Mystify: Michael Hutchence

The last rock concert I ever went to was INXS in Darwin at least thirty years ago.  I swore off live gigs after that, because to this day I blame my mild hearing loss on the deafening volume of the music.

I now reckon you’re better off watching a performance on a screen of some kind, where you can control the volume and also see better. 

It wasn’t till I saw Michael Hutchence onscreen in Mystify that I realised what a dazzling stage performer he was.  A veritable Aussie Mick Jagger!  I certainly don’t remember that from the concert – I was too busy blocking my ears! 

There’s plenty of close-up footage of Hutchence in action in this excellent documentary by his long-time friend, rock-video maker Richard Lowenstein.

Lowenstein cast Hutchence in his 1986 cult classic Dogs In Space, set in 1978 in the scungy drug-riddled Melbourne punk music scene.  Lowenstein has said it was largely autobiographical for both of them.  I tried watching it the other night but it was just too ugly and grimy and I gave up on it after about 30 minutes.

Now, 22 years after Hutchence’s suicide, his friend has made a mature work drawing on his own work and also the hours of home-movie footage shot by Hutchence himself – turns out he was a keen amateur. 

Yes, I said ‘suicide’.  Hands up all those who thought Hutchence’s death was a tragicomic accident involving auto-eroticism?  I certainly did, and I’m not spoiling the story by correcting the record here; the coroner at the time returned a verdict of deliberate suicide.  Amazing how urban myths become accepted reality.

What led up to Hutchence’s death is a surprisingly moving story told here with considerable skill and sensitivity.  You’ll remember the sensational headlines about the affair with TV rock chick Paula Yates, her custody battle with Bob Geldof over their three daughters, the birth of Hutchence’s own child with Yates.  In the headlines it was a wildly entertaining story about the chaotic personal lives of rock celebrities with their drug use, their constant mobility, their wealth, their casual couplings and breedings.  The juvenile self-indulgence of the whole spectacle seemed in this case epitomised by the silly cute names they gave their children:  Peaches Honeyblossom, Fifi Trixibelle, Pixie.  And to top those off, the love child of Hutchence and Yates:  Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily.  I mean, seriously?!

But rock gods, like movie stars, can be vulnerable and needy.  And as with Marilyn Monroe, Michael Hutchence’s emotional fragility had its roots in childhood when his mother, a glamorous ex-model, abandoned her family when he was just 15, perhaps giving rise to his lifelong propensity to seek comfort in intense relationships with women.

Sure, Hutchence took full sexual advantage of his rock star status (brush with fame! A friend of a friend reports a one-night stand) but his long-term girlfriends all remember him fondly as a devoted and tender lover.  It’s particularly interesting to hear from Kylie Minogue, who gave Lowenstein generous access to the extensive home video Hutchence shot of their time together, and who is endearingly frank about the dead lover who, she says, broke her heart when he dumped her. 

Mystify reveals for the first time the event which caused Hutchence’s behaviour and his emotional instability to worsen in the later years of his life.  He sustained quite serious brain damage in 1992 when a Copenhagen taxi-driver coward-punched him for standing drunkenly in his way.  He was with Helena Christensen at the time but for some reason he swore her to secrecy about it and she honoured her promise.

It’s all on the record now, but I’ll resist the temptation to reveal more good bits and simply recommend that you do see this very good doco when you get a chance.