Monday, 7 March 2011

The day the music died

No, not Don McLean and his much maligned (and frequently mauled - usually by drunken brothers-in-arms as a night-closing anthem, along with Khe Sanh and Bohemian Rhapsody - unforgivably by Madonna...) American Pie. This was the day my music died.

I have had two musical heroes. Having artistic heroes belongs to a time of innocence methinks, a time before one realises just what heroism really entails. So, despite loving music (and i mean loving) I don't think I've had a musical hero since I left my teens. The first was Michael Hutchence: yes, I know... But growing up in a town with four houses and thirteen people and with access to only the local AM radio station, my musical horizons were limited to say the least. On clear nights after midnight, if I held the telescopic antenna just so I could pick up 3XY from Melbourne. Oh! the joy. That moment that the cold and the crackle parted and through the tinny speakers of my little transistor radio came sounds previously unheard - it was manna. At that moment all the manoeuvring of the aerial and shifting of the radio and twiddling of the dial was worth it - but despite feeling euphoric that I'd found the treasure I'd been seeking I'd have to listen still as a statue, lest I move and lose reception...

So, Hutchence. Why Hutchence? Original Sin. That was the start. One could say it was the start of everything, or maybe the start of the end, but that'd be getting a little biblical... 

Dream on white boy
Dream on black girl
And wake up to a brand new day
To find your dreams have washed away

I heard it on the radio and it sounded different to anything I'd ever heard before. It was funky before I even knew what funk was. And those lyrics just hooked me. Then I saw INXS on Countdown and Hutchence looked, well, normal. Despite the rockstar persona and the performance and the antipodean version of new-wave attire, he was just a bloke. A most importantly to me with my adolescent skin and dire self-esteem he was a bloke with a lisp, lank hair and acne scars. And he was on the teev! He was the first person I'd seen with acne scars on the television. The first person I'd seen with acne scars who didn't seem to care, who still behaved as if he was attractive. Imagine that! A revelation... Sad but true...

So, I followed Hutchence and INXS through The Swing and Listen Like Thieves. Kick was part of the soundtrack to my final year at high school, and Dogs In Space became a vision of what life could be like in Melbourne the following year - if I just managed to do well enough to get into uni and escape the claustrophobically conservative country town that had become a place of fear and dread.

I did do well enough. I did get into uni. And during that first year in the city Hutchence and Ollie Olsen put together a bunch of musicians that had been part of the sprawling world that was Dogs In Space. The album they released, Max Q, is still a revelation: the best thing Hutchence ever did, the most accessible thing Ollie ever released. From here on though, nothing Hutchence did with INXS compared well. Not that such a comparison is fair: Andrew Farriss is no Ollie Olsen. Farriss is a great songwriter, don't get me wrong, but dark and experimental he is not.

Anyway, Hutchence died. What a mess - a kid, step-kids, Paula, Sir Bob, a belt, anti-depressants, drugs, hotel room door handle, desperate phone calls. Dead. But that was not the day my music died...

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