Somewhat to my surprise INXS are having another moment in the sun. They are everywhere. A miniseries in the classic Australian 10BA style, a number one greatest hits package, and a tribute band (INEXCESS) endlessly touring the holiday spot RSLs. They’re getting picked for up ad tv ad soundtracks (South Australian tourism, NRMA, John Lewis). Plus, of course, that strange dotted line connection to Peaches Geldof. I suppose that in a lot of ways it’s about time. Those who fronted up to early and mid-eighties gigs must be in their fifties these days, and well positioned in terms of disposable income. And those youngsters who sat at home watching INXS on Countdown are in their forties, and probably similarly well positioned.
Those of us in this position, we’ve got cash to spend and a fairly limited array of nostalgic items to (re-)buy. Sure, we could buy World Series Cricket coloured shirts, or Newtown Jets jerseys, or Datsun 180Bs, or Bob’s a Bottler tshirts, or Neighbours dvds, or endless books about The Dismissal or mutually assured destruction. But these exotic specimens of eighties paraphernalia aren’t going to satisfy. They don’t add up to much except the fetishes quietly formed by teenagers in fibro boxes surrounded by dead couch grass and Christmas bushes. Australian suburban grotesques. For nostalgia to really work you’ve got to share it, It’s got to be something already shared. The thing that is obviously shared in this case is absence. Michael Hutchence is dead and so is the thing that might be nostalgised.
Since that day in 1997 INXS have been something I couldn’t bear to look at too closely. They continued in a hapless and embarrassing sort of way: Jon Stevens, Jimmy Barnes, JD Fortune, reality tv, all that shit. I couldn’t watch, I couldn’t listen. Didn’t want to, it wasn’t real, they weren’t really INXS without Michael Hutchence. Not to say I gave away those hoarded LPs, or that I didn’t buy that terrible Michael Hutchence album, or that I didn’t buy the two disc collection The Years 1979 – 1997. I kept my LPs (from Shabooh Shoobah to Kick) and I found myself unable to resist attractively packaged compilations, of which there have been at least half a dozen (mysteriously). Similarly I still find Michael Hutchence a figure I can stare at for quite a long time.
A long time ago I stood in Selinas at Coogee and watched him perform, as close to me as my cubicle buddy is here right now (we will fight like thissss, he spat at me leaning on a marshall stack). I was a believer before that night but I knew as we tucked into hot dogs, and walked back toward Clovelly to find the car, that I would always believe, that I just loved what they, and what he, did. I just loved it. I didn’t care about ordinary new albums, angled toward competition with Nirvana or Oasis. I didn’t care about Kylie or Paula Yates or Bob Geldof. I didn’t care about gossip or celebrity. I didn’t care about crappy music videos or chart success. I didn’t care about remixes or new packaging or rereleased on CD versions. I had those classic LPs and big speakers, what more could I ask for?
Then he died. I cried. That’s some complicated wanking. I remember Dr Sternlove rolling her eyes as I tried to figure out why I was crying. And over the last seventeen years at various points I’ve thought about INXS and why it felt like they mattered so much to me. And the answer is obvious now, as forty something with disposable income, it was the end of loving some distant other without irony being present. Michael Hutchence was a rock star I loved, without a comprehension of the distance elided by my hands holding those records. The space was incomprehensible, and then, behind the door of Room 524 at the Ritz-Carlton, there it was, the distance.
A dead love is all about the irony.