I’m probably late to the game on this but I only just saw the documentary ‘Mystify: Michael Hutchence’ detailing the life and times of the late INXS singer last night. I remember hearing about this movie a year or so ago but then it slipped my mind. One of the good things about not going out on weekends anymore is I can catch up on all of the rockumentaries that I’ve missed over the last few years. It had been a very long short week and I poured myself a tumbler of vodka and was sitting out on my patio enjoying being outside for a change. As it got dark we moved inside and the Rock Chick pulled up Netflix and I saw that ‘Mystify’ was posted… I had to see it. Apparently it’s been out for just over a year. I don’t know how this slipped by me.
Australia’s INXS burst onto the scene when I was in late high school and early college. I don’t think they pierced my consciousness until I was in college. They were, at the time, kind of a “college radio” band. Meaning, they were kind of weird, foreign and not being played by mainstream radio. R.E.M., the Red Hot Chili Peppers and INXS were all bands I became aware of by my rare trips down the radio dial the to the small numbered stations. I also seem to remember a grainy video on MTV for “Don’t Change,” the first INXS track that really ever grabbed my attention. I remember thinking, “who is this band with the weird name?”
By 1987 I had graduated from college and entered my Arkansas Exile… the dark time. I met a beautiful woman who lived in Shreveport, only a short four hour car ride away. Or at least when I was young I thought a four hour drive on a two-lane black top road through the rural south of Arkansas and Louisiana was a short drive. Being from Kansas City, I was probably only a flat tire away from being surrounded and beaten with axe handles. But, the Shreveport belle’s parents were both from Thailand… she had the local southern accent and she was worth the risk.
While my fortunes were looking rather down in 1987, things couldn’t have been better for Michael Hutchence and his mates in INXS. They released their monster album Kick which built on the strong momentum of the previous album, Listen Like Thieves. I can remember loving all those tracks – “New Sensation,” “Devil Inside,” and of course “Need You Tonight” – all of which had videos on MTV which is where I predominantly heard music in those days. Ft Smith, Arkansas didn’t have a rock radio station. (Could I have chosen a worse place to land?). I was hesitant to buy the album as I was concerned they were a “chick band.” Sometimes if the lead singer in a band was too pretty I’d shy away from them back in those days. What knocked me over the edge is when I saw the iconic video for “Never Tear Us Apart.” The depth of that ballad – and admittedly, I’m a sucker for ballads – blew me away. I actually bought the album on cassette, a huge mistake. I wish I had it on vinyl. Kick immediately went into high, constant rotation on my car’s cassette deck. I listened and listened to that album while tearing up and down Highway 71 to and from Shreveport. I can’t hear that music without being transported back to that bittersweet time and place. My fate just lay elsewhere.
By the time INXS had finally followed that album up with X the calendar had rolled to 1990 and I was back home in Kansas City. I was “in between opportunities” at the time and living with my parents. I can remember hearing “Suicide Blonde” on the radio but so much time had passed I’d kind of lost touch with INXS. I liked what I heard on the radio from them but never really felt the connection I had with Kick. By then Michael Hutchence was almost a household name and was seen in tabloids dating the fabulous Helena Christensen.
Time kept on slippin’, slippin’ into the future and in the blink of an eye it was 1997. In Kansas City they had a huge concert at the foot of the World War I Memorial, aka the Liberty Memorial and called it Spiritfest. Headlining the show was none other than INXS. I had completely lost touch with this band by then. I remember thinking, these guys are almost an oldies band…a relic of the “MTV Era.” Grunge had taken over, tastes had moved on. Somewhere during the 90s Hutchence had given an award in Europe to Oasis guitarist and douche bag extraordinaire Noel Gallagher who called Hutchence a “has-been” in his acceptance speech, crushing Hutchence’s feelings. Burn in Hell, Noel, burn in Hell.
If tastes had moved on from INXS the band certainly didn’t act like it that hot August night in Kansas City. They came on and tore the roof off the place (even though it was an outside venue). They opened with “New Sensation” and it grabbed me. They played “Elegantly Wasted” and hearing it live may be the first time I’d ever heard it. By the time they finished the main set with “Devil Inside,” “What You Need,” and finally “Suicide Blonde” the place was going nuts. Hutchence, in an effort to stir up the crowd, had climbed up some scaffolding on the left side of the stage (left as I was facing the stage, his right) and got pretty high up there. I remember thinking a couple of things: I hope he doesn’t fall and secondly, he didn’t look good. He took his shirt off and from my spot way in the back he looked pale and a little bloated. I thought perhaps a life of excess might be getting to him…
Less than 90 days later, he was dead. He’d hung himself in a hotel room in Sydney. I remember thinking about how far away that was… but for him I guess he was home. Sad stuff. When I finally met the Rock Chick three years later, she turned me back onto INXS and I’m glad she did… I heard a lot of the post-Kick LPs through her and realized they’d put out a lot of great music. I only had a Greatest Hits package I bought after seeing them in 97. I never watched that TV show where they looked for a new lead singer. As a friend of mine said at the time, “You don’t replace a messianic lead singer with some guy you found on a game show.” Hutchence was INXS in my mind… sorry Farriss Brothers.
Needless to say, I’m a fan. Watching last night’s ‘Mystify: Michael Hutchence’ was a bit of a bittersweet treat. The documentary is chock full of “never seen” or “rarely seen” archival footage of Hutchence, mostly taken by friends or former lovers. They interviewed his family/friends/lovers, but you don’t see them on screen, they just play the video of the interviews over the footage. That approach, to me, gave it a more haunting effect. The documentary follows the career and rise of INXS. It brought back a lot of memories for me.
The biggest revelation in the film to me was that while bicycling in Copenhagen with Helena Christensen, Hutchence got into a fight with a taxi drive who pushed him down and he hit his head on a curb. After being rushed to the hospital he demanded to leave and refused treatment. As a result of the head injury his temperament and personality changed. He became more aggressive and angry. He was prone to depression. It wasn’t until his autopsy that they discovered he’d suffered brain damage in two spots. What a tragedy. It changed everything about him including his music. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to equate the downward turn of INXS’ fortunes to the damage done to Hutchence’s brain. I don’t know if there would have been any treatment for him to improve the situation, but what a damn shame. Maybe this news came out when they did the autopsy and I just didn’t catch it but this was a revelation to me. It explains everything.
The documentary tracked through a lot of his relationships – from Kyle Minogue to Helena Christensen and to Paula Yates. I don’t understand the attraction on that last relationship, but they had a beautiful daughter together which makes Hutchence’s death that much more tragic. Bob Geldof, or Saint Bob as he’s known, was a real dick to Hutchence and Yates which couldn’t have helped Hutchence’s damaged psyche. I know a lot of people think Hutchence died in some spectacular sexual misadventure playing with autoerotic asphyxiation, but it’s pretty clear he’d become an unhappy man and killed himself. Again, sad stuff.
I think any fans of INXS or Hutchence will enjoy this documentary. Is it the end all, be all definitive statement on the subject? Probably not, but it’s certainly an affecting watch. I certainly recommend it. I’m certainly cycling through all my INXS records today…
It’s a dark ride out there folks. These are dark times and many of us are feeling frustrated, discouraged and outright down. It all just confirms that it’s a dark ride, folks. Take care of each other. Reach out to someone if you’re worried. Be safe.