Missing the late, great Michael Hutchence
It’s no secret among my friends and family that I adored Michael Hutchence, the charismatic, sensual singer of Australian rock band INXS. Something about this man compels me to write a tribute of sorts. So here it is. I’m just going to let the words pour out onto the page and see where it leads…
Getting into INXS
Where to begin? In the late 80s, I think, in a classroom in a Northumbrian comprehensive in north-east England. For maths lessons, fate sat me behind the real-life boy I’d have a crush on for the rest of my school days. If it wasn’t for that, would I ever have been seduced into lifelong admiration of the INXS frontman?
I don’t know. You see, I found out that the guy I had the hots for was a big fan of the Australian band. Being a big fan of said boy – as well as all things from down under – I had to check them out.
Going to Sydney
It wasn’t the kind of music many people who knew me expected me to get into. I was just coming out of the other side of a one-sided and entirely imaginary relationship with Matt Goss of Bros. This was back in the heyday of Neighbours, though, and I was also developing something of an obsession with life on the other side of the world.
That would later lead me to spend a year in Oz, beginning, of all places, with a night in the legendary CBH (Coogee Bay Hotel). I had no idea, on that first night in Sydney, that I was downing VB in a spot that was important to the early years of my favourite band ever. That they’d even signed the loading dock wall there.
Getting into Michael Hutchence
Anyway, get into it I did. In a big way. Michael Hutchence replaced Matt Goss as my crush of choice – alongside, of course, the schoolboy who had first inspired me to listen to them. It’s been a lifelong relationship. As I write, I’m just a few years off my half century. I still listen to INXS tunes on an almost-daily basis.
Mr Hutchence remains my number one pin-up of all time. The man I’d most like to bed down with. Oh yes. I’m sure he had the moves. He certainly had the looks. (Even though in real life, I’ve never yet fancied a man with long hair.) Without doubt, he is the musician I miss most.
The man or the music?
So was it about Michael Hutchence himself, or the music INXS created together? While I’m not denying that I was hot for Hutch, INXS are my favourite band ever. By a country mile – and then some. Something about their particular brand of rock, incorporating elements of pop and funk, just ticks my boxes like no other group of musicians out there ever have.
While MR H tickled my fancy, it’s not just only about him. I adore listening to Kirk Pengilly’s live sax solos, seeing Jon Farriss banging those drums and Garry Gary Beers and Tim Farriss strumming their guitars. Andrew Farriss and Michael Hutchence were without doubt the songwriting dream team, although others had a hand in creating various tracks.
Let’s talk about Kylie
And let’s be honest. I’m not alone in having a crush on Hutch. Legions of women the world over would love to have got down and dirty with Mr H. A lucky few did – including several with lots of adoring fans of their own. Maybe Belinda Carlisle – my famous doppleganger, or so I was often told during my late teens.
Definitely Kylie Minogue, who I wish he’d settled down with. Yes of course I’d have been as jealous as all hell, but I have a feeling she’d somehow have been the steadying influence he needed in the latter half of the 90s.
Or Michele Bennett, who seems utterly lovely: I just don’t ‘know’ her in the way I’m familiar with Kylie. She was the last person he called, so was clearly still significant. It’s just that I grew up seeing Ms Minogue on Neighbours, then storming the charts. Once I even saw her perform a song or two live in Newcastle, at a local radio station event.
The influence of Michael Hutchence stayed with the pop princess, I’m sure. May I point you in the direction of these lyrics from Suicide Blonde:
‘She stripped to the beat but her clothes stay on, White light everywhere but you can’t see a thing‘
Describes Kylie’s video for Can’t Get You Out Of My Head perfectly, I reckon. If she’d written the song, I’d say it was about him too. In turn, Suicide Blonde was apparently inspired by Kylie’s character in The Delinquents, an Australian film from 1989.
And there’s more. In 2016, Kylie appeared on the UK chat show hosted by Jonathan Ross. In the interview she spoke about her relationship with Michael, and the cover of Need You Tonight she’d performed on her recent tour. Kylie also said that Hutch was her ‘guardian angel’ on that tour.
She also wrote Bittersweet Goodbye for Michael, which was on her Light Years album of 2000. Seven years later, she released an album called X. Sound familiar?
It’s only my opinion, but I’d say the torch Kylie carries for him is still burning bright. A recent story in the UK press reports that she’s moving back to Australia – without her British beau Paul Solomons. Apparently, though, they’re still loved up. Even though they’ll be living on opposite sides of the planet…
I Touch Myself
I watched a short film clip of Michael talking to Chrissy Amphlet from The Divinyls, in 1987, with both behaving rather flirtaciously. Could that slightly naughty chat have inspired I Touch Myself? I’ll let you draw your own conclusions. Apparently Chrissy described him as ‘sweet’, and mentioned that he’d once said she should bear his child.
He would have made beautiful babies with Belinda, Kylie or Helena Christensen. Not that he could have created a more gorgeous creature than Tiger Lily, his only child. Just as I deeply regret that my late mother never met my daughter, I so wish Tiger Lily could have met her dad.
I would have loved to get close to him myself, of course. Very near indeed. But if the impossible somehow became reality, I’d gladly hand to her that one-off meeting.
Those vocal chords
What was it about Michael Hutchence that inspired such heart-rending longing? His incredible voice, perhaps – by turns soulful, intimate and powerful. Switching from a kittenish whisper to a tiger’s roar in a split second. Equally at home when singing ballads as when rocking on stage with the likes of Jimmy Barnes.
I didn’t really appreciate his voice fully until I bought Live Baby Live again recently, this time on CD rather than vinyl. What a mesmerising performer we’ve lost. I recently came across a Guardian article from 2002, called Substandard Substitutes, where the journalist said:
‘The truth is, Jim Morrison was the poor man’s Michael Hutchence.’ (Colin Paterson, The Guardian, 13th July 2002.)
A sensual performer
Why does it sound like a carnal invitation when he asks the crowd to sing along with What You Need at Wembley? I wonder if the wording – ‘Would you like that?’, ‘Would that be good for you?’ and more saucy, suggestive chat was deliberated over long and hard (ahem!) before being delivered? Or is it just my dirty mind? Wishful thinking?
He certainly had a playful persona when performing on stage. It’s a big regret of mine that I never saw INXS live on stage. Why, oh why? I saw plenty of bands who were – and are certainly now – much less important to me. I guess I was a bit too young for a solo trip to London when they played Wembley in 1991.
I’ve been watching videos of him performing at various times and venues. I’ll freely admit that I have the 20/20 vision of hindsight here, but he looks to me less engaged in the performances as the 90s progress. In 1991, when playing Wembley, he was at his absolute peak. By Aspen in 1997, he looks like a different man. And I’m not just talking about the hairstyle (though that wasn’t my favourite look on him, not by a long chalk).
A shy man
His bad boy image – although that doesn’t wash with me. Despite what came after talking to Paula Yates in that infamous on-the-bed interview, I saw shyness behind those deep brown eyes even then. As soft and delicious as melting chocolate. You could never kid me, Mr H. I’m sure you were a genuinely nice guy – and not only to look at or listen to.
I’ve seen a few clips of him rehearsing over the years. Backstage, he looked so different to that confident presence he had out front. I see self-consciousness. Shyness. It’s something I recognise, having suffered from both terribly during my younger years.
I love to write. He did too. Perhaps because we’re both Aquarians. Listen to me, I sound like a love-struck teenager. But I still feel the same, sometimes, as I did decades ago.
I adore watching him perform, listening to him sing. I find the way he sings the ‘ee’ sound super cute – as in ‘street’ or ‘reasons’. It’s lovely to be transported back to my carefree teens, via his music, when such things seemed so important. That’s my excuse anyway.
Even though I’m a happily married mum-of-one, I love to escape to a fantasy world. Who doesn’t? In the name of fun, yeah? Maybe if we’d actually met, we wouldn’t even have got on. In a lot of cases, it’s best teenage dreams remain exactly that.
Seeking true love
The lyrics he created were insightful, poetic and I’m sure they came from the heart. Just watch him performing By My Side live and see if you agree. It seems to me that Michael Hutchence spent his life looking for lasting love (‘me, me, pick me!’ screams my teenage self), and only truly found it when Tiger Lily was born.
Alas, the grief of separation and guilt at tearing apart (pun intended) the Geldof family almost certainly played some part in his demise.
His mini me
His daughter is her father in younger, female form. Not a trace of Paula Yates in that face as far as I can see, but then I wouldn’t want to. Despite not feeling green-eyed about Kylie, I could never understand what he saw in Bob Geldof’s wife.
But I don’t know her, and neither do I choose to believe everything the press tell me. Perhaps it’s the feeling that if he hadn’t met her he’d still be around. But then his only child would not.
With a different mother, she wouldn’t be the same person. In her, his blessed genes live on. So we have hand the former Mrs Geldof huge thanks for that.
The downward spiral
We’ll never know, now, what really happened at the Ritz-Carlton in Double Bay, the night before the singer was found hanged on 22nd November 1997. I spent over half of that very year in Oz myself, before flying back to the UK in August 1997.
How I wish, as I’m sure so many others do, that I’d met him while I was over there. Not only that, but somehow steered him onto a different course. It’s all a fantasy of course, what on earth could an English backpacker have done to ensure he lived? What could anyone do?
Stuck In a Moment
For my part, I’m convinced it was suicide. I think his friend Bono was absolutely spot-on when he wrote Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of. I’m sure it was a moment of madness, when ending his own life seemed like the only solution.
So tragic. If only some tiny change in the sequence of events could have turned things around.
Were there hints in some of the lyrics he’d written over the years? Such as:
‘So how do you feel? I’m lonely’ from Need You Tonight
‘Every single one of us, the devil inside‘ from Devil Inside
‘Things have been dark for too long‘ from Don’t Change
‘This ain’t the good life‘ from Elegantly Wasted
‘Give us a reason, to go on living‘ from Faith in Each Other
‘Well I’m sick of it, it’s a load of shit‘ from Guns in the Sky
‘The nature of your tragedy, is chained around your neck‘ from The Stairs
It’s glaringly obvious that I’m taking these lyrics out of context. Trying to paint a picture of a state of mind, like a lawyer selecting supporting evidence when building a court case. My point is that he had a hand in writing all these songs.
Those words came from him; therefore, those thoughts have crossed his mind at some point. However fleetingly.
Angst and anguish
In fact there’s a theme or angst running throughout many of INXS’ biggest hits, although it’s often disguised somewhat by an upbeat tune. When singing Mystify, for instance, Michael needs ‘perfection’ to ‘tangle’ him and – most hauntingly – ‘keep (him) alive’. As Disappear begins, it’s all about ‘crying’, ‘pain’, suffering’ and ‘the struggle’.
While both tracks have rousing melodies – the choruses in particular – the words can tell a rather different story. And as this poetry came from the band’s main lyricist. He was still Searching for something by the time Elegantly Wasted was written.
The guilt trip
I see a lot of guilt when coming across comments from friends of his. Regrets that they could have spent more time with him, somehow picked up on his sadness, seen him more often. The truth is, whether he seemed shaky, or suicidal or entirely the opposite, most of us are experts at concealing our innermost feelings.
When asked if he was alright, I’m sure he’d have answered in the affirmative. Do people, on the whole, truly expect any answer other than ‘fine’, or ‘good’, when enquiring how someone is?
Spinning out of control
A sequence of events quite possibly led to the the singer’s demise. The divorce of Paula Yates and Bob Geldof. His baby being on the other side of the world. Being called a ‘has-been’ in front of fans – and the world’s media. Separation from his brother during childhood.
Failing to find lasting love, despite dating a string of stunning women. Feeling that things were spinning out of his control. A personality prone to melancholy, perhaps. And of course the brain damage he suffered in Copenhagen, a closely guarded secret until the Mystify documentary was released, finally revealing the truth to the world.
Those sensory nerves
Can you imagine not being able to taste the food you eat or smell your baby – your own flesh and blood? It doesn’t bear thinking about, and would surely have a huge negative impact on anyone. Not least such a sensual man, who felt things very deeply.
His nerves were completely severed, with no hope of repairing them, ever. Can you imagine only experiencing the textures of foodstuffs, tasting no flavours ever again? No chocolate, fresh strawberries, spices, coffee or wine?
That documentary certainly makes compelling viewing – nice job Richard Lowenstein. And all credit to Kylie and Helena for being so candid. The most heartbreaking moment, for me, is when Michael’s father Kell tells of receiving a call from the Australian press asking for his comment. Before he even knew what had happened to his son.
Simply tragic – and a searing indictment of the media’s insensitivity. I’m utterly ashamed of the British press for the negative impact they had on his life.
INXS Access All Areas
Another great thing also came from Mystify. Apparently the hosts of INXS Access All Areas met at the Australian Mystify premiere, and soon after the podcast was born. It’s all beautifully done by genuine mega-fans of the band, and recent guests include Andrew Farriss and Kirk Pengilly, no less.
It seems inconceivable that November 2022 marks 25 years since his passing. It’s hard to believe that he’d be over 60 by now. I can’t imagine what he’d look like, whether he’d still be the frontman of INXS, or have moved on to something else.
Whether that would be a more experimental musical direction, like the Max Q days, acting, singing solo or living a quiet life somewhere in Australia, America or Europe. Even perhaps Asia, like his brother Rhett who now resides in Bali.
Would he have had more children – biological siblings for Tiger Lily? What would he make of her life – based in Fremantle, as far as I know, with her partner from a psychedelic music band. I love the fact that she seems to have a bohemian streak and musical talent – very much her father’s daughter.
The Hutchence siblings
Both of Michael’s siblings keep his memory alive and well in their own ways. Rhett’s business Skull Bali includes a range of Hutch clothing, designed by the artist himself and featuring lyrics from Need You Tonight. Meanwhile his sister Tina – who, according to Mystify, played a huge role in bringing up both boys, campaigns tirelessly for Traumatic Brain Injury awareness.
She also interacts with her oldest brother’s fans via social media groups dedicted to his memory. I’m not going to lie, I was thrilled when she liked a recent comment I made…
Surprising and mesmerising
Even though he’s now, sadly long gone, he can still surprise me. Such as when I recently stumbled upon a clip, shared via Twitter, of him performing at an Elvis tribute in 1994. It left me speechless how well we captivated Elvis’s style – yet making it his own at the same time.
And that voice. He was surely one of the best live vocalists ever.
Michael Hutchence lives on
I’ve no idea if this piece paints anywhere near an accurate portrait of such an irreplaceable man. Alas, I never met him. But Michael Hutchence lives on on his music – and the daughter whose parentage is so glaringly, endearingly obvious.
As well as in the hearts and minds of his many fans. May he have found peace – and may all that knew him make peace with themselves. For my part, I’m certain I’ll keep looking at pictures and listening to the music for the remainder of my days.
I’ll always daydream about seeing them play live at the Coogee Bay Hotel. As Duran Duran put it – Michael, You’ve Got a Lot to Answer For.
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