Michael Hutchence, lead singer of the Australian rock band INXS (pronounced in excess ), has it all--looks, a strong, expressive voice, scintillating stage moves, charisma and a brooding quality that's so appealing to young women.
For some time, music business prognosticators have predicted stardom for him and the band, which plays fun, funk-fueled rock. But Hutchence, 25, is ambivalent about stardom.
"The idea of being a star isn't particularly attractive most of the time," said Hutchence, in town recently for the INXS shows at the Hollywood Palladium. "I could see being a star. But I don't want my ego to go on a rampage. There are days when my ego gets out of hand and I get temperamental. The other guys make sure things don't go too far."
Though it was early afternoon, Hutchence looked tired, as if he had just awakened. In the dining room of his hotel, he indifferently consumed an elegant lunch. "Talking about stardom is embarrassing," he said. "Stardom isn't a goal. It goes with the territory. It's nice to be appreciated but I don't want to be a god."
Though American rock fans have been slow to respond to his talents, Hutchence is already a big star in Australia.
"If I was having lunch there like I am now, there would be people coming over for autographs," he said. "It's good to be away from all that. You try not to believe you're a star but you do believe it a little--maybe even a lot--because of the way people treat you. If you're human, and, God knows, I'm very human, it does effect you and often not in a good way."
Young females have a passion for Hutchence. They shriek and suffer ecstasy attacks at the very sight of him. Lunching at a fancy hotel in West Hollywood, there weren't many young women to swoon over him. But had he been at a hip, youth-oriented establishment, he probably would have been preyed upon by swarms of female fans.
Regarding the screaming females, he said: "I like it. You can't help it. There's a rush when they're screaming. After a while, you play to them, encourage them to scream. It's harmless fun. It can give you this surge of power, like driving a fast car. But the screaming can get be as bad as a drug--you can crave it. I don't crave it."
INXS' first American album, "Shabooh, Shoobah" (1983), was actually its third. Then, the band was really about 5 years old, having matured on the Australian bar circuit to become so popular in that country that foreign record companies--like Atlantic in the United States--took notice.
Though sprinkled with gems and reflecting great potential, the first two Atlantic albums--"Shabooh, Shoobah" and last year's "The Swing"--never found a large audience in this country. The music, critics have speculated, seemed somewhat cold and detached for American tastes.
The new one, "Listen Like Thieves," is certainly more commercial, reflecting the considerable skill and taste of producer Chris Thomas, who also produces the Pretenders. But so far, this hasn't been the band's American breakthrough album either. Though initially a fast-riser on the Billboard chart, the album has since slowed considerably.
Still, many fans seeing INXS in concert on the current tour reportedly have been captivated by the band. And Hutchence is still the darling of the teen-age girls. However, that teeny-bopper appeal has worked against the band.
"When some people think you just attract screaming teen-agers, they write you off, they don't take you seriously," Hutchence said. INXS, which appeals to grown-ups too, is, to some degree, still fighting that teeny-bopper stigma.
Hutchence, who grew up wealthy in Hong Kong, went to Australia at 12 when his parents, both Australians, moved back home. His first friend in his new country was Andrew Farriss, who now plays keyboards in INXS. Farriss' brothers--Tim (guitar) and Jon (drums)--are also in the band, along with Garry Beers (bass) and Kirk Pengilly (guitar/sax).
About 10 years ago, Hutchence lived in North Hollywood for a year, emigrating there with his mother, who had divorced his father. Since he was just a casual fan then, music wasn't a major part of his L.A. experience. "I was sort of a hermit," he said. "I spent the better part of nine months in my room by myself, writing and listening to music. I like writing poetry and stories."
But there was nothing refined or cultural about his other pursuits. "I wasn't a total hermit. I did outside things too. I spent some time riding motorcycles. For a while, I wanted be a motocross racer. I also used to hang out in sleazy bars with this friend who was a pool hustler."
Los Angeles, Hutchence said, wasn't his favorite place then. It still isn't. "It's like an (Andy) Warhol movie. It's sleazy in a lot of ways, like a B-grade movie. It's sad watching people struggling amongst the glamour. All the glamour here has a horrible effect on people. If you're not glamorous, you're out."
This town is not, he said, a pleasant place to spend any part of one's tumultuous teen years: "Those are rough years. I was here when I was about 16. When you're trying to cope and you're also looking for an identity and you're into self-discovery, L.A. is a terrible place to be. It's too fast and chaotic and dismal. The values are crazy--they're all wrong."
Did he get anything positive from his L.A. experience? "I got soul from being here. But that came from spending so much time by myself. The same thing might have happened in Cleveland or some place like that."
After leaving Los Angeles, Hutchence went back to Australia and joined a band with his friend Andy Farriss that eventually became INXS.
"I had all these notes from all the writing I had done," he said. "Music was a way of doing something with those notes. I started putting my lyrics to Andy's music. I was hooked on music by then. It was my calling, I guess."