The phone rang late on a Friday night in November 1997 and a vaguely familiar voice delivered some startling news. “Michael Hutchence died,” my sister said, calling from New Zealand.
It couldn’t have been a joke; she doesn’t joke. She repeated the headline that scrolled across her television set. The INXS frontman (pictured with then-girlfriend Helena Christensen in 1994) had apparently committed suicide in his Sydney hotel room. I turned on the radio. KROQ, a modern-rock station that had long ago abandoned INXS, cleared its schedule to play back-to-back hits. A rival rock scribe called the station to offer some useless speculation.
My editors gratefully took me up on my offer to write a quick profile of Hutchence and the band, even though I was off the clock and Reuters kept to strict geographical demarcations. I correctly figured the Sydney office needed my expertise, and I filled the 700-word piece with quotes from three interviews I had done with Hutchence, the most recent earlier in the year.
I also congratulated myself on a canny move four months earlier: INXS had done a backstage meet-and-greet after a show at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, and I took time out from chatting up a pair of sisters to pose for a photo with Hutchence at the behest of a photographer hired by the label. Bassist Garry Gary Beers then offered to pose for a shot with me. These photo ops are a music industry cliché that I try to avoid, but I’m glad I made this exception. A few years later, I went to great lengths to track down those color slides. And I continue to avoid goofy arm-around-shoulder shots with the excuse, “The last guy who posed with me killed himself a few months later.”
I left out such first-person observations from my hasty profile. It also would have been nice to mention my INXS encounter a few months before that in April, as an unpaid extra on the video shoot for the single “Everything.”
Accompanied by a few hundred fans and professional extras who had wisely brought along food and reading material, I spent the better part of my Saturday doing an awful lot of waiting around. There was a line to get in the door and another one to sign a disclaimer. Then we sat for three hours while gofers occasionally came over to issue instructions and then disappear. Finally, we were herded to the set, a circular wooden grandstand looking down on a revolving octagonal platform. It was to be a simple performance video with the audience singing along while the band pretended to play along to a backing track, not exactly in the groundbreaking style of MTV Video Music Award-winning clips like “Need You Tonight.”
Take after take, we walked down from the top, sat down, sang, clapped, cheered, got up and swayed. I rather enjoyed the audience participation bit; it was a step up from singing in the shower. The whole setup reminded me of the Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus, where fans endured a multiday taping of a Stones-hosted all-star concert in 1968. During the frequent breaks, the INXS guys chatted with fans and signed autographs. Six hours later we were freed, tired but exhilarated. Sadly I’m not visible in the clip, just one of the masses as the lens zeroes in on the young hotties. Still, I consider it “my song.”
NOTE: This is an excerpt from my gossipy rock memoir, Strange Days: The Adventures of a Grumpy Rock ‘n’ Roll Journalist in Los Angeles, available here. For more info, go to strangedaysbook.com
Copyright © 2013 by Dean Goodman. PLEASE DO NOT CUT AND PASTE THE WHOLE THING