Rocking The Royals and Dogs In Space
After completing their fourth album, The Swing, and with the controversial single, ‘Original Sin' at number one in Australia , INXS embarked on their first world tour in early 1984 with an extensive, sold out set of dates in their homeland.
At the same time Jeff and I were involved in divorce proceedings. We had different ideas about family life. I wanted someone who could be at home for dinner occasionally, and Jeff's sound studio was so busy that it kept him away from home twelve to fourteen hours a day. His day began at 11am and continued until the early hours of the morning. If he wasn't in the studio during the weekend, he would be sleeping. He is a perfectionist and when he painstakingly took his time on an MTV project for INXS, I felt the pressure every time Chris Murphy called to ask when it would be ready. Hearing the angst in my voice he would jokingly say, “Okay how about I fly some girls in to get him coffee? Margaritas? Anything?” He would tell me how much money it was costing the band even though Jeff was not charging for his services. He and Jeff would have disagreements over what footage should be in the piece. Jeff has a good eye for direction and he puts so much into a project, he can forget who it belongs to. Even though he had done such a great job on their initial breakthrough video, The One Thing , I was wishing that he had not gotten involved with any more band projects. To Chris's credit he never divulged to the band that the project was running over budget because of Jeff's determination to do it his way. He protected Michael from the heat.
When Jeff and I separated, he agreed to allow me to take Erin to Sydney for six months. The plan was for us to take over Mothers' apartment while she moved into a friend's apartment just three blocks away. Mother had just opened ‘The Advanced Makeup Academy', a school teaching makeup artistry for the motion picture industry. I was to give classes while Erin attended Neutral Bay Primary. Mother arranged a small homecoming dinner for me on my first evening in town, as it was Michael's only free night from the tour.
Rhett called in the early afternoon to say that he was in the country, but was heading back and would see me for dinner at Mother's. We have always been so used to catching one week here and ten days there, usually on family vacations that we try to get in every minute when we are in the same city. I told him to slow down, I would be in town for six months this time. Around 6pm as Erin and I were heading out the door, the phone rang. The call was from a hospital just outside of Sydney . Rhett had been involved in an accident. Apparently, he had been hurtling down a hill on his motorcycle behind a small car, and when it had suddenly stopped to make a turn, Rhett was unable to avoid ramming into the rear of the car. His motorcycle was totalled, but fortunately he was thrown clear, landing on his backpack. He was not wearing a helmet so it was amazing that his injuries were confined to two broken wrists and a slight concussion. The nursing sister said it would be futile to come to the hospital that evening.
I ran over to Mother's with the news. She was frantic and Michael, Michelle and I had to restrain her from rushing to the hospital. Michael admonished himself saying he should not have given Rhett the motorcycle in the first place. Beside himself, he also wanted to go directly to Bankstown Hospital but I reiterated what the sister had said. Michael agreed that they probably would need the time to clean Rhett up and give him painkillers and after all we had been assured that he had only minor injuries. We had an early night and arranged to meet early the next day.
The following morning, Mother, Erin, and I collected Michael from the apartment he shared with Michelle and drove out to the hospital. We were all shocked when we saw Rhett. He had not been cleaned up and blood was caked everywhere. His wrists and hands were taped all the way to his fingertips and he was moaning in pain. My mother became faint. Michael stayed in the room with him while I took Mother into the hall and summoned the head sister who explained that when Rhett arrived at the hospital, he was so high they could not risk administering any medication. In fact they were waiting until the afternoon to do any surgery.
As I walked back into Rhett's room I noticed a backpack under his bed. Michael was looking pale and worried. He was stroking Rhett's hair as they shared a whispered conversation. I pulled the backpack up and placed it on the end of the bed and Rhett said, "That's it". The aroma of grass overtook the stench of the hospital as I loosened the drawstring. Michael told me to hold onto it and we would take it back with us. Rhett had explained to him that the bag had just thrown the bag in the back of the ambulance with Rhett before the police found it. Apparently the grass had just been harvested.
On the way home, Mother sat in the back seat and Michael drove, as I wondered if he currently had a driver's licence. He spent so much time touring out of the country little day to day annoyances often alluded him and he had a habit of misplacing travel documents and important things like that. His life had got so fast and busy that he could not keep track of every day things that other people tended to think of. Approximately thirty minutes out of town, Mother opened the backpack. Touching it, smelling it, she asked, "What is this?"
Michael and I looked at each other sideways. I felt just as guilty as if I was the one who had been transporting an illegal substance. I was thirty-six going on fifteen again. Michael finally said, "It's okay Mum, I'll take care of it", just as Mother was asking "Is this marijuana? Oh no, what if we are pulled over, just what we need...." I didn't blame her for being upset. We had Erin in the car as well, but thankfully she was doing her usual 'little Erin thing', reading intently and taking no notice of the adult talk. At least that is what I thought at the time: subsequently she told me she was always listening. As I remember, the main concern was Michael's career and his reputation. The newspapers could have a field day with the headlines should we be pulled over. We dropped Michael at his apartment and he disappeared with the backpack.
Michael continued with his concerts, and for the next three days we made the trip out to Bankstown to visit Rhett. He was not at all happy to have missed INXS's big show in Sydney, especially when Erin excitedly relayed the whole evening to him. She was six years old and this was the first live INXS concert she had seen. Even though the band had stayed in our home and she had watched recording sessions, most of their concerts had been in venues where alcohol was served.
Around this time I noticed a difference in security surrounding Michael. The men employed to protect the band were no longer courteous towards family, partners or other backstage visitors. In one incident, while manoeuvring Michael and Michele to their car, two of the security personnel demonstrated such zeal in their protection for Michael that they forgot that he was holding Michele's hand. She was wrenched back by some fans, and knocked to the ground and trampled before anyone noticed that she was not in the car. After that Michele refused to go backstage, preferring to meet Michael at a designated location after the show.
When Rhett was released from hospital, it was decided that he would come home with me. Life with a wounded Rhett, and a six-year-old, in a one bedroom apartment was interesting to say the least. Rhett would want to sleep in but I was on a schedule. Erin was in school and I was working part time at the Academy for Mother. She and I would take turns taking care of Rhett. His casts began just below the elbows and extended all the way down to his fingertips, which made it difficult for him to do anything for himself. He would sit in a bubble bath while I washed his hair. When he emerged from the tub, I wanted to comb the tangles out of his hair, but he refused -I was making him look too square. He figured out a system of laying the towel across the bed, which would allow him to rub his head over the towel until the hair was sufficiently dry. Within a week he had dreadlocks. He loved it. Eating was another adventure. He was unable to even hold his knife and fork and as he sat at the dinner table, Erin would kneel up on the chair next to him and see how close she could get the food to his mouth. When he was in the mood for a walk, I sent Erin with him. I could look down from my sixth floor balcony and watch the two misfits. Six foot tall Rhett in a poncho to cover his casts and little Erin walking beside him holding on to the two longest fingers he had dangling out of the end of one cast.
One day I left him in the tub while I went on an errand. When I returned, he was still sitting there, with one arm submerged in the water. He had been insisting that the original doctors had done a bad job setting his wrists, and he was about to prove it. As the softened cast came away from the arm, it was obvious that he was right. His lower right arm appeared to be deformed. I made an appointment with the doctor to have the other cast removed and make arrangements for him to go into the Royal North Shore Hospital to correct the problem. Within days he was admitted into the R.N.S. where surgery was successfully completed and pins inserted.
Rhett took full advantage of his hospital stay this time. Rhett spent a major part of the time, playing tricks on the other patients as most of them were not ambulatory. He was sending out for pizza at all hours, and calling me before visiting hours, requesting hamburgers from a favourite grill. Michael was busy with the tour, however, he arranged for various beautiful girls to deliver a la carte meals to the hospital.
Soon after he left hospital for the second time, Rhett and I went to see INXS together and before the last encore, he took off toward the side of the stage, his poncho covering his casts. Fearing that he would not be given an escort backstage, since again we had not been left the correct passes, I ran behind him, but we were separated. By the time I found him, he was involved in an altercation with one of the security people who obviously did not recognize him, or believe that he was Michael's brother. Rhett was not going to take this man's obstruction and as he attempted to push past. The man grabbed one of Rhett's wrists which, due to the poncho, he had not noticed was in a cast. As he pushed it up behind his back, Rhett screamed in agony. By the time we straightened that one out, and arrived backstage, I think Rhett was darn sure he was going to make everybody feel guilty over the incident. He had every right to be angry with the management people whose inefficiency had caused the confusion over backstage access, and of course he had suffered horrible pain, but this was no reason to be angry with Michael. Michael's first reaction to Rhett's outburst was that of astonishment and hurt. He then calmed Rhett down and changed his focus to the party at hand. Placing his arm around Rhett's shoulders, he cajoled him into telling everybody about his accident. There's no doubt that my brothers loved each other deeply but however hard Michael tried to protect Rhett from himself the more inflammable the atmosphere became. As Michael's renown grew Rhett drew attention to himself in other ways. Nothing much had changed since they were children.
Upon my return to California I had to find a job which would not keep me away from Erin for crazy hours. This meant the movie industry was out. I also wanted work, which would allow me to spend vacations with my family in Australia. I eventually went back to school, gained a travel agent certificate and joined Continental Airlines as a reservations agent on their international desk. I think the only reason they chose me to go on their exclusive international roster in Los Angeles was that I had the right Aussie accent. Michael was very proud of me for going back to school -you would think I was studying brain surgery to hear him talk of it. I also took full advantage of the staff travel opportunities by flying all over to take in INXS concerts and visit Michael on the road. Sometimes I travelled on the tour bus to the next venue.
After one fantastic performance in Omaha the band returned to the dressing room exhausted. Before they could cool down, the promoter stopped by to insist that they make an appearance backstage for the local critics. It was a gruelling, fast paced tour and when they were taking the bus on to the next city directly after the show, exhausted, they would flip coins to see who would make the next appearance first. The loser this time Michael, put on his "I'm so excited that you enjoyed the show and love the album" face, and ventured out to meet and greet. After a short time he came back and told me about a girl he had just been introduced to who had been running a conversation with him while fingering a hole in the crotch of her jeans. Her whole conversation had centred around the sensations she was experiencing while looking into his eyes and masturbating, in the middle of a room full of partygoers! He was pretty blasé about it but I think he enjoyed the experience just because it gave him another good story to recount later. I was oddly fascinated, what a strange business he was in.
These were some of my favourite times with Michael. In the early days I simply shared his hotel room and later on he would organize a room next door. We stayed up most of the night talking; sometimes I ironed his clothes and sewed buttons back on while we caught up with each others' lives. We went to movies and shopped for clothes - he was always searching for the unusual as he was very mindful of "not looking like some guy in the front row." I have never been a very demonstrative person and always felt uncomfortable backstage despite the fact that I often wanted to be there to offer solidarity. It always seemed so pretentious, with everybody trying to make like they are great friends with the band members and that they are somehow there, because INXS especially invited them. NOT because they happened to know someone, who knew someone, who could get a 'will call' ticket, and backstage pass. Certainly they were genuinely very happy to see most people, especially the fans, but sometimes they were just too exhausted to enjoy it. That is why there are often two back-stages – the ordinary one and the inner sanctum. Most of the hangers-on in the former hardly crack a smile at anyone else in the room, as they are too busy trying to appear 'cool'. I guess it's the same in any business – you have to do a certain amount of public relations schmoozing and every time a musician has a new album out they have to go through the whole process again. Michael was someone who truly enjoyed people. He was intrigued with everybody's ‘story' and he never had to turn it on. If he really wasn't feeling well; which was rare, he just didn't make an appearance.
Much as he liked women, Michael didn't particularly welcome the attentions of groupies. The girls would try to get into the band limo, to party on, when this was not what most of the members of INXS were about. When these girls were backstage they often tended to look at me as if to say, 'Aren't you a bit out of place? Give it up!' until I was introduced as Michael's sister. It is amazing, how pleasant people could be when they heard those words. I just resented it. Why couldn't people be friendly without the knowledge that you were related to someone in the band?
I cut back on attending INXS concerts altogether after an incident in the mid- eighties. I was standing on the balcony of the Hollywood Palladium with my 'All Access' pass clipped to my dress, when Chris Murphy came up to tell me he had left his pass backstage and could he borrow mine? I didn't think anything of it, assuming that I could talk my way back after the concert. I was wrong, the security people, not, INXS' usual crew, refused to let me through. Even at the time this seemed to me to be somehow emblematic of something I had sensed before – that the people surrounding Michael weren't as decent and reliable as they had been in the past. There was some irony in the fact that the more successful INXS became the less control they had over the machine that ran them and Michael, cushioned as he was in some ways, wasn't even always aware of this. One of the penalties of success, I suppose, is that a person can lose touch with reality without realizing that, far from being in control of their destiny as they were before, they are ‘managed' to the point of being in an almost childlike personal oblivion.
Anyway, that evening I spent an exhausting and frustratingly long time dealing with increasingly rude refusals to let me go backstage when I'd decided that I wanted to, surrounded by sneering groupies who looked at my tailored silk dress (I'd come straight from the office) with an offensive mocking pity. I won't go into all the tiresome details but it was only because Michael happened to spot me in the unseemly crush, and enveloped me in his arms, that the barriers came down for me. The reluctant heavies let me through, to the evident astonishment of the ladies in waiting. After that incident I felt much as Michele back in Australia did and preferred to meet Michael somewhere else after the show.
1985 was a huge year for INXS. The band performed for close to 50,000 fans in three shows in Australia. Immediately afterwards they began recording 'Listen Like Thieves', their first collaboration with Chris Thomas. In May, while recording continued, they appeared at the Countdown Awards, Australia's equivalent to the Grammies, and walked away with six major awards. Best Album, (The Swing); Most Popular Group; Most Popular Male Performer; Best Songwriters, (Michael and Andrew Farriss); Most outstanding Achievement, and Best Group Performance in a Video. Little did they know that this was just the beginning. For INXS would continue to dominate the Australian music award shows for the next five years. This was a huge, unprecedented accomplishment. In July they played a Live Aid performance with the beautiful backdrop of Sydney Harbour, which was beamed around the world. 'Listen Like Thieves' had its' final mix in London in August and they began a world tour in Australia the same month. They toured South America in October, while the first single was released to glowing enthusiasm in the United States. They then returned to Australia to perform in a charity concert in Melbourne, before heading back to the West Coast of the United States to headline a few sold out shows, ending up in New York for more sell out performances.
INXS was invited to perform at a charity concert in Melbourne's magnificent Victorian State Arts Centre in November 1985. The event was billed as 'Rocking with the Royals' , because special guests included Prince Charles and Princess Diana. The concert coincided with Victoria's 150th anniversary and the International Year of Youth. All parents of the band were invited. It was one of the most memorable concerts in INXS' career. Melbourne was all lit up and our car just crawled along St Kilda Road, which was wall to wall with people standing in line to catch a glimpse of the popular Royals and their favourite rock groups. The show, hosted by Molly Meldrum, included performances by Kids in the Kitchen, The Models and I'm Talking. They had erected three giant video screens outside the Arts Centre so that 40,000 excited, dancing fans could also enjoy the night.
I was seated just a few seats behind the Royal couple and could clearly see Prince Charles attempting to snap his fingers in time to the music while Princess Diana was unabashedly rocking around in her seat. After the performance, the artists were presented to the Royals, which was a great thrill to them as well as to us parents. Michael and Diana remained 'friendly acquaintances' until her death just three months prior to Michael's.
If 1985 was a grand year for the band, it was a tough one personally for Michael and Michele. She was now travelling more for her modelling agency, but this sometimes worked out well and she and Michael would meet up in places around the world. Other times it was disastrous. She was on Ibiza during the Live Aid performance and had to travel from hotel to hotel to find one that was screening the event. She missed the special Royal performance in November, due to work in London. But she did manage to fly from a fashion shoot in Milan to New York to meet up with Michael for her twenty third birthday in early December. Christmas holidays were especially difficult considering the many months the band spent on the road. Between them Michele and Michael had parents in Melbourne, Sydney and Hong Kong; and it was rare to get more than a week to enjoy these special occasions - there were five other members and their families to consider as well. The band was usually playing New Years Eve and it was especially hard on Tim's wife Buffy, as they had children.
One insane Christmas, Michael and Michele left Sydney on December 23rd to drive fourteen hours to be with her parents and their friends in Melbourne. They stayed over two nights and left December 26th, to drive back to Sydney for rehearsals the following day. When they arrived back they were told that rehearsals had been cancelled due to the Farriss brothers taking a fishing trip. Nobody had thought to call Michael to let him know. Michael would become furious when these goof-ups happened but rarely would he fully display it to his band mates. Perhaps this tendency to avoid displaying appropriate anger – rather connected to his non-confrontational attitude to women - contributed to a build-up of unresolved inner tensions.
Michael's 1986 diary gives a glimpse into the pace the band was keeping. His first entry is dated Tuesday, December 31, 1985. He writes, 'Saw fireworks on Sydney Harbour, in time with our music.' He writes about the beautiful fireworks on Sydney harbour, which he had gone to see with Michele. The pyrotechnicians shoot them off the bridge on New Year's Eve, and it's a spectacular sight, especially if you are lucky enough to be on a boat, which he was. That particular year they synchronized the display to INXS music, which was thrilling for Michael. His next entry is Friday, January 3rd, 1986, 'The end of my holidays - had a good time but not long enough of it - This is so hard for Michele and I.' Their vacation had been a meagre 6 days and he had wanted to spend more time with Michele. But INXS were off to Coober Pedy, in the middle of Australia for a gruelling three-day shoot for the ‘Kiss the Dirt' video. It's one of the hottest, dustiest, most miserable places on earth in summer. They had a scare on the return flight when a wheel on their small chartered aircraft exploded on landing.
The entries continue:
Sat. Jan. 4th. Off to the Salt Mines to start film clip! (INXS was shooting 'Kiss The Dirt' video)
Sun. Jan. 5th. More shooting in Coober Pedy -middle of Australia.
Mon. Jan. 6th. We're shooting. Clip is going very well so far. On flight back wheel exploded on impact!!
Tues. Jan. 7th. Michelle and I have planned a future - in it will be a child. I love her she's brave and beautiful.
Wed. Jan. 8th. Start of tour around the world - our first. This will be 6 weeks. If only I could be with Michelle right now.
Thurs. Jan. 9th. Christchurch - a good show for our first in 2 weeks.
Fri. Jan. 10th. Wellington - another OK show.
Sat. Jan. 11th. Auckland -very good - great party - awarded Double Platinum.
Sun. Jan. 12th. Lunch, swim, sauna.
Mon. Jan. 13th. Enroute to London first class on Pan Am. Slept pretty well, still a long flight - reading Simone De Bouviere [sic] "An Easy Death".
Tues. Jan 14th. Arrive London at last - lost bags - no money - no clothes - sucks. Press tomorrow - middle of the night - I'm writing now. Aagh ---I hate time.
Wed. Jan. 15th. Interviews - all day. Daily Star, Smash Hits.
Thurs. Jan. 16th. Fly to Newcastle - coach to The Tube, Interview with Melody Maker.
Fri. Jan. 17th. Photo session Melody Maker-lunch-do Tube Show.
Sat. Jan. 18th. Fly to Heathrow - Interview-Roger Scott - Capital Radio.
He obviously found himself too busy, because the next entry is in August, regarding a property for sale in Australia, and then the final November entry. 'Songs written; 1. Mystify 2. Monkey On My Back 3. Tiny Daggers.'
He talks about how much he misses Michele, even expressing hope that they'll have a child together in the near future. He describes her as ‘brave and beautiful' –and although he's excited about the tour, starting on 8 January, he's not so willing to leave Michele.
Nonetheless, INXS's first world tour kicked off in New Zealand with their first show in two weeks. They picked up a Double Platinum award in Auckland. He notes that on his flight to London (in first class!) he read ‘Simone De Bouviere's' An Easy Death. When they arrived at Heathrow on 14 January, he found his bags had gone missing, containing all his clothes – and even his traveller's cheques. His first interview was the following morning. At the end of the week, they travelled to Newcastle to tape the music show The Tube, hosted by Jools Holland and Paula Yates (although he mentions neither of their names).
In June 1986 I flew to London for ten days. INXS was on their third world tour in two years, and would be playing London's Royal Albert Hall. Until INXS arrived into London, I stayed with my friends Tina and Gibson Kemp who were also close to the band, Gibson having been instrumental on their early negotiations with Warner Electra Asylum in Australia. As soon as I arrived Michael called and suggested that I tag along with the band on a 'photo op' which was to take place in Hyde Park. We found dozens of photographers waiting in the park. I tried to stay out of the way and just observed. Michael was asked personal details about Michele and he told them that she was no longer modelling, that she had recently embarked on a career as a television journalist. This was news to me and I was surprised that he made such a statement to a member of the press. That evening we dined at one of his favourite curry houses and I asked him about Michele's new career. He said that she was thinking about it, and he liked the idea, as the rock n' roller with a model girlfriend was so cliched. But he did not tell me that he and Michele were actually having difficulty coming to an agreement about her career. She wanted to pursue other avenues and although he wanted her to have a career, he also wanted her to be available to go on the road with him. This is what would eventually split them up romantically, although they would always retain a deep friendship.
On the afternoon of the show he was concerned to find that he did not have his asthma ventilator. Michael always tried to travel with an extra inhaler because although they can be bought across the counter in some countries, as we found out that afternoon, in the United Kingdom, you require, a doctors' prescription for the kind he needed. As he went off to sound check, I desperately tried to talk several pharmacists into selling me one. Finally I contacted Michael at the venue to let him know that I had had no luck. No problem, he replied, a doctor had given him a supply. This sort of panic situation would happen often throughout Michael's career. I would be frantic, unable to find something he would tell me he desperately needed and he would forget to tell me when a publicist, an assistant, a roadie had taken care of the problem. I didn't spend much time with Michael when he was surrounded by these people and it rarely occurred to me that he had a crew who were getting paid to take care of him.
Although the fact that one of these ‘fixers' had found a doctor willing to supply Michael with an inhaler was a relief to me, it brought a serious point home. Asthma is a serious, chronic illness and the drugs prescribed to control it are complex ones – which is why in Britain supply is generally monitored. The condition is more than just a tiresome inconvenience, although like many asthmatics Michael made light of it and refused to allow it to restrict his life. I always wished he'd be more watchful about conditions that could lead to an asthma attack, even though fortunately his were few and far between. Today I was put in mind of the “Dr Robert' of the old Beatles song – an expensive private doctor in London who supplied all manner of drugs to the rock elite of the day and I only hoped that the good doctor that the fixer had found had at least some knowledge of Michael's particular requirements. I can only wonder and worry about how the strong drugs usually prescribed for asthmatics might have interacted with the recreational ones, which Michael was increasingly resorting to.
After the show Tina Kemp and I went on a bus with the rest of the band and friends to a charming little bar. Michael was paying a lot of attention to a particular girl and seemed uncomfortable when I noticed. Obviously it was like cheating in front of Michele's friend and he looked torn. I whispered to him that it was his life and that I was not there to judge him. He still looked embarrassed, especially when the girl continued to come on to him. When we decided to leave Michael walked us out to a taxi. This would not be the first time such a scenario would take place -he was definitely not faithful on the road. I never knew if I should be flattered because he thought so highly of me that he wanted to avoid showing his flaws, or insulted because he thought I could be censorious.
Soon after this visit to London I planned a return to Sydney. Brent wanted to complete his schooling in California, he was very involved with baseball and he would not have the same opportunities in Australia. Although I would miss him, I understood this, and as I was with an airline it worked out quite well. He cold take a flight at any time practically for free. I sent Erin ahead and I left three weeks later with my furniture for a new start. When I arrived in Sydney, Erin was already making friends in her new school. I quickly found an apartment and another job with Continental Airlines. I was on the reservations desk, which meant that I was attached to a headpiece and a computer - along with approximately twenty-five other people. The computer detects which station is available, and selects that reservations clerk to take the call. The call 'pops' into your headpiece and away you go. A month after starting this job, INXS was due to fly into Sydney from the United States and I knew they were not travelling Continental Airlines. A call popped into my line and I answered "Good afternoon Continental Airlines. This is Tina, how can I be of service". A male caller identified himself as 'Rick Hutchence', Michael Hutchence's brother! Really? I was both amused and astonished as he spelled my surname for me. He went on to tell me that his brother was arriving back into the country on tour, and he had forgotten the flight number and time of arrival, so could I please tell him.
Well now, this was interesting. I looked up and saw that my supervisor was away from his desk. What is the most fun I could have on a boring Friday afternoon I wondered. I went through the procedure of informing the man that I could not possibly give out that information, it would be a breach of security. It had nothing to do with the fact that INXS would be travelling as VIPs - by law this information can only be given in an emergency. I told him that he would have to call the proper authorities, in this case the police, and they would then contact us. He became very irate and enlightened me on the fact that he could have me fired for insolence. Now it was time to ‘enlighten' him about the fact that I was Michael's sister and that we did not have a brother called Rick . He became even more agitated and roared into the phone, "What would you know, we don't even have a sister". He then demanded to speak with a supervisor!
I obliged by turning the call over to a reservations agent sitting next to me. She had listened intently to my conversation and had made it obvious that she was longing to take over. She identified herself as the supervisor and listened very patiently to the man thundering through her earpiece. When he had finished, she very calmly told him it was his unlucky day because Michael's sister did indeed work for Continental Airlines and he had just been speaking with her. She said that he could not possibly be Michael's brother because she had met Rhett Hutchence. 'Rick' Hutchence slammed his receiver down. Giggling uncontrollably, we could hardly wait to share this story with the rest of the reservations desk. Just then, another call popped into my line. It was the supervisor and he too had been listening to the second part of the conversation. We never were reprimanded, I think he enjoyed the call as well. When I told Michael about this, he made two tickets and backstage passes available to the Sydney Entertainment Centre show, for Continental Airlines to offer to their reservations staff with the most call volume in one day.
After the concert we were invited to a small reception where the band was presented with platinum records for ‘Listen Like Thieves'. The next day Erin wrote a sweet little story on the events of the evening, and gave it to Michael who said he would cherish it. He and Michele treated her to lunch that day and she took along her favourite book, Sam Shepherd's 'Fool For Love And Other Plays'. This was a very sophisticated book for a little girl barely eight-years-old, to be reading, I admit, but then Erin was always a ferocious reader and Jeff and I had allowed her to be exposed to a wide range of writing. Michael was always impressed with Erin's choice of book and he loved this particular collection of plays. When Christmas came that year and we could not find another copy of the book, she gift wrapped, her dog-eared copy for him. He was so touched. Over the years at the end of faxes, he often made a point of mentioning some particular novel that Erin might like.
By the mid 1980s Michael was spending very little time in Australia. He was touring and recording all over the world and found a permanent address unnecessary. To alleviate the tax burden, he had taken up residence abroad, though this was mostly on paper only. In fact he still owned the sweet little house in Sydney's Paddington, where he and Michele lived when he was in town. Eventually it had to be rented out. As I understood it, he could not live in Australia, especially in a place, which he owned, without being taxed heavily. It was Kell who had first recommended that he take up residency in Hong Kong, although, he was advised not to make it public.
By the end of 1986, the single and video for ‘What You Need' was an international hit and had catapulted INXS into a perfect place for stardom in the USA. At the same time Richard Lowenstein, who had directed the video was waiting for Michael to make some time to star in his movie ‘Dogs In Space'. Michael and Richard had formed a friendship based on mutual respect during the filming of the ‘Burn For You' video in 1984. Richard had hoped to star Michael in ‘Dogs In Space' ever since.
INXS's success came at a price. Michael's free time was badly restricted and there never seemed to be enough of it to recover from being energetic on stage, working on a new album and being unfailingly witty, polite and intelligent when confronting journalists. I was sure that he was experimenting a lot more with drugs, not that I ever witnessed the evidence of this. But I had heard enough rumours, and I was worried by his frequent trips to the restroom, wherever we were. I was sure he was taking cocaine but this didn't scare me as much as it might have done since I'd known a lot of occasional users in LA. Of course dependency is a terrible thing and can lead to people's business and private lives collapsing. But where Michael was concerned I hoped and assumed he did it sometimes, just to keep up the pace of recording, performing and touring – and for relaxation.
Two days before Christmas 1986, we sat around the tree at a friend's house in Sydney, as Kell played Santa Claus. These days Mother and Kell held separate Christmas celebrations. There was Michael, Michele, Rhett, Erin, Kell's new wife, Sue, a long-time family friend, Croy, some friends of Kell's and myself. Brent was with his father, in the States. Kell handed Michael a beautifully wrapped book about the pursuit of excellence and the people who have attained great success. His inscription suggested that Michael was well on his way to becoming a contributor to a future edition of the book. He turned around and picked up an oddly shaped gift and tossed it at Rhett. It was a leg of ham. To this day I cannot understand what motivated such a peculiar choice of present. The only thing that comes to mind is that Kell, who had no tolerance for street drugs, had read somewhere that it was pointless to hand over money or anything which could be exchanged for money to a person with a drug habit. There was a horrified silence and it was obvious that Rhett was holding back understandable tears of hurt, jealousy and frustration. The pained look on Michael's face showed that he suffered with his brother.
Four of us adjourned to the kitchen where Michael lit up a joint and handed it to Rhett. Michele and I did not indulge but we listened as the brothers consoled each other. We heard footsteps and I approached the doorway to head off the newcomer, thinking that the brothers could fly out the back door. As I stood there, hands clasped behind my back, talking to Kell who was oblivious to the pain he had just caused both brothers, someone crept up behind me and pushed the joint through my fingers. Kell did not even notice the strange aroma as I stood three feet from him. I was petrified that Kell would notice and think I was joining in. I glanced around to see Michael with a huge, mischievous grin, and Rhett and Michele peeking around the kitchen door. Michael and Rhett thought it hilarious to put me in a position of possibly being caught with something so alien to my lifestyle. It made me feel and act guilty even though I hadn't done anything wrong, but still Kell did not notice anything unusual about my stammering and fidgeting about the room. Michael and Rhett were at their best when they were in on something together. They were very competitive about pranks and witty conversation. Rhett could usually outdo his brother when it came to pranks.
This appeared to me to have been a very confusing, painful time for Rhett, who was at this stage fighting his battle with illegal substances while watching his brother seemingly effortlessly climb to the top of life's pile. I must admit that at that time I was unaware of the full extent of Rhett'' addiction. I do not know if he was very good at hiding this from me, or if I was so naïve. When I finally confronted him about his excesses midway through 1987, not really being aware of what substances he had been indulging in, he casually told me it was heroin. I felt heartsick and scared. I only knew it from the outside, of course, but from what little I had read or heard I believed it to be a drug that killed. Rhett airily brushed away my concern and said he had it under control, he knew what he was doing. Then he informed me that Michael had been the first to try it and told him it was not that big a deal. Rhett's point was, why not go after Michael? He gets away with everything and when he does, he is cool and he gets away with it. Why not come down on him? I didn't believe Rhett, but cautiously confronted Michael who admitted that he had tried heroin once or twice, but that it make him feel ill.
He said that he felt it was necessary to get into the role of Sam for ‘Dogs In Space' – a heroin-addicted singer in a punk band. Michael had spent two months filming Dogs in Melbourne in March and April 1987. It had been a long haul to get to the actual filming since the project's inception three years earlier at the Cannes Film Festival. Richard Lowenstein had only known Michael for a few months when they met up in the South of France and spent an interesting allnighter, topping it off with a breakfast meeting with an Australian film producer. Richard was pitching an idea to her with Michael was at the table, more or less asleep in his croissant. The woman was unimpressed with Richard's ideas until he told her of a story he had, which centred on a punk band living in a house in Melbourne in the late seventies. It was based on a real-life character, a singer by the name of Sam Sejavka who had struggled with heroin addiction. Richard told the producer that Michael had already agreed to be in the film, when in fact he had not even written the script. The producer showed immediate interest, which propelled Richard to actually put the script and funding together.
Michael kept his close friendship with Richard and they plotted and planned to get the project in front of the cameras. He had huge respect for Richard's work and longed to associate himself with his style of creative-cool. One night Richard arrived backstage with Nick Cave, the lead singer of Birthday party, who was the epitome of hip-nonconformity. Michael had been a fan of Cave's for a long time and although he was too shy to push headlong into a conversation that night, they presently became friends, and that friendship became stronger when they both came to live in Britain in the mid-nineties.
Richard got lots of encouragement for the Dogs in Space project, especially as Michael's involvement was known, but unfortunately each time the money required to back the film was in place, things were held up by Michael's INXS commitments. Michael became quite anxious about this, worried that he would lose the role to someone else. He desperately wanted the chance to play this character and when he did get to the set he was absolutely wholehearted about his work there. But when he insisted that he had only tried heroin to help him get into the ‘Sam' role, I did not let him off the hook. I told him it hardly seemed necessary to actually try heroin. That is why dramatic reconstruction is called ‘acting'. He reiterated that it had made him feel ill, and theat he had only tried it twice. As usual when Michael could not win an argument he threw on the charm. He laughed at me, and gave me the familiar chant about me being so square – can't believe you were a teenager of the sixties, loosen up, unjoy life, you take it all too seriously and so on. By the time he was through with me, I decided that I must not be much fun to be around. I also fretted that by challenging him in this way I'd given him every reason to hide his excesses from me in the future.
The family continued to vacillate between refusing to indulge Rhett if he showed signs of drug use and coddling him when he appeared to be straight. It is shocking to say now, in the light of what I now know about prescription and illegal drugs, but I think we were in constant hope that it was just a phase and he would find a career and the drug dependency would go. He did not see the family very often. When he did he could be sweet and thoughtful and appeared to have his problem under control, and when you only catch small glimpses of someone it is hard to get a fix on their psyche. The problem was that when he was having these problems we –Mother, Kell and I –were not equipped to distinguish when he was fabricating a story to get funds for his habit, and when he truly was in need of food or rent money. At that point, he refused to go to a professional for help.
END CHAPTER FIVE