|"Don't Let Your Pain Take Over You"|
It’s strange how certain times of the year conjure up memories of an untimely rock and roll death.
For example, every Christmas season I’m reminded of the assassination of John Lennon. I received a copy of Double Fantasy for Christmas that year and remember how quiet it got for just a few moments when I unwrapped the present. The hush was an unscripted act of respect as it acknowledged the artist’s impact, the tragedy of his loss and how his murder deeply moved me, a fourteen-year-old kid who never experienced Beatlemania firsthand.
There’s another tragedy that’s even closer to Christ’s birth: the untimely passing of Joe Strummer. It’ll be ten years ago this Christmas, which is just a lifetime if you ask me. We could have really used a man like Joe to counterbalance the Bush years, and especially now, just to put some perspective on the entire 99% occupy movement (sorry, Michelle Shocked).
There’s the April Fool’s vibe of Kurt Cobain’s suicide, which rendered me a bit harder when getting too emotionally attached to a performer or musician. I no longer get as smitten with an artist I admire since that tragedy, and maybe that’s a good thing.
As we approach Thanksgiving here in
America, there’s another artist
passing that I’m reminded of. Perhaps it’s a bit overlooked, because pop music
is itself made for immediate consumption and, by nature, doesn’t possess a very
long shelf life.
But to me, the band INXS was a bit more than a typical pop band, and their lead singer was a bit more than a typical pop star.
We’ll reach the 15th anniversary of the passing of Michael Hutchence this month, and I’m willing to bet that we’ll hear very little about it this year, or in five years, or ten.
It’s because his death came during the decline of INXS, and it came after a half-assed comeback attempt where the songs still weren’t all the way there and the prospect of recapturing something that would bring the band back into the mainstream radar seemed highly unlikely to begin with.
A taste of that reality came during Michael’s presentation of Oasis with an award of Best New Video during the 1996 BRIT awards. Liam Gallagher joked when Hutchence gave him a peck on the cheek after meeting on stage, but his brother Noel was not as cordial. After admonishing the audience that he was now wealthier than they were, he saved his parting slam for the presenter himself: “Has-beens shouldn’t be presenting awards to gonna be’s.”
Time would eventually turn its cruel face to Oasis, but for Michael, time was something he was running out of much sooner.
He never fulfilled the promise of regaining the charts again, and he never experienced the cash flow that would have been provided on the oldies circuit. I say that without a hint of sarcasm, because I would have loved to see INXS at any capacity, any venue, and any point in their career. They were good enough to work as a well-oiled machine and Hutchence was the type of frontman who doesn’t come around very often.
I gave them up on Listen Like Thieves, and I watched as the friends who’d never heard The Swing suddenly bought up copies of Kick, leveraging the band into heights only reserved for music’s elite.
I lost further ground with X and Welcome To Wherever You Are, but they were constantly played at the radio station I was working.
Mark Opitz came back in the producers role for Full Moon Dirty Hearts, his first since spinning the knobs of Shabooh Shoobah. The album was ignored by fans and criticized by the press, but I liked it.
I missed the album Elegantly Wasted and Michael’s solo album entirely, but I was thrown for a loop when they announced that he died. Then came the back story, and the entire auto-asphyxiation controversy, neither of which were too flattering for the pop star.
Someone lying around here is a well worn VHS copy of Dogs In Space, Hutchence’s only starring role in a very weak, yet strangely compelling film about a punk band from Melborne set in the late 70’s. It’s where I first heard about
and Iggy Pop’s Soldier album, thanks
to the movie’s hard to find soundtrack. Nick Cave
Hutchence played the drug-addled lead singer, and his lack of any real dialogue didn’t matter. When he was on screen, your eyes were drawn to him.
Within a year, he’d be in the stratosphere, and within another 10 he’d be dead.
Hard to believe that it’s been almost as long since his death as it was when he was in the band. And the years that pass seem to turn him into a distant memory. The fact that the rest of INXS decided to use the name to parlay it into a brief reality show hasn’t helped either.
The reality is that INXS was better than a quick, final grab at notoriety.
With the 15th anniversary of the passing of Michael Hutchence, the band should now renew their focus on maintaining their vastly underrated catalog of pop-rock gems with more dignity to their shared legacy.