Never Tear Us Apart: An obituary to INXS

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 20th November 2012.

Aussie music fans were not at all stunned last week with the not particularly shocking announcement that INXS were calling it quits after 35 years as a touring act. On the final night of a tour supporting Matchbox Twenty in Perth, drummer Jon Farriss informed the Perth crowd that they were witnessing the last live performance of the band that at one time were Australia’s biggest musical exports.

My earliest memory of INXS involves dancing along to Original Sin during a sleepover at a mate’s house. The year was 1984. The album was Throbbin ’84 (on cassette). At the time, neither of us even knew how to pronounce INXS. As far as we were concerned they were “ink-sus” (rhyming with sphinxes).

A few years later, MTV arrived on our shores, though not as we know it today. Pay TV was still a few years away. MTV first aired in Australia as a three hour late Friday and Saturday night music show on the Nine Network, hosted by Richard Wilkins, complete with mullet. Each year, as a special, the MTV Music Awards was also broadcast. I still have the 1986 awards on videocassette somewhere which features an in form INXS performing What You Need.

In 1987, INXS released Kick and the rest is history. Selling over ten million copies worldwide, Kick is a perfect forty minutes of pop. Featuring the singles Need You Tonight, Devil Inside and Never Tear Us Apart, the album launched the band into the stratosphere and for a few short years INXS was arguably the biggest band in the world. I really must put the special edition Kick 25 reissue on my Christmas wish list. I love that album.

Flashforward to the mid-nineties and INXS had begun to lose their shine. Creatively the band had not been able to match Kick and sales had slumped. It was during preparations for their “comeback” tour in 1997 that Michael Hutchence committed suicide in a Sydney hotel room. I had front row centre tickets for the first of these comeback gigs at the State Theatre. What a bummer.

Rather than retire the INXS name, the remaining members continued to tour with a succession of singers, making them one of those rare creatures in the music industry: a band that transformed into their own cover act.

I finally caught INXS (with ex-Noiseworks singer Jon Stevens) live in Cardiff on a double bill with Blondie. It simply wasn’t the same. Michael Hutchence had a unique stage presence and charisma that was irreplaceable.

A little later, a new singer, Canadian J.D. Fortune was promoted to vocal duties via a TV talent search. Although his Michael Hutchence impersonation wasn’t bad, J.D. only lasted one album before being dropped for Irishman Ciaran Gribbin.

As far as I’m concerned, INXS ceased to exist in 1997 with the death of Hutchence. It has taken 15 years for the other band members to understand this but I think deep down most fans would agree with me. Just like The Doors without Jim Morrison or Queen without Freddie Mercury, INXS were simply not the same without their charismatic frontman.

Published in: on December 25, 2012 at 08:50  Leave a Comment  
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WWE Films: now with extra cheese

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This column was originaly published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 15th March 2011.

I have a confession to make. I don’t mind watching a little bit of wrestling. Don’t tell my mum.

It has always irritated me when people say that it isn’t real. Of course it’s real. When you see a wrestler fly across the ring, he’s actually doing that. When he jumps off the top rope, that’s what is really happening. The notion that you are watching a legitimate fight is what is not real.

The outcome of the matches may be pre-determined and the storylines may be put together by a team of writers but why should that diminish my enjoyment? I know that Home and Away, Neighbours, House, Doctor Who and A Current Affair are completely fictional and I’m sure that it doesn’t stop anyone from watching them.

What I will concede, though, is that the ability to act is not necessarily a prerequisite to be a WWE Superstar. I would suggest big muscles and the ability to look good in lycra trunks is far more important. Subtlety is not really essential in the larger than life soap opera for (mostly) men that is professional wrestling.

So I find it extremely interesting that World Wrestling Entertainment has set up its own film studio to produce motion pictures vehicles for its biggest stars.

WWE was formally the World Wrestling Federation or WWF until a court case brought by the World Wildlife Fund in 2000 determined that the general public might get confused between bodyslams and pandas. I know I often do.

To date, WWE Studios has produced or co-produced ten feature films to variable box office takings and mixed reviews. There are another five on the way.

The Rock, or as he would prefer to be known now, Dwayne Johnson, starred in the first three, and most successful, WWE Studios productions. The Scorpion King (2002), Welcome to the Jungle (2003) and Walking Tall (2004) were all box office hits and cemented Johnson’s place as a legitimate breakout star. His charisma in the ring carried over to the big screen and although he did not become the Schwarzenegger of the noughties as was expected, he is certainly now a big name Hollywood actor.

The depth of the talent pool became somewhat shallower with the departure of The Rock as he retired his trunks and pursued acting fulltime. Next in line in terms of wrestling stardom was “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Arguably the biggest star since Hulk Hogan and responsible for reversing the fortunes of an ailing WWE throughout the nineties, Austin’s vehicle The Condemned (2007), a knockoff of The Running Man (2007) and co-starring Vinnie Jones, was a flop at the box office. Austin has gone on to several direct-to-DVD films as well as appearing as a henchman in Sylvester Stallone’s The Expendables (2010)  although he is yet to expand his acting range beyond looking menacing and punching things.

With the relative failure of current Superstar John Cena’s two movies, The Marine (2006) and 12 Rounds (2009), WWE Studios changed tactics and chose to focus their productions on the direct-to-DVD market, with most films having a very short cinema engagement before hitting the shelves soon after. There also appears to be a trend of not stretching the limited acting abilities of the wrestlers by ensuring that the roles they play are not far from the grappling world. John Cena plays a former high school wrestling champion in Legendary (2010) and “The Big Show” Paul Wight portrays a dim witted cage fighter in last year’s Knucklehead.

With over six hours of WWE programming a week on pay TV, it could be argued that fans are unlikely to spend money seeing wrestlers in films when they can watch them for next to nothing on the box. However, there may still be some money to be made with low budget movies starring contracted wrestlers and B grade actors.

I suppose the lack of acting ability has never really stopped anyone from making it to the big screen. Just ask Britney Spears, Mariah Carey and Jessica Simpson.