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Mystify: The Michael Hutchence Documentary

On the occasion of what would have been Michael Hutchence’s 60th birthday…

I finally caught up and saw the Michael Hutchence ‘Mystify’ doc last night. It was a very poignant piece that was respectful without pulling too many punches. There were moments when you had to read between the lines, but it also gave a big excuse / explanation to his excesses (sexual, narcotic and violent) that seems to have been an increasingly sad feature of his life from 1992 until his death in 1997.

A quick declaration: I was a big INXS fan.

A quick brag: this was before most non-Australian fans, as I loved them from Listen Like Thieves in ’86, saw them in their first UK Kick tour at Hammersmith in late ’87 (before the album broke in the summer of ’88), and again in their fantastic but ill-conceived ‘club’ tour of 1993.

It wasn’t difficult being an INXS fan. They filled a large Duran hole in my life during their glory years of 86-91. They were natural heirs to Duran’s funk-rock-big-chorus music. John first heard them in late ’83 after Nile Rogers had produced Original Sin, and immediately realised Seven and the Ragged Tiger wasn’t the sound he wanted. Unfortunately, that was his new album, so he got Rogers to remix The Reflex and then moved on to the Power Station.

The INXS story mirrors the Duran story as well. A band forged in creativity and poetry. A lead man who is the last to join the fledgling group. INXS only mucked up the narrative by actually having three members with the same name – who were brothers.

To break worldwide INXS took longer than Duran. Kick was their 5th album, but they then rode the wave for 4 years, peaking commercially in 1991. Within that period, Hutchence had to carry the load of the publicity for the band, being the only media star. The rest of them appeared to be the worst dressed rock band in history, managing to carry off the Duran Big Thing clothes whilst being popular.

But their songs were to die for. They punched significantly above their chart weight. They only had one UK Top 10 hit (Need You Tonight), but New Sensation (#25), Never Tear Us Apart (#24), Suicide Blonde (#11) and Mystify (#14) are all well known.

Underneath this top layer are the minor hits but big songs – What You Need, Original Sin, The One Thing, The Gift, Kiss The Dirt, Heaven Sent, Baby Don’t Cry. And then don’t forget (as we Duranie’s never do) the album tracks – Red Red Sun, To Look At You, Jefferson’s Airplane, Strange Desire and Freedom Deep (that’s me waggling my super-fan credentials). There’s even an Arcadia-ish ‘best not-INXS album ever’ in Hutchence’s one-off side project Max Q, which he made to decompress from the madness of the Kick tour. As a salute, the track that plays over the closing credits of the documentary comes from that album.

Probably my favourite album was 1992’s Welcome To Wherever You Are. This was INXS’s creative response to the challenge laid down by Achtung Baby. How was this band rooted in the 80s going to survive in the 90s? This album, and the follow up, Full Moon Dirty Hearts, showed a way forward as the band who retained the same line-up throughout their career, found a way to be creative whilst retaining their core sound.

Then came the incident in which he was injured and the drama of the doc hangs in the unfolding tragedy to come.

Until 1993, Hutchence seems (from the story told) to have been managing his fame quite well. His childhood was chaotic but he was grounded in the group. His relationships were fairly lengthy and all his (increasingly famous and glamorous) exes only speak fondly of him. Perhaps the fact that fame came later in his career helped.

He was probably struggling with the loss of the mega-fame, at a time when his personal life was spiralling and his health was failing. His final couple of years evidence the tabloids vice-like grip as his circumstances unravel chaotically and tragically. Unfortunately, Simon’s lament to him on Medazzaland (released just weeks before his death) fails to capture the now-apparent reality of his turbulent life, and comes across somewhat accusatory.

I heard about his death when out one night, at a club just down the road from Rock City in Nottingham where the band had given me one of the nights of my life a few years earlier. He was up close, sweaty, passionate and belting out his amazing work with his mates who had left the other side of the world to hit the heights. Those were the days – for him and for me. Michael, I have got a lot to be thankful to you for.

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