The Rise and Rise of INXS
Australian Made was a phenomenal Australian tour conceived by Chris Murphy who put together nine Australian bands, the cream of the crop, including The Models, The Divinyls, Mental As Anything, I'm Talking, The Saints, The Triffids, and former Cold Chisel front-man, Jimmy Barnes. Seemingly on the brink of international stardom, INXS would headline. What made this venture so extraordinary and groundbreaking was the logistics.
As well as all the planning and organization for the travel, accommodation and security for nine very popular bands, there was the road crew and travel companions of each of the band members to consider, all moving around a vast, sparsely populated country. It would take a mastermind to synchronize this into a money making venture, and Chris Murphy proved he was up to it.
Months before, in an early promotional gambit, INXS and Jimmy Barnes had recorded a screaming, rocking version of an Easybeats classic, 'Good Times'. Of course any song Jimmy attacked was screaming and rocking and Michael was up for the challenge. They recorded it at the Rhinoceros Studios with Mark Opitz at the helm. I joined Michael for dinner one night and he took me back to the studio to observe the fun. Jimmy, known as the working class man's rocker, was one of Michael's favourite people. That night I sat in the control room as Michael and Jimmy laughed and sang and held everyone in the studio mesmerized.
One week before the start of the tour Michael met Chris Bailey, the lead singer and songwriter for The Saints and that summer, the two would forge
a lasting friendship. Chris was never the typical rock and roller. Though he sounds as if he was educated in private schools and walked the halls of Oxford, he had left school very young and was, like Michael, largely self-educated. Chris says that he had never been seriously impressed with INXS and assumed that Michael would be just another womanizing, hard drinking singer with nothing more to talk about than his guitar strings. Well, if Michael was the charismatic man of rock and roll, Chris Bailey is its poet. In fact they would eventually and rather immodestly refer to each other as Byron and Shelley in a private joke.
Chris and his wife, Pearl and Michael and Michele became inseparable. Chris called him Mick and found him to be very happy with fame and his position as the international pop star but saw that this was by no means his only dimension. Michael had never before been on the road with someone he had so much in common with, they were both gregarious yet loved the classics. Fueled by alcohol, the two men talked all night about the great philosophers. Michael was impressed by Chris' vocabulary, and intellect and felt challenged to prove himself an equal. Chris Bailey truly wanted nothing more from Michael other than his friendship. The fact that they never discussed business, and very rarely did they even speak of music tells it all. Chris would become the friend he would seek when he wanted to step out of the fame bubble. Chris observed "Rock and roll is a mean business, and Mick was not a mean person."
In 1987 INXS recorded 'Kick' , which was to become their most successful album - indeed one of the most successful albums of the decade. You wouldn't have known it at the outset of recording though. It began badly with band members musically unprepared which was unusual for INXS. They had been a tight band and were in the habit of working well together in the studio. Michael and Andrew didn't always sit down to write together, but by the time they got to Kick , their personal lives diverged so much that they were now writing on separate continents and sending material to one another. Michael tended to write down ideas and phrases all of the time and only when it came to the crunch would he put it all together. He constantly wrote on scraps of paper and on the backs of envelopes. Sometimes Andrew presented Michael with twenty-five tapes to listen to. Michael would pull out his pieces of paper and start fitting the lyrics to the music. They began recording Kick at the Rhinoceros studios in Sydney with Chris Thomas at the helm and almost immediately, he surmised that they were lacking in enough material to complete a whole album. He sent Michael and Andrew away to write and one of the gems from this collaboration was ‘Need You Tonight' . They put the finishing touches to the vocals in Paris and final mix in London with Bob Clearmountain. It was released in October and became an immediate success due in part to the band's constant touring and MTV following.
While Michael was in Europe completing ‘Kick' , he called Michele asking her to drop everything and take a vacation in Greece. Michele, who was producing music videos by that time, could not break away. In fact they had already mutually split as a couple partly due to Michael's reservations about Michele's determination to carve out her own career. He simply would not take her desire to work seriously. During this call she told Michael that he should take the time to be alone, get into his own head. She suggested that he extend himself, to go somewhere alone, to a destination other than a resort so that he could do the thing he loved best: read and explore philosophy. She could not be talked round and he did go to a Greek island alone. It was disastrous: Michael was hopeless by himself, somehow he'd never acquired the resources to be contented alone. About a week later he angrily called Michelle to tell her that he had taken her advice and along the way had rented a bike and had an accident. And by the way, he was having a miserable time. This churlish, childish outburst was presumably aimed at making her feel guilty enough to come and rescue him, but she couldn't or wouldn't. This all sounds petulant and selfish, but to be fair Michael was twenty-seven-years-old and he had been surrounded by five constant companions (the band members), management, roadies, and fans for most of his adult life. He wanted time off but after traveling with others for so long, he had trouble being by himself. He was looking for someone who would just be with him on a constant basis for a while.
When in Sydney Michael lived within walking distance of the makeup academy and often used to call in and take me around the corner to a little coffee shop. I recall the day he came to tell me that he and Michele had decided to split up. He just popped in and asked me to go around for coffee. I was in the middle of a class and I had my assistant take over as he looked very upset. When we sat down he told me that it was mostly his fault as he had spent too much time away from Michele. His career was keeping him overseas more and more and Michelle was just beginning her career in Australia. She had some strong views on making it on her own. He was on his way to the gymnasium and asked me if I thought he looked healthy and said he was taking good care of himself. I said he looked very healthy, but not very happy. He said he was concerned about the situation with Michele as he loved her very much. We finished our coffee and he walked me back to the academy, we hugged and said goodbye again, as he was leaving for another tour. I watched him walk away looking so lonely and somehow had a feeling that he and Michelle would never, ever break off their relationship. I was right, they never did. Until the day Michael died, he always loved her.
I answered the phone at my house in Sydney. It was Michael calling from Hong Kong. “Hey Big Sis, what's the story!”
“Hi Babe, good to hear your voice when will you be here?”
“Well, I don't have a definite date yet, but I'll let you know. I'm not arriving much before December first. Tina, I have someone with me.”
He laughed that laugh he had when he had been smoking and pushing his voice to the limit. “Yes, someone special.”
I was disappointed, because I was still hoping that things could somehow mend between he and Michele. I had always loved Michele and assumed that she and Michael would eventually marry. However, by the time we finished the conversation I was pleased for him because he sounded so positive, which suggested that whoever this person was, she had the capacity to make him happy.
“What's her name? Tell me about her”``````````````````
“Ummm. Well, you'll like her.”
“Well, tell me more…."
“Ummm. Well, you know, first of all her name is Jonnie.”
“And Jonnie is short for?”
“It isn't short for anything. She's American and her real name is Tina. Her parents are amazing people, she spent most of her childhood on a commune. Her best friend is Rosanna Arquette whose family also lived on the commune, and they both changed their names to Rosanna. But I call her Jonnie."
“Well that explains everything."
“She has small, delicate features, with large, sad eyes. Actually I see her as a modern day Audrey Hepburn. She's a model. She doesn't seem to like modeling" he continued, "I've been trying to encourage her to take more work, she's up for a big contract right now, though, I think she prefers to use her brainpower.”
This was a bit ironic, given the reasons for his split with Michele, but I was keen to meet this Jonnie. “You must bring her out for Christmas. Is she there, can I speak with her?”
A soft, nervous, voice came on the phone. “Hello Tina? Michael has told me so much about you, I feel I know you.” She won me over right away. That conversation was the beginning of a friendship, which endures to this day.
I invited Jonnie to come out to Australia with us for Christmas during that conversation and she did make it, the following year. Jonnie and I have been amused over the years when she has been described as two different women - Rosanna and Jonnie but always as a tall, leggy, long haired, blonde beauty. Though a beautiful Christy Turlington look-a-like, in reality she is of average height and has always worn short to medium length hair, and is a brunette.
She had actually met Michael briefly while she was modelling in Japan with Michele. Michele told her about her boyfriend who was in a rock band and she played his music constantly. INXS came through Japan while the two young women were working together. Michele invited Jonnie to join them for a drink and to meet the band. It was a very casual meeting and there were no sparks between Michael and Jonnie, - after all, he was with Michele. Michael did something however, that impressed her enough to tell a friend. There was an Australian girl at the club, a fan who recognized Michael. She approached him and flirted overtly, in front of Michele. Michael was trying to be polite and friendly as always with fans but when the girl became insistent, Michael took her in his arms and dipped her -all the way to the floor - and dropped her. He walked away, leaving the girl on the carpet.
This demonstrated to Jonnie that Michael respected Michele and their relationship.
A year or two later Jonnie was staying in Laguna Beach California, when she
had a dream. It was so strange and slightly disturbing that she noted it in
her diary. In the dream she was in Paris, walking along a familiar street with
some other people when they came across a man whose face she could not
make out. Someone in her party said, "I want you to meet Michael". She
awoke wondering who this 'Michael' was. That very day, she had a call from
her friend Rosanna Arquette, who had been invited to the Cannes Film
Festival and had the opportunity to take a guest. The two Rosannas were on
a flight within the week.
That year, 1987, Wim Wenders' ‘Wings Of Desire' was the hot property. The
tiny, blasé town of Cannes, is unrestrained during the annual May Film
Festival. Hotel space is at a premium, and people walk the streets day and
night, all hoping to be noticed. Michael was strolling down the main
concourse with his friend, Michael Hamlyn, who would later produce
'Priscilla Queen of The Desert' . This was before Michael bought his own
villa in the South of France and he was a guest of the Hamlyns. He was there
for no other reason but to take in the ambience of the Film Festival. As he
and his friend made their way through the streets, taking in the spectacle,
they ran into the Rosannas. So the two Rosannas met up with the two
Michaels. Jonnie enquired about Michele Bennett and Michael was quick to
tell her that he was not seeing her any longer, although the friendship was
intact. That evening she dined at the Hamlyn residence, and spent her first
night with Michael. She recalls that the ‘Hotel California' album played over
and over and Michael asked her to 'please stay', as if he did not want to be
alone. She was not comfortable with him that night, recalling that, even
though they had shared a thoroughly amusing evening, he retired sad, and
angry at nothing in particular. He just seemed to have this angry aura about
him, “a darkness”, she said.
In speaking with other women my brother dated over the years, I was surprised to hear this same description of Michael, in particular when speaking of their first evening with him. I have given much thought to this and have come to the conclusion that Michael was showing signs of depression all along and hid it from his family. A mysterious, brooding persona can of course be irresistible to women, and they just accepted it as part of the artist within. The following day Jonnie returned to the hotel where she was sharing a room with Rosanna Arquette. After three days they returned to Paris where Rosanna A. was meeting her boyfriend Peter Gabriel. Jonnie was disappointed that Michael had not called but she would soon find out that he had in fact tried many times to contact her during those last three days in Cannes. The hotel rooms in Cannes and Paris were under Rosanna Arquette's name and each time Michael called to leave a message for 'Rosanna' , Rosanna Arquette did not respond, dismissing perhaps rather thoughtlessly, this 'Michael' who was leaving odd telephone numbers for her to call back. But by chance Michael and Jonnie ran into each other in Paris where he was recording the vocals for the Kick album. He was staying at the St James and since the Rosannas were not thrilled with their accommodation, they moved over to that hotel as well.
After ten days in Paris, Michael was due in New York for a meeting with Nick Egan on the album cover design for Kick. Nick was a good friend of Michele and since she and Michael had not been apart for very long, he did not want her to hear he was already seeing Jonnie. Theirs had been such a long, close relationship, he did not want to hurt her and he thought that she might assume that he had been seeing Jonnie all along. To protect this new relationship, he introduced Rosanna, as 'Jonnie' , choosing the name out of a hat. The cover-up did not last for very long as someone recognized her from a Ford Model Agency card and the word did get back to Michele. The false name endured, however, and my family still refers to Rosanna as Jonnie.
She returned to Los Angeles and Michael flew back to Australia and Michael continued to call during their separation. Jonnie still has tapes from this period: "Michael here, where are you?"
Back in Australia on a tour of Queensland, Michael read that the premier, Sir Joh Bjelke-Peterson had ordered authorities to remove condom vending machines from universities. Sir Joh was also vehemently anti-abortion and had even suggested that bar owners refuse alcohol to homosexuals. Michael was incensed and decided to speak out against Sir Johs' offensive and antiquated ideas at his next concert. Not only did he speak his mind, he threw condoms out into the crowd. This in itself was not illegal but Michael used obscenities to describe his thoughts on Sir Joh. With the venue thick with police, charges were sought against Michael the following day. However, he had departed the country by then on his way to a vacation spot before preparing the tour for Kick. By the time he returned to Queensland fifteen months later, his attorneys had resolved everything. One advantage at least, I suppose, of being a rock superstar….
Michael was only in Australia for a short time before leaving for New York. Immediately after he left Sydney I had a call from Sam Evans, Chris Murphy's assistant at M.M.A. She wanted to know if she could give Michael's' contact number to Australian actress, Virginia Hey. I was surprised that Sam was even asking me as Michael could certainly take care of himself when it came to beautiful women. I was familiar with Miss Hey's work, as she had been featured in the ‘Mad Max' movie with Mel Gibson, for which Jeff had edited the sound. She had been a guest at a party Michael had hosted on his trip to Sydney. I remembered her as being an exceptionally tall, sophisticated beauty, with a wickedly intellectual but naughty way with words. I figured he could handle her phone call, so I told Sam to go ahead and give Virginia his contact numbers. According to Michael, this led to a brief, intense affair. Michael was actually besotted by Virginia. So enchanted was he that he spoke of fathering a child with her. He said he wanted to live with her and settle down. But although Virginia's qualities would have been more than enough for most men, Michael remained insecure and somehow needed to continue to give in to temptations elsewhere. On one level he was preparing to make a commitment to one woman but in fact he just wasn't ready.
He told a story of his last day with Virginia. He said that he had an interview with Paula Yates, whom he had met briefly on an English television show, The Tube , in 1984. Michael left Virginia in their New York hotel room while he met with Paula two floors below. When he returned much later, Virginia was sitting on the bed, sewing up his shirts. Sewing them all up together that is! This is one version. Paula had another, in which she claimed Michael told her that Virginia had a pair of scissors and she was cutting Michael's shirts up and threatened to kill Michael, herself and Paula. Virginia says that Michael returned to their hotel room two hours late, dishevelled and with lipstick on his clothing. She was just sitting on the bed watching television. She said that he was making excuses before she had even accused him of anything, and appeared as if he had been wrestling a "gorilla in lipstick" .
I tend to believe Virginia's version.
When Paula's interview appeared in the London magazine 'Time Out' some months later the highlights to our family were some entertaining lines from Michael:
'I'd like a baby, but not just one woman. Maybe five women. I guess you'd have to have some kind of arrangement; I love girls in Chanel; I like Australians, they're straightforward, dry, laconic...we're so lucky to have a country at such a raw stage… My father is an importer and exporter, who lived in China. He's a firm believer in China, a capitalist pig. He went back to Oz and went bankrupt a couple of million times so the dynasty's had its ups and downs...'
There were some provocative observations from Paula too. Noting that Michael Hutchence resembled ‘the logical conclusion of 30 years of pop star attitude'. ‘A sort of rock star composite, a compedium of attitude, and sexuality in a way that is dangerous, appealing and admirable; his sex appeal is careless and seemingly lacking in narcissism; there's an odd dichotomy, between the visual, which is a heady cross of Dolores del Rio and dream boy, and the man who speaks, who is shy, sensitive and probably writes poems on the back of laundry lists; he's a Chanel afficionado, which comes as a surprise because you'd sort of imagine he only hangs out with seven-foot women entirely upholstered in quilted spandex.' Michael told Paula in the interview that he would like to be in films, and that he was brought up on film sets and always wanted to be an actor. It was an altogether flattering piece written with her usual wit. Paula said that when she returned home from this interview, she placed a photograph of Michael on her refrigerator surrounded, depending on which account you have heard, by either fairy lights or wishbones. Bob would occasionally pass by and scrawl something obscene on the picture and she would replace it with a new one.
Virginia says that she expressed absolutely no rage. She is an intelligent, secure and articulate woman. She wrote Michael a letter in response to his betrayal and it hit him so deeply that he never discarded it. Virginia bravely said to Michael the things that most women would like to say to a man whom they had caught in a lie, accusing him of being a 'self indulgent, irresponsible, careless, insincere, spoilt, brat'. Bravo from women everywhere!
Michael did not like confrontation of any kind and faced with a stress-overload he reacted like a cornered child and fled back into the arms of Jonnie. By the time the short romance with Virginia was over, Jonnie was in Japan and without notice Michael appeared at her hotel. It was such a snap decision that he landed without a visa. The authorities gave him only three days in the country. Three days to convince Jonnie to move to Hong Kong with him. He did just that, and they spent the next two years together. Apart from Michele, Jonnie is the only woman who shared his life on a constant basis, including going on tour with him. They spent no more than two nights apart over two years.
I guess there must be some significance in the fact that I became friends with most of Michael's most important women, have been able to speak to many of them since his death and remain closest of all to Jonnie and Michelle – the two who may have loved Michael best.
Jonnie was surprised to see his humble little sixth-floor walk-up flat in the
middle of the noisy, overflowing city, on Victoria Island. He shared the small
apartment with Jon Farriss. She was impressed that he should live such a
simple life away from the spotlight. Life in Hong Kong was an adventure
every day. Michael was very proud of the city of his childhood. He delighted
in guiding Jonnie towards appreciation for the Asian culture, the sounds,
smells and sights. She accompanied him several times to an office in the
Central District, occupied by his financial advisor, international tax
consultant, Gordon Fisher. From this office, Fisher, a Scotsman and his
associates, another Scot called Andrew Paul and Queensland Barrister, Colin
Diamond had set up an intricate web of corporations which operated trust
funds for a number of clients including Michael and Jon Farriss. Many
wealthy people intent on safeguarding their fortune entrusted Fisher with
their investments, which he ran through tax havens.
From the beginning, Michael did not have the time, indeed did not want to
take the time for the business side of his work. Although he believed in,
investing for the future, he just wanted to concentrate on creating music. He
also wanted to paint, to act. He preferred to trust others, with his business
After several months, Jon Farriss expressed his wish for a larger place and they all agreed to move to a rented house in the exclusive Stanley district. As a child, Michael had lived in Stanley, in that house, which looked out over a cliff to the China Sea. The house that he moved to with Jonnie and Jon sat on a bluff, the porch covered in bougainvillaea and with a magnificent view of the tiny islands surrounding Stanley. Jonnie and Michael made this their home base. But they travelled often, soon they were on the road for the Kick album. This world tour billed as the ‘Calling All Nations Tour' , would take them through Europe, United Kingdom, Canada, United States, South America, Asia, Australia, and would last eighteen months. Jonnie gladly gave up her modelling career and rapidly learned to take care of Michael on tour. Her focus was always on his comfort, his health, his moods. She made herself unpopular at times, but it was all for Michael's well-being. She made a habit of standing at the back of a venue when the band did their sound check to make sure Michael's voice was being pumped up above the music. She would complain to the sound crew, who, at first exasperated, came around to see that she was simply trying to elevate the entire performance.
During this tour, Michael began distancing himself from the other band members, often traveling separately and only showing up for sound checks and shows. He rarely socialized with the rest of the band, preferring to be with Jonnie. Band meetings were kept to a minimum and Michael, always eager to please, often gave in to a consensus, but came away frustrated and angry as he felt that he was carrying more of the load than the others. There was press in every city and it was natural for them to request an interview with flamboyant front-man Michael. It's hard to do the same thing night after night, month after month. He wanted to keep the shows fresh and he came up with ideas but the rest of the band did not want to change anything.
1988 was another extraordinary year for INXS. After ten years of constant work they were harvesting their fruits. In March they played three sold out nights at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Kick hit gold and platinum in Australia. The Swing and Shabooh Shoobah also went gold. Listen Like Thieves turned platinum. Kick passed the quadruple-platinum mark in the U.S. and they had their first number one U.S. single with Need You Tonight , helped greatly by Richard Lowenstein's video. By May Devil Inside and New Sensation also made it into the top five in the U.S. charts. Accolades in the United States alone were impressive. In September they swept the MTV Music Video Awards with the clip Need You Tonight/Mediate . It won in five catagories: Best Video, Best Group Video, Best Editing, Breakthrough Video, and the one that really counts , Viewers' Choice.
If not handled correctly, a tour becomes one's whole focus. Every show is important but it is exhausting to be surrounded by people and activity all the time. The outside world seems not to exist because life is a collage of planes, hotel rooms, limousines, venues, restaurants, and adoring fans. It is an unreal existence where you can become worn out yet are cut off from the family and friends who could help put things in perspective. The days leading up to and beyond Kick were especially frenzied, a time when Michael needed someone who could be constantly on his side. I will always be so grateful that he spent that time with a caring confidante like Jonnie. She never asked anything from Michael. Not recognition, nor help with her career. Raised in a culture, which embraces harmony and tranquillity, she follows yoga and disciplined diet and tried her best to pass this on to Michael. I have never seen him so physically fit as he was in those two years, although they were actually the toughest touring years of his life.
While INXS were touring California with Kick , Brent and his friend Milan accompanied the band back to their hotel after the show and they partied on. Brent and Milan were still in high school and had classes the next day. They were having such a good time with Michael and Jon Farriss who had a skateboard and was riding up and down the corridors, that they forgot the time. By 6am they realized that they had a class at seven, so Jonnie and Michael packed them off to school with a care package from the party. When they arrived in front of the school, they found healthy sandwiches, fruit, chocolate milk and Corona beers in their bags.
When INXS was in concert there were many requests for ‘will call' and backstage passes. Jonnie tried to weed out the friends and family from those who were not, calling to make sure the right people had tickets. Michael told her that in the past, people had their feelings hurt when this was not taken care of. She made up the lists and after the concert if anybody was missing backstage, she would go out to find them. She knew that the unhappy party would forever hold it against Michael, even though he had nothing to do with it. She was the only one of Michael's partners who was mindful of such things.
On one such occasion after a concert in Birmingham, England, she remembers the offended party was Paula Yates who arrived with friends and no backstage passes. Jonnie obligingly took them back when she complained to security. The Australian band Big Pig was supporting INXS on the European part of the tour and Michael's friend Sherine Abeyratne, the very curvy lead singer with Big Pig, who had also sung with him on 'Burn For You' was standing next to him, deep in conversation when Paula arrived back stage. Sherine says that most people were surprised when she walked in, because you would have expected her to be at the Wembley concert with Bob Geldof, not the Birmingham show with girlfriends. She remembers Paula walking directly up to Michael without even noticing that the two of them were speaking and that after he introduced them she may as well not have been there. In all her years touring with bands, Sherine had never before witnessed such aggressive 'come-on' lines from a woman to a man. She says that even the most zealous groupies don't usually attack their prey that hard and fast. After only a few minutes of this, Sherine remained next to Michael but shifted her attention to another conversation to her right, which included Jonnie. It was a noisy, crowded room so only she could catch both conversations. Every now and then she would look at Michael out of the corner of her eye. Finally Michael turned from Paula and grabbing Sherine's arm, he whispered in her ear, "Get me out of here, this woman's a full on predator."
Bob Geldof's memoir Is That It , published in 1987 and written during balmier times where his relationship with Paula was concerned, recorded with affectionate humour her dogged pursuit of him when he was hugely successful as the singer with the Boomtown Rats. He referred to Paula as ‘the limpet'. She was clearly not to be distracted from her goal then – or now.
Paula Yates actually loomed large even during the time that Michael was with Jonnie on the Kick tour. Jonnie can remember being in their hotel suite in Paris when a call came through. Dismissing Jonnie, who picked up, Paula insisted on speaking to Michael. Obviously Jonnie could only hear one side of the conversation. She heard Michael ask; “Why would you do that? I'm with Jonnie, why would you bring Fifi?” Slamming the phone down hard enough for it to jump off the hook, Michael told Jonnie that Paula had told him that she was leaving Bob. Certain that he would be pleased to see her, she planned to meet Michael in Paris. She said that she was packing a bag and bringing her daughter Fifi with her. He tried to humour her when she suggested that he tell Jonnie to leave. This was not the first of such calls. In the past, moreover, she even arrived in the hotel lobby and using the house phone, called up and refused to leave until Michael came down to see her. While he dressed, he would curse and wonder out loud what could be wrong with this woman. He would tell Jonnie he was meeting Paula at the bar, and an hour later - sometimes two he would return. He would tell Jonnie that they just talked about Paula's marriage. Jonnie recalls that the phone calls from London were regular, whether they were in some place in middle America or South America, Paula found them.
Midway through the Kick triumphs Michael found that he could get away with anything. He distanced himself from the other band members and often voiced his resentment of Chris Murphy who was no longer, a hands on manager. Rather than truly looking out for him, the roadies around him let him think whatever he did or said was okay. After all, he kept that down to earth way about him even as he experienced the excesses. As long as he could fall back into that 'Australian slang speak' he did so well everybody believed that he still had two feet on the ground. When in fact, he was pushing all of his senses to the limit. It took all of Jonnie's strength and attention to keep him focused.
U2 had two of their videos nominated against INXS in the 1988 MTV awards –‘Where the Streets Have No Name' and ‘I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For' ; and INXS won for ‘Need You Tonight/Mediate' . Michael and Bono became friends respecting each other's talent and integrity, after being introduced by Michael Hamlyn who was nominated for both U2 videos. But it was INXS who left the ceremony with seven major awards, prompting host Arsenio Hall to remark, “Is that band fresh or what?” When INXS appeared on his talk show a few weeks after this, women from the audience ran past the cameras and crew to grab and kiss Michael while he was singing – highly unusual behavior for a television show.
The evening of the awards ceremony itself was not a happy one for Michael however, despite INXS sweeping the board. It began on a low when the limousine arrived and Rhett announced he was not ready and brought the mood down by fretting about his appearance and complaining to Michael about it. He was in a bad mood because he wanted to invite some friends but it was not like a concert where Michael could arrange for extra people to go along. You actually had to have a ticket. As with most major award ceremonies, it was televised and nominees had to be in their seats by a certain time. Beforehand Michael was in a room full of people including Richard Lowenstein who had come over from Australia - it was his creative and directorial work that had secured several of the award nominations. Rhett was delaying their departure. Things did not improve after the show. Despite discouragement Rhett had invited friends and Michael was placed in the position of having to explain why he was arriving at the 'after' parties with extra people. Michael and Jonnie had a disagreement when he insisted on staying out too long at the parties and looking for cocaine. At one stage she got out of the limousine and began walking back to The Four Seasons hotel. Michael attempted to walk with her, finally coaxing her back into the car. When they returned to the hotel and friends departed Michael became depressed. He could not give any specific reason, just said that his life was not worth living. Jonnie had seen his mood go up and down all evening. She tried to reason with him and he seemed to calm down, but he was pacing the room when suddenly without warning he rushed for the French doors to the balcony and threw one leg over the railing. Jonnie was frantic as she ran after him, grabbing his other leg. He was in despair, sobbing by now, and it took all of her strength to speak rationally to him to restore some sanity. After they were both exhausted, she was able to coax him back into the suite.
Speaking with her today, she only remembers his moods that night and
cannot recall anything specific that he was unhappy about. He simply
seemed generally discontented with his whole life. Finally, by the time the
sun was up, she had soothed him to sleep. Until now she has never
discussed this incident with anyone. As before where Michael's indulgences
and delicate state of mind were concerned, not only did it get brushed under
the carpet but by the time he awoke in the afternoon he seemed restored to
the happy, witty, charming Michael that he knew most people expected him
But Michael was finding some time to enjoy the rewards of his labour and success. While in Los Angeles he purchased a picture by Alberto Vargas, famous for his super-fantasy-glamour 'Vargas Girl' pin-ups of the 1940s. He also paid a handsome sum for a handwritten poem by John Lennon. As with many of Michael's lovingly chosen keepsakes and pieces of art, he would never get to enjoy them. Without a permanent address, he had them both put into storage, this time in Los Angeles.
In October, 1988, with his father in financial difficulty, Michael handed over
a deposit for US$250,000 and signed a letter of credit with the Standard Chartered Bank of Hong Kong for facilities to house Kelman Industries Limited, Kell's office. That Christmas, 1988, INXS was coming off the road from the Kick tour, and looked forward to being with their families. Michael and Jonnie would be in Sydney. I was having a friend out from California, a record producer I had met on a trip back to Los Angeles. An attractive man, he had called me often since I arrived back in Sydney. I had no reason to believe he was interested in anything other than a closer relationship with me. He called me to say that INXS was playing San Diego before heading back to Sydney so I arranged for some tickets and backstage for him. He was apparently there in San Diego just before Michael made his stage entrance, and yelled out to him, “Tina sends her love”. Michael turned back over the noise of the crowd, smiled, waved, and thanked him. This man called after the concert, thanking me for the tickets and mentioned he would be alone for the holidays so I invited him to Australia.
Christmas dinner was going to be at a little place Mother had found for
Michael and Jonnie in Sydney. We arrived late with the Aussie baked
vegetables Michael had requested. I actually missed all the excitement. As I
arrived several firemen were walking out the front door and getting into their
enormous fire truck. Apparently the dishwasher in the rented townhouse had not been used at all in the week they had been there - they had eaten out most
of the time. Tidying up before everyone arrived, Jonnie had filled it up and
flipped the ‘on' switch, and within minutes it began to smoke. She called the
fire department when she spotted flames licking from inside the dishwasher.
A team of big capable Aussie firemen soon arrived at the front door and
Jonnie waved them to follow her through into the kitchen. So taken were
they by the fabulous toned and olive-skinned Jonnie in her tiny red
mini-dress bending over the dishwasher, that they almost missed the culprit
which was a wooden spoon that had been lodged in the water-filling
mechanism. They only noticed Michael who was looking on in amusement,
as they were leaving.
It was a long day but another good Christmas. Although Kell was still in Hong Kong with his new wife Sue, a long time family friend; Mother was there, along with Rhett and several people from the Australian music industry. I thought it was my imagination when my new friend seemed more interested in Michael's plans for the future than in our dinner together, but I put it out of my mind. That Christmas I gave Michael a rhyming dictionary amongst other things, as I thought that it would be a tool for his trade. Michael and Jonnie gave me a wonderful picnic basket filled with fine china and silverware. Jonnie gave Michael an easel and art supplies after all his references to taking up painting. They gave Mother superb tickets for a Sinatra concert. Mother had a magnificent pin made for Michael. It was approximately four inches in length, and featured a beautifully carved Asian face, surrounded in gems. He wore this on several award shows, carefully placed there on his tie where Mother could see it on TV. Jonnie loved the pin so much that Michael left it with her when they parted. Three months after Michael's death, Jonnie gave it back to Mother in a typically unselfish gesture.
There was a party on New Years Eve, at Michael and Jonnie's. The plan was to continue on to the Sydney Show grounds where there was a huge party, featuring a live performance by Grace Jones. We took off in a caravan of cars, stopping in on a party at Jon Farriss' house on the way. We were a pretty happy group. Michael had about six VIP passes but there were possibly nine of us. It was a sell- out show. He tried to talk us all in but the gatekeepers were having none of it. There is no such thing as a star system in Australia, they don't care who you are - and actually, Michael liked that. My date took someone aside and whatever he said worked. Michael did see the humour in that, making a joke about the irrelevance of his fame and it's potential to generate tax revenue for Australia, which of course he did, but not to the extent that they would like, since his home was out of the country.
We were directed to a VIP room, which looked down on the stage. Way past the time for the show to begin Michael was asked into the manager's private office. Later we found out that Ms. Jones had refused to go on, unless she could have her money up front, in cash, and this wasn't available. At the request of the promoter, Michael went in and talked to Ms. Jones, not without making some comment about not even being able to talk the ticket taker into letting him bring some friends in. Whatever Michael said, it worked and soon after, Ms. Jones appeared on stage. Everybody was so wasted by this time, it could have been Mary Poppins up there. My friend the record producer was spending most of his time at the bar talking to some girls, while I was chatting with Chris and Pearl Bailey. Michele was there also - this was the first time she had met Michael and Jonnie as a couple. She was dignified and friendly and dateless. I was impressed, and so was Michael.
Next morning, I was awakened by the phone. It was a girl asking for the visitor – apparently he had written my number on her napkin. I threw the phone at him. Not thirty minutes later, there was another girl on my phone. He was in the shower so I asked her some questions. She said that he had told her that he was staying with the Hutchence family. I told her this was not the residence of the ‘Hutchence family' and hung up. By the time he was out of the bathroom I had packed most of his belongings and ordered him a taxi for the airport. I really questioned myself after this incident and I closed the lock on relationships once again. Michael always asked why I stayed by myself, how I could survive without a mate as he had trouble being alone. For me it has been easier that way. Many times Rhett has said that it wasn't always easy being Michael's brother. For me this was the hard part of life: I always questioned myself and my friendships. I found it hard to trust.
A day or two after that incident, I went to my mailbox and found two soggy letters for the visitor. They were from two different girls in California. One of them was half opened, with polaroids of a girl in a negligee falling out. “Hope you're having fun with the Hutchence family, I miss you” was the inscription. My mother had a brilliant idea. She suggested I send them back to the girls but first, I should exchange the envelopes. Los Angeles must have been unseasonably chilly for that man for a couple of months.
Michael used to say that Jonnie was amazing, that she could not be mean to anybody. While she was with him, she protected him from people who took advantage of his generosity. At restaurants, Michael would automatically pick up the check, I saw Jonnie putting a stop to this many times. He was too soft-hearted to say anything when the bill was placed in front of him so Jonnie would simply pick it up, do a quick calculation and announce a figure for each person to throw down. Some people resented her for this, but she had his best interests at heart and he was actually grateful to her for taking the pressure off of him. During this time when it was no secret that he was making incredible royalty money that friends often asked for loans and it was hard for him to refuse. She took care of all the potential unpleasantness when this happened and took the brunt of criticism by being the one to say 'no' when the hangers on and the sharks moved in.
The first time I saw Kylie Minogue in the same room as Michael was at a club where a party was being held after the last show of the Kick tour. I was surprised to see her there with Jason Donovan. Not that there were no other celebrities around but wholesome Jason and Kylie just looked so out of place amidst the heavy rock and rollers. At the time Erin was a diehard fan of Neighbours so I asked Michael to introduce me so that I wouldn't feel stupid about asking for an autograph for Erin. He replied that he did not really know them and that I should just introduce myself. Michael was completely out of touch with that aspect of who he was and who I wasn't. Some people treated me differently when he was not around and when he was not at my side many people did not recognize me even if I had met them a dozen times.
With all the movie sets I had been on, I had never asked for an autograph before but I would be a heroine with my daughter if I braved it to get this one. The music was deafening as I approached Kylie and Jason so it was not until I was right in their faces, that I realized they were having an argument. Too late, they were glaring at me. I charged ahead and introduced myself as Michael's sister and gabbled that my daughter was a fan and could I have their autographs? I actually assumed they would be flattered, with all of the other noteworthy people in the room. Jason obliged first, snatching the paper and pen out of my hand, then handing it to Kylie. She scribbled something without looking at the paper and glared again as she shoved it back. I thanked them and walked away, wishing the floor would open up and swallow me. I vowed never to approach people without Michael again. But I was a special Mom the next morning when I produced the autographs for Erin.
That Kick party was actually a lot of fun. Jonnie came by and said they were congregating downstairs to go back to their suite at the Hyatt Regency. As we walked out past the dance floor, Kylie was dancing with Jon Farriss' girlfriend. Michael didn't seem to notice, and shuffled me out into his limo. We were a small group in his hotel suite, and every time someone got up to leave, Michael would try to stop them. It was as if he did not want the tour to end. I can only imagine that at the end of sixteen hard months on the road he must have been feeling lost without an itinerary to tell him where he was headed the next day.
Unlike the rest of the band, Michael only took a short break before throwing himself into Max Q , a solo venture with Ollie Olsen. Actually, Michael never thought of it as a solo album, because it was a collaboration with Ollie and six underground musicians. They began recording at the Rhinoceros Studios in Sydney and when Michael was due in Los Angeles to present a Grammy Award to Tina Turner, he took Ollie with him. Ollie, Jonnie and Michael stopped off in Tahiti for a vacation on the way and true to form Michael arrived without a visa, but was able to talk his way through immigration. For the short break in California which followed, Michael and Jonnie rented a house in Malibu while he and Ollie continued work on the Max Q project. Jonnie had a friend, Richard, who was very knowledgeable about guitars. He had a knack for finding just the right instrument to suit the person and the purpose. Even though he didn't play all that well, Michael wanted to purchase a specific guitar and Richard came up with a beautiful cherry red, thin line, hollow body, Al Kiola which I am told is a beautiful piece of equipment and Michael finally learned to play the guitar better. During this collaboration, Michael referred to Ollie as 'a mad musical genius' . They were an odd couple and the ambiance at the studio was always interesting: Michael with his friendly, engaging, extroverted manner and Ollie who was so caught up in his underground music, barely noticing if someone new walked in the door. Michael's friends consisted of the ‘who's who' of music, while Ollie prided himself in not actually recognizing famous faces. They continued to work on rough demos for the album in Los Angeles and returned to complete the project in Australia. Michael felt such a sense of accomplishment while working on Max Q which, by the way, was named after Ollie's dog.
Later, in a Spin interview, Michael said of 'Ghost Of The Year' , a song written by Ollie:
"I like the lyric, 'I'm counting on you to count my blessings/to count the fingers on my hand/That's the amount of time I've got/I'll always feel drowned.' Which is a very interesting way of putting it. You become this public property. Ollie's saying you're always counting on the public to deal the final blow. You know it's inevitable. And you have to love them for it in a way. You have to accept that that's the way it goes. Otherwise you'll spend the rest of your life talking about how you were an ex-pop star. Which I'm not interested in doing."
Around this time that Michael began complaining about Chris Murphy. He felt that he was holding him back from doing solo work. Getting free time to do Dogs In Space had been like negotiating with the United Nations. At first there would be a break in the tour and then Chris would negotiate more dates after committing to Richard Lowenstein. Rolling Stone had wanted to feature Michael on the cover alone, which is not unusual, but Chris refused their request, he felt that the other band members should have equal coverage. Rolling Stone chose to pass, which was disappointing for Michael. It seemed that Michael's status, as a charismatic rock star was worrisome to management and his band-mates. It is a narrow way of looking at things, because Michael's success could only strengthen INXS' popularity. Where would the ‘Rolling Stones' be without the tremendous following of Mick Jagger and Keith Richard? Often during this time, Michael would say that he was having his attorney go over his contract. Chris had set up offices in London and New York by the mid-eighties and he hired Martha Troup to run the U.S. office.
Martha eventually married Bill Leibowitz, the attorney who helped Chris negotiate the band's recording contracts and who coincidentally approved of Michael's personal contracts with his financial managers. Michael felt that Chris was no longer working for the band and in particular in his best interest. Royalties had been split fairly evenly to avoid conflicts with other band members even though Michael privately felt that he was expected to work harder. He co-wrote the largest percentage of the material and thus received higher publishing royalties along with Andrew Farriss, but was expected to do most of the interviews while the other band members could take time out. Actually it was not all the fault of the other band members - most of the time the request was for Michael only. All the same, I had the feeling that someone had been whispering in his ear, as he had never before complained so bitterly.
Martha was introduced as Michael's personal manager. During those weeks in Sydney she was very nice to me. She was falling over herself to take care of Michael, I think she genuinely cared about him. Shortly before Max Q was about to be released, I called Martha in New York and she expressed her frustration that Michael had not featured in the advance publicity. She thought it would have a much better chance if it stressed his involvement: after all it was coming on the heels of the highly successful Kick album, why not use his fame? I had to agree with her. I wondered if Michael might feel torn if such a situation arose; if he had success on his own it might discourage him from continuing with INXS. I thought this might be at the heart of the problem – certainly, Michael was discontented. She encouraged me to speak to him about it.
Of course I cared about the band and I had respect for Chris' major involvement, but Michael's welfare was my priority. Not long after this Chris cut ties with Martha, but the seed had been sown and Michael's friendship and respect for Martha deepened. I too felt that Martha had Michael's best interests at heart. Even though Max Q was not a commercial success and Ollie Olsen had written most of the music, Michael thought it was among his best achievements. He had displayed such joy and passion during the recording sessions, I think he felt it validated him as musician. But I think not being able to publicize the album, capitalize on his name, feature on the magazine covers and so on, really hurt Michael and the project. No amount of consoling and dissecting could cheer Michael up, and I shared his frustration. “How are you supposed to sell albums if nobody knows who Max Q is?” I asked. The album cover was a hodge podge of different facial features belonging to everybody who had played on the album, made to look like one face- even I knew that potential fans needed an image to identify with. Although Michael was disappointed that his fans did not embrace Max Q , he was encouraged that it had done well critically, winning no less than three Rolling Stone awards in 1989.
Rhett had become particularly unstable and drug dependent. He would call Michael for money and put a guilt trip on him. Michael had so much and he so little. Abusive calls would come from Rhett under the influence. Michael would literally throw the phone at Jonnie to handle the situation. This drove a wedge between Rhett and Jonnie, because she had to play the bad guy. She was a lover, personal assistant and peacemaker, given Michael's rather passive nature. He suggested that Jonnie arranged for Rhett to move to Los Angeles and stay with a friend of hers. Michael thought that Rhett just needed to be away from Sydney. He already knew some people in the independent productions houses and with Jonnie's help Rhett began working on music videos and commercials in all facets of production. He was very good at it too, reliable and resourceful.
Whilst visiting Rhett in Los Angeles, Michael, who never learned his lesson with the automobile, again went looking for the perfect car. He heard of a 1964 Aston Martin, which was being sold privately. He took Rhett to the showroom to try it out. Rhett was thrilled when Michael slid behind the wheel and took him for a spin. Arriving back at the showroom, Michael told the broker that he would take it. He and Jonnie returned shortly with USD$150,000 cash. His friend Nick Egan came along and videod the transaction for some reason. I guess it was a kind of ceremonial occasion, which they wanted to record.
When Michael left Los Angeles from that trip he asked the dealer to have the car stored until he could decide where to have it shipped. It sat in storage for a long time before arriving in the South of France. Much later I spoke to the person who brokered this deal and he told me he was surprised when Michael paid in cash. It would seem that it was very trusting of Michael to hand that much cash to someone he did not know. He just walked away with the pink registration slip. In most instances a buyer would want more protection if ever there was a dispute over who legally owned the car.
Like many wealthy people, Michael was now making considerable efforts to lighten his tax burden. Houses, cars, properties, even businesses can be placed under trusts with company names. These companies are often set up in the British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands or Liberia where the tax burden is low. Michael's name would still not be on them of course unless in a beneficiary capacity. Royalty checks could also be paid into such a trust, by one means or another.
Michael was so thrilled with this latest purchase, he began checking into hotels under the pseudonym Mr Aston Martin.
In the Northern Hemisphere spring of 1989, Jonnie accompanied Michael to Lake Como in Italy, to film Frankenstein Unbound for Roger Corman. Michael had been thrilled about being offered the role of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, opposite Brigdet Fonda's Mary Shelley. Jason Patric, John Hurt and Raul Julia were also cast. Michael and Jonnie made a friend in Jason Patric who would later use Michael's villa in the South of France to hide out with Julia Roberts when she broke her engagement to Keifer Sutherland. Michael and Jonnie spent an idyllic summer filming and exploring the countryside and Lake Como continued to be a favourite retreat for him. But despite everyone's hard work on the movie, it did not do well at the box office. Michael was disappointed but he learned that no matter how talented the actors are you couldn't be sure that a script would work once it got to the screen.
Filming completed, Michael took Jonnie on a Harley to the South of France where they visited Gordon Fisher who was across the border in Monaco. They could in fact, walk across the border to Fisher's house where he lived with his second wife. Jonnie remembers that Fisher often worked such odd hours, he often nodded off during conversation. She also remembers that Michael was often worried about money, even during this time, with the obvious success of Kick .
END CHAPTER SIX