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Boom, crash: the TV myth of INXS (and their part in my downfall)

I can verify that the Channel Seven mini-series INXS: Never Tear Us Apart is an accurate representation of the hair, clothes and anguished rock posing that were their metier in 1980. At the time I was starting out in a band called Serious Young Insects; we shared the bill with INXS on their second trip to Melbourne. It was clear these guys wanted it bad. The music was still a bit of a mess — a bit ska, a bit new wavey, and Timmy’s Stones-like licks were dreadful — but they imposed their enthusiasm and will on the audience. And they had that singer. “INXS have cracked the Melbourne market,” our agent proclaimed as 150 people squeezed into Martini’s. The Seven mini-series embraces this mindset: crack markets, conquer territories.

We shared the bill with them several times over the next couple of years. Back stage in St Kilda our drummer asked Michael Hutchence where the toilet was. “You turn left and just keep walking.” He uttered the words as if he was earnestly delivering the chorus from their 1981 single, Just Keep Walking. But without the self-aware irony. With that we went our separate ways. The Insects headed for the toilet. INXS headed for Wembley.

INXS: Never Tear Us Apart, which concludes on Sunday night, buttresses and re-positions the popular culture mythology of this world-conquering band but doesn’t go deep. Supposedly telling the “inside story”, a rushed series of vignettes reduces it to art direction, clothing and hair — where they were and what they were wearing.

The depth and complexity of the lives of these six young men are not rendered here. Bands are messy and complex; stable personal lives are painfully trashed, left outside the bubble of inter-band tensions about music, politics and control. Cliques form. Resentments seethe. Band members end up in therapy. I know this as my next band was Boom Crash Opera, a band which, not unlike INXS, sought to conquer the world. While they toured South America we toured the south island of New Zealand. There were rumours of sacks of excess cocaine being cast off hotel balconies, but these were probably apocryphal and told by roadies who wished they were with INXS in Buenos Aires rather than BCO in Picton.

The story of Michael, the Farris Brothers, Kirk and the other guy is reduced to key plot points: the decision to go “original”, the brothers promising their parents to look after little Jonny, acquiring Chris Murphy as a manager, the first US tour, the first No. 1, the hotel room parties, clouds of cocaine, truckloads of topless women, etc. Notably, Murphy (co-executive producer of this mini-series) appears throughout, allowing himself to be portrayed as a head-kicker.

In trying to give a broad sweep of events it diminishes detail and depth. Huge swathes of time are swept aside by reflective voiceovers. The quest for success in rock and roll is a war of attrition — can you keep heart, mind and band together while trapped on a bus with (usually) smelly (usually) men for two years straight? We see 1983 in two shots: lounging bus bodies and Andrew sounding like a pre-schooler poking away on a Casio writing Original Sin. No drama there.

Boom Crash Opera
Boom Crash Opera

Early in our career BCO were dubbed “the next INXS”. Despite this (or because of it), Murphy offered us a publishing deal. It was for the entire universe forever. Just like the mini-series, he was an overwhelming force of nature. He said: “Don’t wait. Make an album now. Tour, tour, tour.” It sounded like “tora, tora, tora!”. Somehow we sensed we were being circled by a shark so we found our own. Rivalry simmered between our hefty new management, who used to manage Cold Chisel, and Murphy. The deal was suitably tempered. We signed.

INXS probably had no knowledge of this. They were off conquering the United States. Occasionally they flew in for award ceremonies and we sat next to them. Dale, our singer, and Michael might have shared a beer and secret singer’s business. I might have exchanged pleasantries with Kirk. Like Never Tear Us Apart, it was all surface, no depth. There were no Rococo hotel suites full of topless women. Rock’n’roll decadence is not plush velvet. It’s cubicle No. 2 at Springfields, mind the spew. I never saw INXS there. We were invited to concerts that were much bigger than our own. Michael had turned into a real rock star.

While the live performance scenes in NTUA are exceptionally well staged and integrated with stock footage (“Hello Wembley!”), the writing and studio scenes are awkward. Andrew’s musical abilities seem goofy. Maybe his hilarious two-note guitar overdub on Need You Tonight is a sly dig at the expensive studio noodling that used to go on. More likely it is a ham-fisted portrayal of “minimalist genius”.

In my experience, big-budget ’80s recording was laborious. Albums dribbled to a conclusion with band members losing interest and drifting off to different continents. There was no chipper Timmy going “well chaps, this is our best album ever“. In a voiceover at the end, Jon says “it was always about the music”. Despite the visceral soundtrack, the INXS in NTUA is not about music.

I related to INXS’s mission to conquer the world and still have great respect for what they achieved. I also understand that a large part of that brief is to manufacture a group mythology: a public image of a united gang with attendant values, a clear message and similar haircuts. Look at the cover art for Kick — there’s even a skateboard on it. We know nothing of the schisms and personal tribulations of U2 or Midnight Oil, but we have a sense of each band’s ethos: U2’s focus on empathy and justice with big video screens and sunglasses; the Oils’ passionate ochre-coloured leftist politics. The styling and the message mesh. Who is the bass player? Who cares — it’s a band/brand. Occasionally the brand allows conflict to give texture to the endeavour; it worked for Mick’n’Keef. Too much conflict and the band breaks up without conquering America: think Liam’n’Noel. The key to Rock’s war of attrition is to “keep the band together” — the title says it all: Never Tear Us Apart.

I have my suspicions that NTUA is a marketing exercise in myth building, its aim to reinforce and deepen the band’s story by infusing it with Michael’s decline, stitching his death — something private, real, and painful — into the group’s narrative and then … cut to Wembley for the finale.

Michael was an exceptional rock star. INXS made  great pop/rock. And no one should underestimate what they pulled off. But the story told here shows no trail-blazing aesthetic (Radiohead), no spiritual or political anguish (U2) and no incisive conflict or co-dependencies (The Stones and everyone else); it’s about acquiring fans, developing markets and conquering territories. Unless it’s actually about Michael. Public acclaim/private anguish is an all-too-familiar trope. It’s obvious. Why pretend it’s about the band when it’s about Michael?

Our manager ran Murphy’s record company for a while. We moved our business into his offices. Eventually we fell out. Towards the end of the ’80s, before it went south, I went to the INXS Christmas party (no cocaine, no topless women; bread and dips). I had just dipped my pita into some babaganoush when Murphy buttonholed me and fired up about my career/the industry vibe/our relationship/conquering territories/annexing countries — pretty much how he’s depicted in the mini-series. My eyes began to water as I realised the babganoush was wasabi. Overcome, unable to speak, I fled.

Postscript: Garry Beers’ ex-wife Jodie and their two daughters now live happily with Peter Maslen, the drummer from Boom Crash Opera. Real life is much messier than NTUA.

82 responses to “Boom, crash: the TV myth of INXS (and their part in my downfall)

  1. Peter
    From a layman’s perspective, I couldn’t help notice that this had more to do with Chris Murphy than anyone.
    Your right, the real story of INXS and more note ably Michael has not been told.
    They mystery of his death will now and always be a mystery. As Rhet hutchencr puts it. Only Mucharl & God will know.
    Maybe his lover Erin (Jessica or Blair in LA). Whoever she is. An I bolt dislodged from the ceiling of room 524 in which Mr. River was found. Have allot of answers.
    There are conspiracy theories of foul play. But, from what I’ve read and can surmise. The I bolt holds they key.
    Micheal’s estate was somewhat complicated and no one who cared had the money to challenge Colin to fight for his daughter Tiger.
    I hope that if anything the proceeds of this go to her and not Chris.
    Interested to see what Murphy and the boys have to say on 7 tonight.
    The boys like a band of brothers have a right to hold onto their private memories.
    People also need to hear how manipulating Paula was and how she was the beginning of his end.

  2. I was determined to hate the show because from the trailers it looked like they turned it into home and away or something. But I enjoyed it in a fun, base, trashy way, like people enjoy home and away I suppose. It left me with the question of whether it’s even possible to dramatize real events without sensationalizing them? Possibly in literature, rarely in television I’d guess.

  3. Nice, critical review indeed. From my opinion: first of all I was very curious how the mini- series would be. After seeing this I only saw a total combination of the latest biography including You Tube material that you can read and find everywhere, no matter what person who knew Michael was behind it at all. I think it was too much time filmed in about an hour of three, impossible… Michael is first the beloved rockstar but turns into a danger for the band afterwards. I think there’s more behind it all. The actor who was in the role of Michael did his best, but for me Michael isn’t a person that cant be imaged that easy. Only when you are a very authentic actor like Val Kilmer did in the movie The Doors by Lynch that time. I forgot the real Jim. The details were allright in this mini- series but I missed art/ refining things that you would be astonished.

  4. All I got out of the series was a vehicle for Chris Murphy to star in the INXS story. After being trapped in doors for a stretch, Chris Murphy is EVERYWHERE talking himself up. And was anyone else appalled by the credits being swept by and swamped by a promo for Chris’ garage stash of momentos and some “tell all” with Kirk. I wasn’t completely sure the series had ended.

    For what it’s worth, my experience is that Michael had a temper long before the accident (I was sure it was a bike accident), he sometimes called me a slut for refusing to cash his dole cheques without ID (yes, once upon a time they were in cheque form and you could hand them over for cash if you had ID. Would we have had the calibre of music in the 70/80’s without the dole cheque?). Which bank on the lower North Shore and INXS played a bit at the Mosman Hotel. I was 16 and terrified of him. One time a very scary, bald guy came in shortly after told me to come see his band (at Many Vale) to cheer me up. That I did, and have been an Oils fan ever since.
    As luck would have it my ex went to school with Michael and was possibly one the bullies portrayed. Over the years their paths crossed a few times. A bit of snarling and puffing of chests. Michael cut his grass with a former girlfriend. Last encounter was a lower North Shore pub, mounting a Harley with Kylie throwing a leg over.

    And my BCO story……….so new (who?) in a tiny inner city pub and Dale sang to either the drum kit or the back window, I wasn’t sure. I don’t think any of us saw his face. Theirs was the very last vinyl I bought before CD’s took over. Great band.

    My only hope from this series is, (if Chris Murphy doesn’t scare the bejesus out them) that young Aussie’s will be motivated to bring back the hungry, energised, heart thumping, sweaty, chaotic rock us old folk took for granted most nights of the week at a location somewhere nearby without painstaking planning and an insulting tax called a booking fee. Who gets this anyway? I’d rather it went to the roadies………..the unsung heroes who brought the live music to us in everyway. How many muso’s owe their very lives to their roadies? Perhaps that’s a mini series……………

  5. A good review from a personal perspective, I only ever had one band in my ears then (and almost still do) in the belief that there were no other bands that could get it so right (AC..) but I have long since realised the exquisite style and collaboration of the band in question, the pure sex and delivery of tunes written the way themes or ad’s would be (dramatically subtle).
    As with many bands and notably many Australian ones, keeping the show on the road globally is the real dilemma as the business model is oh so demanding – I do agree that live music is powerful and helpful in many ways – and that legislation and business assistance would benefit live music – and that Gambling should be restricted to over 21’s : )

  6. Peter
    I excitedly went off to the HV to see you and BCO last year (or late the year before) playing with other 80s bands I loved and was not disappointed. Less so excitedly dragged off to yet another HV winery to see INXS with JD Fortune, thinking the whole time the same thing I thought about DTUA….. Bow out when on top. BCO are as big a part of my teens as INXS. You should be proud!

  7. Thanks for the review. I hope to be able to watch this show in the USA. Or, perhaps on my Netflix. For those who speak of INXS as average. Well, you can’t have seen them live or really listened to all their music. Michael was a poet. He didn’t get enough recognition for his music. I am not a musician so I can only say what I feel when I listen. His words moved me before I ever SAW him. THEN…when I saw him, well, he was BEAUTIFUL so that certainly didn’t hurt. Next, I saw them LIVE. Ten times actually. He was the best front mine in my eyes. He wrapped you in and was engaging and so sexy. I dragged a friend to a show. She wasn’t that interested as The Rolling Stones and Mick Jagger were more to her liking. After the show, she said “Oh my Gawd, he IS SEX.” Now, there’s more to a band than what the lead singer looks like, but his voice went along with it all. Then you add in his music…well, to me and many others….Magic. INXS is still my favorite band of all time! I can hardly watch a video without getting upset that he is no longer with us. Their music engages my soul. I am 48 btw and I lived through the 80’s and did enjoy many, many other bands. I have seen every band that I wanted to see; U2, ACDC, Madonna, Tom Tom Twins, Erasure, Depeche Mode, Midnight Oil, Howard Jones, The Cure, The Cult, Duran Duran, The Fixx, Frankie goes to Hollywood, KISS, Kylie, The Smiths, Public Enemy, English Beat….the list goes on. INXS was still the best LIVE band ever. So, if you didn’t like them, fine, but please do not say that they were average! From a TRUE blue INXS fan!!

  8. Hey Well Said Hayley. I was just saying to a friend today, how much I love Australian Music from that era, especially Boom Crash Opera, they had a great sound. Too bad they cant be happy for INXS, even if it is to make more money. Boom Crash Opera wont be able to do the same thing. INXS songs were great!

    1. Yes CW!!!!!
      It’s a TV series. It needs to be looked at in that context. BCO were a ‘university band’ and unfortunately here we see one member still stuck in an ‘intellectual drain’. He saw a different film to everyone else – not just because ‘he was there’, rather he is still obsessed with the frontman and therefore seemingly unaware that this band were loved by crowded stadiums around the world. (Band defined here as ALL of them). These are the people saying things like, “so glad it wasn’t all about Michael as we got to know the Farriss brothers and Chris Murphy and how they got their name, their work ethic etc. But these things “Disappear” when juxtaposed “with all of Farnam’s problems and all of his fears”.

      1. If either you or CW knew Peter you would know sour grapes was far from Peter thoughts , he is not that kind of person , he calls a spade a spade and always speaks from the heart . If Peter says it , Peter believes it .

  9. sounds like “Sour Grapes” from most of you, who cares if you liked INXS or not, they achieved what they achieved. Yeh, I liked the Spy’s and Midnight Oi Boom Crash Opera etc along with all the other great aussie bandsl along with Duran Duran and Wham too….(and I lived in the outback, no Sydney pub bands here) But, god come on, you have to give it to them They made it……………. Get over it, all you 40 something people and stop whinging and becoming middle aged groaners. Channel 7 did a damm good job, everyone has a point of view and maybe you just remembered it in a different way. And yes, I am 40 something now and grumpy, but just friggin whinge about something else……………………………….

    1. You obviously didn’t even read the review, throwing in “yourrrrr justzzzz jeallouzzzz!!!333!!!!” And whinge somewhere else? LOL, pot, kettle, black.
      Seriously, grow up.

      I could barely bring myself to watch the second episode because being someone who loved INXS to pieces I was incredibly upset at how superficial it all felt. My teenage self was a little shocked at the tits and arse and all the drugs, my 40 something self tried to reconcile that at least some of it must have had to have been true. Peter’s review has been the most insightful I’ve seen, not someone who was jealous, but of someone who was there, who knows the reality of the toll touring and being in the spotlight can have on people. This TV movie lacked insight, real insight and felt like as Peter says myth making in the process. No need to do that for the fans, to us they already had a place in our hearts and memories.

  10. I was a paid member of the INXS fan club and saw them in Melbourne at the Entertainment Centre

    Adored Michael… hot hot hot!

    Kylie Minogue benefited by her association with Michael as he deflowered and she became a pop

    She would know more than most what really went on as well being his lover and a popstar in the industry.

  11. The Farris Brothers (the band) was kind of interesting, but a bit self-indulgent. I thought they sounded a little like a Santana cover band! INXS in the early days had that raw post-punk Australian pub energy with clever songs. The stadium version of INXS was a little bloated . . . a triumph of style over substance. BCO on the other hand was superb. I could never understand why the band was not more successful. The first two albums, particularly, are so well crafted, and your live sound was immaculate . . . . and everybody looked on stage like you were having just the best time! I was always especially impressed with the ability to use all those guitars and still find unique space in the arrangement for each. The one good thing about the limited success of BCO for a punter (thinking selfishly now), you were gigging a lot but always in mid-sized venues, and with excellent production. A BCO gig was always a happy experience!

  12. Thanks for the great read and insight. Nowadays I still have BCO downloaded to the phone. lament never seeing you live and always thought your music – every bit. Was great.

  13. I think it’s sad that most of you define yourself by being critical and in opposition to something about Aussie success. That is unfortunately our insecure culture shining through. Tall poppy syndrome is alive and well. Band was great. Show is great. Review is self indulgant.

    1. Well said Kevin. Bitter Tears. The review continues the Australian media’s inversion of the cultural cringe dating back to the 80’s that we saw last night in Part 2. Neither the writer nor most of the comments here do not recognise NTUA’s consideration of Tiger Lily – she’s alive guys – respect!

      1. An important point Just Saying, and one that is no doubt scoffed at in this indulgent comparison. I watched this series with an awareness that one day, she’ll see this, and she might just get an understanding of her father that is in stark contradiction to the information her upbringing afforded her. I think it was handled sensitively. He was beautiful, flawed, talented and complex. No doubt there was so much more to his story, as there is to all stories, but I feel the superficial aspect was a perfect way to explore the life of his band and his life, with dignity. I don’t understand the comparisons that are being made. Nobody is suggesting that other Australian bands were unworthy. This was not about them, or about INXS compared to them. Bring out your own mini series if you think you have the substance to offer something more.

  14. The Hutchence family dog once followed my sister home and stayed the night at our place. So I am the bees knees when it comes to INXS réalités. So the other night I was watching a re-run of Packed to the Rafters when all of sudden they started singing… OHMYGOD… it was the INXS musical version of Packed to the Rafters. I am not sure what Adam Ant had to do with it all but he would be spinning in his grave if in fact he had a grave to spin in if he saw that imitation (and it was not flattery). It was nice to see Kylie Minogue making a comeback to Australian TV but someone needs to speak to her management about dropping that 80s hair. So anyways, back to INXS. I am hoping they make a movie that is more Dogs in Space and less Home and Away. Tits and swear words doesn’t make something rock ‘n’ roll.

  15. I think the Vince Lovegrove book that Paula Yates had removed from the shelves would make a much, much better story. It is authentic, it was well written and it was done with Michael’s father Kel. Would love to see that story republished.

  16. Great story from Peter Farnan, an insiders view will always trump the glossed over tele-movies that was always going to happen with this story (will be interesting to see how they gloss over Michael’s ill-fated and sad death in a hotel room). I remember seeing INXS at the Homestead Hotel on Brisbane’s northside in about 1983, around the time of the Shooboo Shabah album, the place was packed with about 800 people on a Monday or Tuesday night (pretty big deal for Brisbane back then). You could tell they (INXS) were going to be a big band, Michael oozed rock stardom, what a shame that it ended the way it did. I thought Boom Crash Opera were going to be a big band too ? I have their first single ‘Great Wall’ on 45″inch vinyl somewhere in a cupboard gathering dust, sorry Pete you didn’t make it all the way to Wembley but at least you are arguably in a better place than Michael is right now.

  17. Nice work Peter Farnan. Admittedly I was a bigger fan of BCO than INXS back in the day but I thought the miniseries was about as deep as a puddle – more about the marketing than the music, and Andrew Farriss who I do think write some excellent stuff was depicted as a complete dweeb. As you say, bands are messy, and relationships are complicated, and that’s kind of the fascinating bit – but NTUA showed absolutely none of it. Thanks for a great piece. Still think BCO were brilliant.

  18. Line up…Line up….!

    So far this week we’ve had to read funny egotistical bitter tears and the “I like the old stuff better than the new stuff’ jealousy coming out of (semi) failed Aussie “pop/rock stars” from as broad as The Go Betweens (John Willsteed) to Boom Crash (Pete)…..who’s next in line?….. Scott Carne? David Steery? Jon Stevens?

    Maybe not. They’re not biter old school teachers, dreaming “what if”.

    “Haters gunna hate”

  19. I agree Pete. I happen to be a big INXS fan but the show was all fluff and no grit.

    Then again, it is television and there are lots of invested stakeholders producing and consulting on the show.

    It’s like a series of film clips interwoven with some twee dialogue and expository writing.

    Credit must go to the actors who are doing a pretty good job with an average script. especially Damon Herriman.

    Keep up the great work Pete.

  20. Lots of parallels to the other exploitation TV biopics like Underbelly as far as I can see. The public percerption of bands then (and now to a lesser degree) was one of sex, drugs & rock’n roll. I too was working in this area through the 80’s and can add my voice to the chorus that it just wasn’t like that. NTUA is fairly harmless, it may encourage a few youngsters to pick up a guitar & have a go; what worries me more is the never ending crime boss biopics that portray similar lifestyles through crime.

  21. HAHAHAHA I could not have said it better, I was around in some of those years, and watching the show last week with all the chicks running around in hotel rooms, I said to my mate “What a load of crap” that shit just didnt happen like that, I was there at times, and it was good, but typical over the top TV shit, love those guys … not sure of the early days but they wernt Guns N Roses or Motley Crue where that shit happened, but was good viewing, we all love a great rock n roll story, great article Pete :)

  22. Peter Farnan, great Aussie musician. Serious Young Insects were fabo! I have the album with Faraway Places on it, under-rated classic album and it gets a spin at my place still. Going to see BCO in Geelong at the Geetroit Rocks festival, will be great to see you guys play. ( I will be at the front yelling out requests for Serious Young Insect songs)
    Michael Hutchence, yes they made it big and earned the kudos they deserve. I find the re-emergence of the Sunnyboys for more inspirational. To see and hear Jeremy Oxley sing and play again with the rest of this incredible band is a true miracle. “The Sunnyboy” documentary wins hands down over the NTUA mini-series IMO.

  23. Well written Peter. No doubt that a lot of bogans (myself included])in Australia will watch this precis of a career and believe that this is how it was. Still hard to cram all the detail of a full career into two episodes. I have serious Young insects Album still somewhere in my collection. Happy days they were indeed

  24. Pete takes them right outta my mouth as per and no Trouble Understanding Words here. My own personal perspective re the InXS phenom came about via my role as the Casting Directorr looking for rock icons for much lauded/awarded Aussie chick Gillian Armstrong’s 2nd movie “Starstruck – a comedy musical” – and thus my personal dealings with the sometimes laissez-faire, languid Michael and intensely verbose, sweaty Chris Murphy (who also sort-of managed my former partner’s at the time (1980) band. My initial introduction to the eventual mega-group arrived via courier to my Kings Cross office in the form of a fat and bulky 3/4 inch umatic tape – their “showreel”, a presentation of a few early songs employing just enough minimalism … A white room. The band dressed in various combos of black and white. Black plastic garbage bags spread out, stuck to the floor – a shiny, slippery, oily-looking black surface giving the Jaggeresque stylings of the pouting singer/danceur minimal traction (and thus a lot more moves added into the exisiting repertoire), AND in giant lettering created out of white gaffer tape, the edgily rendered letters taped to the “floorground” announcing: “InXS”. Energy to burn punched out of the huge TV screen rendering it it almost inadequate to capture the “tiny” studio show they were presenting as an intro to themselves and their music. Michael in person under most circumstances outside of performing, appeared in awkward relationship with his body, socially introverted, physically he would literally appear folded in upon himself (even when in a Sydney Cinema watching a film – where I was seated beside him on more than 1 occasion), restless, unsure and just plain, damn, uncomfortable. But during his pre-audition for STARSTRUCK, after a few chats (very intelligent) and a couple of screentests (“would need some training to understand how to work with the camera” say my notes from that time) I certainly believed that if he would ever be able to devote the time and attention required to the endeavour, then most definitely he could emerge – with great care taken – a sensitive and insightful performer capable of delivering depth and nuance – a genuine film/theatre presence. It could potentially culminate in another gift to us all of artistry and brilliance presented from a unique, considered and thoughtful position. Murphy was all-systems-go, leaving no cliché unturned in the process. When on the phone in an initial call to ascertain Hutchence’s interest in perhaps auditioning, I made the grave error of referring to the bands I was contacting and researching for the film as “Up-and-coming, cutting-edge Aussie bands…” and was rewarded with a mid-sentence anti-tirade wjherein it was explained to me at length and unrelenting volume that InXS were far from “Up and coming”, that this band had, in fact “already reached the top” (here my 20 year old self felt confused…. which “top” would that be?) and there was also some direct instruction couched within the shrieking advising that I get my vocabulary surgically adjusted were he (CM) and I ever to speak again. I waited quietly for quite some time without hanging up, (an old “handler’s” trick) and after about 3-4 mins, vocal output several octaves lower and tone vastly more pleasant, I heard “Sooo…. so…. what was Michael like? Was he any good? Can he do it? Act, I mean. Is it something he should try?”
    “Is he ever going to be allowed enough time off to explore every one of those tantalizing options?” I shot back, “Because he does need some training – the sooner he gets that, the sooner he has a screen career, I have no doubt”. Then I got the “Handler’s Silence” for a few, which eventually became a series of grunts and musing-sounding hums “Mmmm. I …. seeee….mmmmm. You’re saying he can be an actor, just like that!”
    “No, not just like that – WITH SOME INTENSE TRAINING”.
    “Right. Right. Right. Yes right.”
    And the next thing I heard – as the audition process for STARSTRUCK wound painfully and unsatisfyingly onward, InXS were off on some bazillion-port tour overseas. I felt that he would never be let go until there was nothing more to sing or he himself was totally over the kind of life required to ensure that he got up and sung at bazillions of venues. Although later he did take on a role in Richard Lowenstein’s “DOGS IN SPACE” about a night at a rock’n’roll Melbourne share-house (bizarrely, when I went to see that film, I suddenly realised that I myself had also been there on the night referred to…..great party). But this “mini series”, NTUA is profoundly disappointing in both direction and script. Just sketches pulled together into something suggesting that it DOES contain order by throwing a list of relevant statistics (albums sold, cities played,radio stations to conquer, $s thrown around, trickeries being perpetrated – but in that dinkum Aussie Larrikin way, so it’s alright). Then, when what would usually be precious story telling time can be taken up with an almost full-length, faithful copy of a memorably lush, Caligula-esque, OTT video made for one InXS song…. it seem like silly filler, partnered with the high-rotation use of the accursed “montage” effect.The entire enterprise is already a broad distance away from us to start with, by virtue of an unengaging, flawed, impersonal, many- montaged script giving us but a peek at EVERYTHING we already know (the same criticism can be levelled at 9 Network’s “Schapelle”). It’s like trying to glean detail from something happening to a group of people on the opposite side of a mile wide river, to us Viewers, . Now shoot it that way as well…… we become the Ultra Observers.
    Not engaged, not invested, frankly, not even included – how could we be?
    Whilst the subjects of our jaundiced gazes themselves, are “on the other side of;
    The ultramontane” .
    The dictionary tells us that this word ‘ultra” comes from the Latin…eg
    ” Ultra beyond”.
    In the case of NTUA,
    No bond.
    Just beyond.

    1. Shauna…very insightful! I think the script would have benefited from additional insights such as yours. The problem with biopics is that we, as an audience, pretty much know what happens. The key, I think, is peppering the journey with little-known but interesting moments to keep up our interest. Killer soundtrack certainly helps scoot it all along.

  25. Didn’t watch the show but enjoyed this review. What used to amaze me most about inxs in their civic hotel days was the ability to change a string mid song. No roadies or rack of axes in those days! Ps peter still play “hell to pay” loudly when I need a pick up

  26. I remember seeing the Models at the Newcastle Workers Club (yes the one that fell down) and the band before them just blew us away. Of course that band was Boom Crash Opera. Brilliant.

    Unfortunately the Models sucked.

    1. Hey I was there too… was a huge Sean Kelly/ Models fan at the time but I agree Boom Crash Opera WERE JUST BRILLIANT! Huh the Eighties-I spent most of it going to Australian music and i don’t regret it and gives me a lot to laugh about now!

      1. It’s funny, this faux cynicism “I was in the 80s, and…” well I saw INXS, Spy vs Spy, Bad Seeds and so on…in the 80s. In fact I even saw the Boys Next Door in late 70s.
        INXS for a period had what no Australian group ever did, SEX and funk.
        They also had for a period groove and edge. I remember them at the Stage Door as a small punk oriented funk band, then at the Thebarton Theatre where they impressed me with their heaviness even did covers of Deep Purple then at Football Park where they had become lolly pop. I also remember that when living in Europe in the mid 80s, only ACDC, INXS and Nick Cave had any resonance. With the exception of Athens where the Lime Spiders, and Exploding White Mice had more fans than in Australia.

  27. Didn’t dig INXS, nor Boom Crash Opera, for that matter. But this is a fine piece, Peter. However, I did watch the show and cannot fathom how they’re getting away without a lawsuit from Mum and Siss Hutchence.

    1. Mums dead, and if I remember rightly there was some rumblings earlier on about the show from sis?? I cant recall…. This is just candy for the masses, no real value, just a way to waste a bit of time…

  28. I seem to recall that one reason they managed to hold together was that all songs were credited as ‘INXS’ when the main songwriter was Andrew Farriss. It’s something that created animosity in other bands (such as Skyhooks with Greg Macainsh) where the main songwriter made a fortune from publishing rights, while the rest of the band were on the breadline.

  29. My good friend Peter Farnan. A beautiful intelligent human. He always says it like it is. I respect that. Hope to catch up soon. The best musical memories I have ever had in my life were with Pete and Mark from The Insects. Greatest bunch of musical friends. 3 way spilt of royalties. No arguments , no ‘ooh I’m owed 8% for my word and intent’ ….Mick Vallance.

    1. Hey Mick, Not sure if you remember, but we worked together at The Sun in 1983 when I was a copyboy. Loved SYI and Horsehead later on, two bands who should have been lot bigger! Nice piece of writing Peter, liked INXS early stuff a lot more than their “superstar” output. As for BCO, were my favourite Oz band for long time, must have seen them at least 30 times live. Still to watch first part of this mini-series, but at least I’ve now been warned!

  30. I appreciate your piece, but all said and done it is just a ‘telemovie’ for the fans..
    I don’t think they intended it to be spot on or totally truthful.
    My friend Carey was lead singer in an INXS cover band for many years and he thought the show was awesome.
    ps I loved BCO ;)

  31. great piece. Other than Michael, INXS as people are just not that interesting. It is all about Michael but it is also about marketing INXS, something they have been doing for years, with reality TV show, etc… The music is good though, but agree the rest is all a bit superficial…

  32. The first time I heard/saw them was on TV, Meldrum introduced them (they were just kids) but Hutchence stood out like dog’s cods as a talent.

    1. Great article Peter. Never liked In Excess (which explains their bloated egotistical nature) and preferred other Australian bands when I was a teen in the early 1980s like the Serious Young Insects, Sunnyboys, The Smiths and others of their ilk.

      INXS was all about Michael just as Cold Chisel was all about Jimmy (if I hear Keh Sahn again I will blot) … egos egos and egos…

      Australian music is more than just our Michael, our Kylie and our Jimmy… but sadly MSM and fossil FM stations with their brain dead and lazy programmers will never think outside the square.

      Bonbeach VIC

      1. Spot on Steven. I spent hours travelling up and down the Princes Highway my car listening to The Trip (RRR) in the mid-eighties. Great music, not much INXS.

  33. Well said Mr Pete Farnan. I noticed NTUA left out the Kings Cross cubicle sex where a certain celebrity couple had their knickers pinched under the stall door.
    INXS were bloody good at what they did, but Serious Young Insects were one of the best live bands I saw in that era, and there were plenty to see. (I always liked SYI much more than BCO.)

  34. I have zero interest in INXS, having never liked their music (sorry, their records) or anything about their public image. The only things I could say that almost touched me a little bit were Michael’s voice, and the *idea* of their minimalist, James Brown-influenced music. However, it was the 80s and therefore a perfect storm of fashion, studio technology and increasing record-company manipulation were conspiring so that only the strongest-willed musical geniuses, hermits or Luddites managed to push through anything that was recognisable to me as music. Even James Brown’s records were probably crap in the 80s.

    But I enjoyed reading your review, particularly as your insider status affords you a nicely transparent analysis of a TV show that I will never see. It often seems that the best critiques of rock star excess often come from those who, despite the requisite gifts, were “not quite there” and therefore (this time in a rather grim sense) lived to tell the tale.

    It makes me sad to think that this TV production seems to focus on the shallowest aspects of the whole story, i.e. the “music business” side of things, or as you put it, “acquiring fans, developing markets and conquering territories.”

    Because, despite my distaste for the eightiesness which taints INXS for me, I’m quite sure that, as you imply, there is a more interesting, a more human, and a more artistic story to be told. I feel that most rock stars (or politicians, for that matter) didn’t start out with a passion for meetings and figures and graphs and demographics. Even if INXS didn’t have any grand design like U2 or Radiohead, I’ll bet they were all about the music until things started to slip from under them and it became about paying bills.

    Anyway – this has accidentally become that most silly of things, a review of a review. What I should have said was just: nice one, mate, and I liked the bit about the dip!

    1. I agree, I was there in the 80s….The Church, Matt Finish, Spy V Spy were amazing and INXS were a bit average musically but for whatever reason, probably Michael, cracked it overseas.

      1. “a bit average” is a bit hard, you only have to look at Wembley to see what brilliant band they were at their height.

        But I do agree on your other point particularly with the Spys who I saw a number of times. Three guys and absolutely monster sound, I’ve never understood why they didn’t go on to become something enormous.

    1. A biopic of TISM? Genius idea. Yes please! Perhaps they film it with everyone, except the band, are in various masks and costumes of disguise – I see it in my head as a modern day, existentialist’s Spinal Tap … hopefully the band was approve of it, then hold a reunion concert decrying it – just to mess with everyone’s head a little more.

      1. of course TISM were derivative, that was the whole point!!! but as a fan of the residents as well i will say that TISM borrowed their aesthetic, put an australian university nerd yobbo spin on it and actually made some good songs, which was needed as the Residents were more interested in doing Elvis and Hank Williams covers and concept albums which didn’t make sense unless you read the sleeve notes in the 80’s, where as TISM, were f@%ked in the head, and not afraid to admit it.
        A biopic on them would be great.
        INXS are just boring has-beens still trying to get a piece of a pie that is cold, has mould on it and should have been chucked out ten years ago….

  35. A great read Peter – and I still have ‘In the Morning’ on my ipod. Also a bit unlucky of you guys to get stuck in Picton in the early 1980s. These days there’s a horde of world class wineries just 15km down the road, but back then it was sheep and a few grape vines.

  36. “Why pretend it’s about the band when it’s about Michael?” Exactly. Just as a biopsy on the Supremes will really be about Lady Ross, so INXS is all about Hutchence – particulary if you can get in some Kylie love action and an unfortunate demise.

    1. I used to go and see Serious Young Insects at the Manly Vale supporting Midnight Oil. And INXS at the Band Room in QLD when I was on tour with a teenage band in 1980.
      I really enjoyed this mini series, but agree that it didn’t capture the sticky carpet at Kent Street studios or the 80’s band crush at the Governor’s Pleasure at the Rocks on a Friday night with D Minor and the Dis Chords. And not criticism to the young guys who were playing the part in the mini series. They did really well. But.
      It seems that is it almost impossible to capture true Austrailan experience on film.

    2. Thanks for the perspective Peter. As a bit-player in TISM I followed the rise of Serious Young Insects in the early days and then as it morphed into BCO. My (younger, Kiwi) wife, knowing my background, was incredulous at my absolute disinterest in NTUA – Fortunately, she doesn’t know the seamier side of life on the road.

      And yet, I can’t help but think that the producers, the “mythologisers” , have done the right thing for the medium (broadcast TV). Michael Hutchence’ rise and fall was an iconic feature of that time (Just as Ned Kelly’s was in the 1870’s, Da Vinci in Florence/Venice and William Wallace 11thC Scotland, maybe even Jesus).

      NTUA didn’t capture the nuance or the detail. That wouldn’t make good television. But it did define the myth.


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