th I sent what was best described as a too-wordy, ass-kissy, trying-too-hard-to-not-sound-like-a-fanboy, fanboy Facebook message to the band. I attached a link to a poem I’d had published, hit send, and went to bed. I didn’t tell anyone because I knew I’d never hear back. After all, it was the longest of shots, and I was a nobody.
Two days later I got a reply. Scott told me he loved the poem and wanted to see more. We exchanged emails, I sent more poems, and life sped excitedly forward.
The band came through again that October on their Pedestrian Verse tour, and we agreed to meet up before the show to talk through some of the details. I had a printed copy of a very rough version of what would become If & When We Wake, and still in ass-kissing mode, I brought him a bottle of his favorite scotch (Balvenie DoubleWood) as a thanks for working with me. We talked for a while, and I’m sure I was awkward. Here I was, sitting next to an artist I regarded so highly, again, star struck. I told him I had no expectations. I’d give him the poems, but he was free to draw whatever came to him. I wanted this book to be ours, not mine.
We wrapped up, I ran home to get my wife before the show started, and afterward we all hung out backstage to get a little less formal. Welcoming as Scott always was, he already felt like an old friend.
Things calmed for a bit. I continued with my manuscript, published a few poems in magazines, Scott toured.
On January 18th, while sitting in a pretty awful sandwich shop, Scott emailed me the first drawing. It was a smashed mouse skeleton, the central image in “Meditations on Vegetable Gardens,” and it was jarring. Surrounded by bits of flowers, bones, and a pair of theater-esque smiling/frowning canine teeth, the poor bastard was a perfect recreation of what I imagine the real thing must’ve looked like. He fucking nailed it.
It went on like that for the next year. I’d send revised versions, and he’d mail me drawings from his home in Glasgow. We used every one. Not a single misstep. In all of their detailed, patterned perfection, Scott’s illustrations added a layer that I could have never created in the book, a layer I’ll never be able to recreate in anything else I ever write.
On August 7th Unsolicited Press offered us a publication deal. We were ecstatic. The thing wasn’t finished, but it was enough to give an idea of what it would end up looking like, which I guess was enough. Scott kept drawing while I worked with an editor to polish it all up, and at the beginning of February we handed it off to go to print.
Poetry is a hard sell. Agents don’t want poets because there’s no money in poetry because people don’t buy poetry. This is a fact of the writing world. But when If & When We Wake came out on April 24th, people bought it. The book sold through its first print edition in five months and was rereleased with a colorized cover and some unreleased poems to boot. This isn’t bragging. I’m not naïve, and I’m not proud. I know people bought it because of Scott, and maybe I was supposed to feel weird about that, but I was so honored that he wanted to share our work with the larger Frightened Rabbit community. I had spent six years in that community, and it felt so incredible to be lucky enough to give something back to it.
That July, Scott and I met up in Brooklyn while the band was in NY recording what became Painting of a Panic Attack. We wanted to sit down together without the pressures of sound checks and touring responsibilities to record a conversation about the book that our publisher could use to keep pushing it. We sat on the roof of the building they were staying in and talked into my laptop microphone for an hour about the art and poems, how it came together, and some of the context for it all, stuff we thought people would be interested in. When my laptop died, we changed the subject to music and whisky and shot the shit long enough for us both to leave with sunburns. When we said goodbye, it felt like that was a wrap for this weird, lucky part of my life. But over the next year we kept in touch.
Throughout the beginning of the year we talked sporadically. Nothing earth shattering. Just friends catching up now and again. He sent me a copy of Painting of a Panic Attack that February, and in May we met up again at the Electric Factory before and after their show. With no projects in progress, we just hung out. He drew on a drumhead and talked to me about their tour while his brother Neil gave me parenting advice. It was warm outside, and I remember laughing with Grant about whether or not DJ Jazzy Jeff could retire off the royalty checks from “Summertime.” After the show we drank champagne and, although I hadn’t been writing much, I asked Scott if he’d be up for illustrating another book. He hugged me, said of course, and I said my goodbyes and went home to my pregnant wife.
I was excited to start working with him again, but really I had nothing to share. A month or so before, I had deleted almost everything in my unfinished writing folder. It was awful. I’d been dealing with extreme anxiety, and while Scott had the ability to use those feelings for artistic fuel, there was no catharsis in what I’d been writing. So when Scott’s personal struggles became public later that August, I reached out and we talked for a while about what we were both dealing with. No poetry or art or music. Just coping.
A few weeks later, after teaching a creative writing course on Richard Brautigan, I had the idea for the reinterpretation of Please Plant This Book. I kept it in my pocket for a little while. I wanted to make sure it was doable before pitching it, but when I finally felt good enough about it to bring it to Scott, he responded in all caps. “FUCK YES!”
We made a lot of the creative decisions rather quickly. Brautigan died by suicide in 1984, so the project would raise money for suicide awareness, and like the original, we’d release it on packets of heirloom seeds. Without a budget or any way of making it actually happen, I started emailing donors and then began writing while I waited for replies.
By the end of the year we had partnered with a seed company and a packet supplier and had started working on the art. All we needed was a publisher.
The beginning of the year flew. While the snow piled up, I finished writing the poetry, Scott finished the artwork, and we found The Head & The Hand Press. The project seemed to be pushing quickly forward, and the high of working together was in full force. We spent the rest of the winter bouncing ideas back and forth. Shirt designs, special bundles, seed boxes, and plant markers. We wanted to raise as much money as we could for the charity.
That spring, FR came back through Philadelphia again, and we roped off some time for a quick photo session for the marketing materials. We trudged around the city, vegetables and a pitchfork in tow, snapping American Gothic style pictures in front of dilapidated buildings and sweating our asses off. It felt like it all was coming together, but I could tell Scott was at a low point. We talked a bit about what he was going through, and when we parted ways I remember telling my wife that he deserved to be so much happier than he was. It wasn’t fair.
Fall came, the packets got filled, and the band returned with Broken Social Scene. Scott, in much better spirits, brought the finished cover art, and after celebratory drinks we all stood around my car signing books for the upcoming preorder run. My drunk plus-one, while peeing on my rear tire, reached across the roof to hand Scott his ticket, demanding, in harsher words, he sign it with his…organ. Scott smiled, not missing a beat, and said, “I don’t think it’s quite big enough!”
The year wound down. Feeling like I hadn’t done enough on my end to promote If & When We Wake, I overdid it with this upcoming release, perhaps lighting a wick too long for anyone to wait around for the blast. If you’re reading this, chances are you spent at least a little time last year wondering when I’d shut up about the damn seed thing. Scott slowed me down, and helped me strategize how and when to release the rest. He was so helpful, like getting advice from an older brother.
Before it came crashing down last week, this year brought with it the highlights of my writing career, and if I’m being honest, some of the highlights of my life. With the release of Please Plant This Book getting closer, we decided to try and set up a launch event while the band was back in the states for their The Midnight Organ Fight anniversary tour. I was excited, but doubtful. We attempted a similar show when the first book came out, but scheduling and label responsibilities forced us to cancel before it really got going. Somehow, though, this time it came together.
When we met in Manhattan the night before, I told Scott how nervous I was. The show was sold out, and although I knew only a few of the folks who’d be in attendance would be paying much attention to me, there was something terrifying about standing up there on even ground with someone I’d idolized for years. He downplayed it in his self-deprecating way and we said goodnight
On the day of, my wife and I wandered around the city before making our way to Brooklyn through the pouring rain. Still terrified, I got to the venue early to help set up, and when Scott texted to let me know he’d be in soon, he asked if it was okay to bring along a documentary film crew that had been following the band on their tour. He walked in ten minutes later, film crew following, along with Simon, Billy, and Andy. No pressure. We all crammed into a small upstairs office to split a bottle of Balvenie while the downstairs filled. I don’t remember what we talked about. I remember giving someone advice on growing kale and feeling some weird wonder at the circumstances that brought the whole thing together.
I did my reading and then stood with the band in the back while Scott performed. As he sang, my mind wandered back through my early memories of hearing that voice in my college apartment, tinny through my laptop speakers, how much that music meant to me, and how, even after working together for five years, I was still star struck. Later that night, after our show, and after the FR show at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, we celebrated in the venue basement, and yes, most of that is hard to remember. I know there was hugging, and I hope that when we went our opposite ways into the rainy Brooklyn night, he knew how grateful I was for all the time he gave to me.
The day before we lost him, Scott and I did a conference call interview with a Philadelphia sustainability magazine. We talked about our hopes for the collection and for the people it benefited. We also talked about the future. When the call ended, we texted back and forth for a half an hour. We still had so much road ahead of us. Plans for another book, maybe UK shows. When I saw his tweets, I decided to let him cool off. I’d give him some space and text him in the morning. That was a mistake. I’m not so self-important that I think I could have changed any of this, but I wish he could have known I was there for him.
All of these experiences live in the same wing of my heart that holds memories of my wedding and the birth of my daughter. They are more special than even those closest to me can understand. I know the sting of this wound will eventually fade to a dull ache I’ll have to learn to live with, and my hope is that, through all of this pain, we can learn to be there for each other and help destigmatize mental illness. It’s what we hoped to do with Please Plant This Book, and it’s what Scott tried to do with his whole career. He wanted us to hold our loved ones close, and I hope we can all do that more. Let’s be here for each other. There is nothing more important.
Poetry! Art! Bourbon!
Scott and Francis have partnered with the charity whiskey group Borbone Brigante and Four Roses Distillery to create Please Plant These Roses, a specialty bourbon bottling that incorporates the poetry and art of Please Plant This Book. All sales benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Check back for release dates and pricing. Cheers!
Please Plant This Book Is Out Now!
A reinterpretation of Richard Brautigan’s original 1968 release, this new collection of Francis Daulerio’s poetry and Scott Hutchison’s art has been printed on high quality, resealable seed packets and filled with eight varieties of heirloom, GMO-free seeds. Each bundle includes Cherokee Purple Tomato, German Chamomile, Berlicum Carrot, Detroit Dark Red Beet, Tokyo Long White Onion, Lemon Bee Balm, Genovese Basil, and Henry Wilde Sunflower. Save seeds from these plants and grow them again each year. The collection includes a foreword by Ianthe Brautigan, and all proceeds go to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
The collection is available exclusively through The Head & The Hand Press.
Would you like a copy of If & When We Wake in Chinese? Because now you can get a copy of If & When We Wake in Chinese. Have at it!
The second edition of If & When We Wake is now available!
After three long years, If & When We Wake is now a real thing that you can hold in your hands. It pairs quite well with a glass of neat whiskey or perhaps a heavy snowstorm. US orders can be placed directly through the Unsolicited Press and Barnes & Noble. International orders are available through the Frightened Rabbit Webstore. The Kindle edition can be purchased through Amazon.
Hardcover copies are now available here.
Pick up a copy today!