During the 1980s, when women swooned over INXS’ charismatic front man, Michael Hutchence, I wasn’t paying attention. Silly me. I missed what became Australia’s greatest musical export since Bon Scott and AC/DC. In the early 1980s when I was in my early teens, INXS were still developing as a band. I recall an interview on the kid’s television show Simon Townsend’s Wonder World in 1980, and then later that year, a video for Just Keep Walking, which aired on Sounds, the Saturday morning music show hosted by Donnie Sutherland. Yet, nothing registered. Even Michael Hutchence-as-sex-on-a-stick flew under my radar. Music writer Toby Creswell states that whatever you think of INXS’ style or music, you can’t deny the charisma of Michael Hutchence in his prime. It’s taken me nearly forty years to realise this. Slow or what? I am making up for it with the new issue of Astrobabble (#15), which is dedicated to the sexy Water Bearer and all things Aquarian.
In true Aquarian fashion, Michael Hutchence was an intriguing individual who sort recognition as an underground artist of the Nick Cave variety. Having fallen short of that ambition due to his commitment to INXS and an early death (he died aged thirty-seven), it’s this aspect of the man I find fascinating. Creating this issue has been an inquisitive voyage; my research confirms that all things are connected. INXS was formed in the Farriss brothers’ family home – in the garage of a house not dissimilar to my own family home, in a suburb not dissimilar to that of my adolescence - in Sydney’s north. Michael’s memorial in the grounds of the Northern Suburbs Crematorium in North Ryde is within the vicinity of my parent’s house. Both the Hutch and I have our Ascendant at twenty-eight degrees Capricorn. I can safely say that the similarities end here. Since creating this issue, I have taken to visiting Michael’s memorial regularly (on the way to mum and dad’s place), bringing gifts of flowers, candles and books. Each visit is coloured by an unexpected event, such as the time I was mistaken for Michael’s step-mother, Susie Hutchence, by the crematorium’s manager. It’s the closest I’ll ever get to fame and fortune.
The following is an extract from Astrobabble (#15), which is available at the following Sydney venues - Manly Zine Fair on 22 September, Red Eye Records, Repressed Records, Paddington Book Exchange, and Alfalfa House Street Library in Enmore:
INXS’ 1987 album Kick marks the band’s imperial phase for which they are celebrated. The now-familiar tunes Mystify and Need You Tonight reflect the sonic template the band would use from this point onwards to generate international hit singles and platinum record sales. It deviated from Michael’s original vision of what it meant to be an artist. He reached a point where he wanted to explore other areas, glimpses of which surfaced as early as 1981 when he collaborated with Cold Chisel’s Don Walker on the raucous Speed Kills from the soundtrack to Scott Hicks’ film Freedom.
By 1989, aged twenty-nine, the very Saturnian Michael Hutchence began feeling the inklings of his first (and only) Saturn Return linking into the beginnings of the major planetary aspect of Uranus conjunct Neptune in Capricorn. Michael would have experienced a profound internal shift that mirrored events in his outer world. On a global level, it was a time of revolution – the Tiananmen Square massacres, the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa, the fall of the Berlin Wall in Germany and the creation of the world wide web. The stirrings caused by this waxing aspect would have urged the Hutch to revise his inner values. The paradox contained deep within him began to emerge. In Western astrology, the Return at age twenty-nine is the individual’s separation from the parental mould; it’s a coming home to our innate autonomy and authenticity. By this stage, Michael was residing mostly in Hong Kong (for tax purposes), having finally severed his long-term relationship with Michele Bennett (although they remained friends until the end of his life). It became obvious to those around him that he was outgrowing the INXS family and needed a break from its sound, which had become safe and ubiquitous. Craving the space to unleash his inner-Nick Cave, the musician he always aspired to be, the Hutch called underground luminary Ollie Olsen and suggested they make music together.
Ollie Olsen emerged from the Little Bands scene of inner Melbourne in the late 1970s, forming, among other groups, the Young Charlatans with Rowland S Howard (later of Boys Next Door/Birthday Party fame). Olsen’s electronic unit, Whirlywirld, was revered by Richard Lowenstein who asked him to be musical director on Dogs In Space (1986), a feature-length movie set in Melbourne’s post-punk era of which both Olsen and Lowenstein were an integral part. Michael was cast in the lead role as a thinly disguised Sam Sejavka from new wave group the Ears (and later, Beargarden). The closing credits of Dogs In Space feature a song Olsen wrote for Whirlywirld – Rooms for the Memory – that Michael sang with such conviction and edge that it unnerved some members of the INXS camp:
‘… we all listened to the finished song … everyone was speechless. It really was a turning point – the band [INXS] heard what Michael could do without INXS’ – Michael’s friend, Bruce Butler
Max Q was a psychedelic-electronic-dance-rock band comprised of musicians interconnected within Melbourne underground bands like the Reals, No, and Orchestra of Skin and Bone. Michael wanted to make an alternative record and Olsen wanted to make a pop record. They met somewhere in the middle. Max Q’s only album release meshes funk, rock and industrial trance with an anti-establishment flavour. It was in keeping with Michael’s Aquarian ideals. Olsen impelled him to explore places he left dormant:
‘I got back my lust for music through Max Q. I had to realise that there are other people I can play with and there are other songs that can be written. When I sat down and did that with Max Q, it renewed it all’ – Michael Hutchence
Melbourne experienced a golden period in the 1980s, producing a dynamic and eclectic music scene that embraced electronic/dance music and nightclub culture. It suited Michael’s innovative Aquarian nature. It was important for him to be accepted and respected by Melbourne’s underground:
‘He [Michael] was absolutely smitten with the Melbourne scene and the bands that came out of it … he loved the Birthday Party and early Hunters and Collectors … he maintained lifelong friendships with the people he met from that scene, including myself, Sean Kelly, Richard Lowenstein, Ollie Olsen … and eventually Nick Cave’ – former Hunters and Collectors percussionist, Greg Perano
Max Q represented a special peak, professionally and personally, for Michael Hutchence: the band blitzed the 1989 Rolling Stone Australian readers and critics’ poll, Way of the World reached number eight on the singles chart, and the album peaked at number thirteen. The road already travelled and the virgin track stretching ahead intersect at the Saturn Return. Max Q could have taken the Hutch down an obscure but authentic path, leading to a more radical and fulfilling life. But INXS management had other plans. Chris Murphy didn’t want his main cash cow squandering himself on these underground types, taking musical risks and having a good time doing it. He felt Michael’s creative projects outside of INXS threatened the band’s future. Murphy regulated any serious publicity for Max Q, restricting Michael from giving interviews to promote the album, and limiting single releases in the US and Japan where INXS had sizeable followings. The Hutch’s frustration and anger festered. By the time INXS reassembled for the album X in 1990, the momentum was lost; it would never reach the levels of the pre-Kick era. It marked a dark phase where Michael grew increasingly bitter, bitchy and cynical (negative expression of Sun square Moon) and from which he would never return:
‘He wanted to deconstruct what he was. He wanted to be taken more seriously as an artist and he was more than INXS and more than the sex symbol image. He wanted to be more respected by critics and not seen as a fluffy pop star. Michael had a hell of a lot more to him than people realise. We were just on the cusp of something’ – Ollie Olsen