Remembering Michael Hutchence, INXS Frontman died 16 years today. We look back at his impact and legacy.
I remember when I heard the news of his death in 1997. It was a mix of shock and a remembrance of a singer who had faded from his rock star heyday (at least in the U.S). There were nasty rumors of death by auto-erotic asphyxiation.
But suicide was the real culprit; Hutchence had sustained a brain injury in 1992. This left him unable to taste and smell, and he became moody, sullen and at times, violent. He never fully recovered. An affair with Bob Geldof’s wife Paula Yates had made him bitter and on edge from constant paparazzi attention. Even their baby daughter wasn’t enough to keep him here.
After his death, Yates died a few years later of a heroin overdose and Geldof adopted their daughter. It was tragedy on a grand scale.
But enough about that, my focus is to talk about his life.
INXS were a transitional band for me. I’d heard their first hit The One Thing on MTV in its infancy. But I grew up in a rural area where hair metal was the rage, and listening to New Wave was not cool, so I kept it under the radar.
But when I heard the song What You Need, that was it. I bought the album Listen Like Thieves and I was sold. From the anthemic Shine Like It Does, to the surly Red Red Sun, it’s an album with zero filler. I consider them my gateway drug for college/alternative rock because after that my musical taste made a sea change.
Then Kick came out and everyone loved INXS. It sold 6 million copies and 4 Top 10 U.S. singles.
It’s weird when I try to pinpoint what made the band so great, because INXS is a hard band to categorize. A touch of funk, some power pop, pub rock and new wave synths made them possessors of a truly unique sound. And What You Need, New Sensation and Devil Inside are iconic songs that still sound fantastic.
My first ever rock concert was the Kick Tour in 1987 and you couldn’t have asked for a better show. Hutchence was a dynamic live performer. He was more than just a MTV poster boy; he had the soulful pipes, and the swagger.
He appeared effortlessly cool. He was the guy that every girl wanted to be with, and every guy just wanted to be. My questionable taste in steel toed boots and spending way too much on making my hair look effortlessly tousled I blame solely on him.
After Kick I lost most of my interest in INXS. Their follow-up album X was too poppy for me, and while they had songs off later albums I dug (Heaven Sent in particular) they fell off my radar and commercial success in general.
Having said that, I wonder if he was still around if they would have made a comeback album. That always seems possible if a band sticks around long enough.
Instead, he’s gone and the rest of the band were left without a rudder. Their reality show where they searched for a new singer seemed distasteful. Eventually they realized that he was irreplaceable and broke up last year.
His absence is felt even further in our current indie rock landscape, where rock star swagger is discouraged. He’s one of the last of the great rock and roll frontmen, plain and simple.
It’s been clear as I’ve cranked INXS all week, rediscovering what made them (and him) so awesome in the first place.
My personal favorite INXS tune is one of their earliest tracks, Don’t Change. And one line in the lyrics stands out to me:
Resolution of happiness/Things have been dark for too long
Sad that he never got that resolution. His fans feel the same way.
R.I.P. Michael Hutchence (22 January 1960 – 22 November 1997)
What are your thoughts when remembering Michael Hutchence? Tell us in the comments.
I’ve made an iTunes playlist of some of my fave INXS songs below: