“You know sometimes I just want to curl up on stage and lie there for a while — it’s weird.” — Michael Hutchence
Calling All Nations
Sydney: November 12th, 1988, and I could barely keep myself in check while riding the Illawarra line with some good friends, crooning INXS classics like Need You Tonight and Burn for You. Spirits were high. The air was charged with magic energy. I was en route to spending my first evening with the man Billy Zane described as “the frontman for a nation” — Michael Hutchence and his rocking soulful band INXS.
A friend named Paris organized the tickets and was almost as exotic as the man himself for various reasons:
I. He was older than me and looked like Benicio del Toro in his heyday.
II. He was strangely well-connected for an 18-year-old.
III. I had personally never known any guy before or since named after the European City of Lights.
Paris knew someone who knew someone who …. err …. knew another someone who could score us some prime seats for the event held at the Sydney Entertainment Centre. After a Kick-ass world tour, INXS was coming home to celebrate their worldwide success complete with a well-deserved side of glorious top-dog swagger.
I wasn’t missing that experience for all the money in China.
Now, Paris delivered on his promise in producing choice seats for the show. I was there, ready to experience my first taste of in-person Hutchence gold, and barely able to wait out the time for the supporting band to wrap it up. But when the homegrown Sydney boys eventually gave it up to the tune of What You Need, oddly enough, I gave it up too.
No, I didn’t rip off my dainty black bra and toss it on stage. Nor did I flash my breasts at the utterly delish. Truth. I’m not that extreme. Besides, by no means were those guys shy of nipples, lips, hips and flesh at that particular moment in life.
Lining the hotel halls 24/7 like junk-lump wallpaper in cities all over the world.
Speaking of 24/7, you know those old black and white clips of crazy fan-girls screaming and crying like idiots after famous artists like The Beatles or Elvis Presley?
Say no more.
(Except that it was the first and only time that ever happened.)
Of course, I blame Michael Hutchence (and maybe teenage hormones) for the unexpected emotional outburst. There was just so much pent-up energy within that by the time the cool-cat rocker strutted onto the stage, the floodgates deemed too much to control.
What? The man was as sexy as sin, boasted an unmistakable voice and a stunningly unique presence — there was no question that his irreplaceable talent could make a girl weak at the knees, among other things….
But Michael was more than just an attractive rock star with an impressive head of hair who sang like honey, collected “famous” friends and swooned women everywhere — there was something special about him that made him stand out among his peers — the one quality unique to him that magnetized the world.
Michael Jackson had a chimp called Bubbles. Mick Jagger had those famous “rubber” lips and a bad boy image, and Angus Young had his disturbing version of a schoolboy uniform. Aside from possessing a super sensual hip-grind, Michael Hutchence had a unique vulnerability about him.
A trait which proved to be the special sauce that was the foundation for his ability to take in all of life and exude a rare authentic presence while living in the fast-lane.
I’m Just a Man
“I know who I am and what I do.” — Michael Hutchence
Those who kept a keen eye on Michael Hutchence know that his nature was very introverted, shy and sensitive. Not only were those qualities well-documented by the people who were close to him, but it was those characteristics that influenced and presented through his body of creative work.
In Richard Lowenstein’s documentary, The Last (True) Rock Star, Tina Hutchence recounts the first time she saw her brother Michael perform: “We went into this dingy place … there was lots of beer flowing… I was kind of worried because it looked like a tough crowd out there and Michael is kind of quiet. I didn’t know what was going to happen and I was kind of concerned. He came on and there was this metamorphosis. My quiet spoken brother became this person on stage that just blew me away.”
American professor Brené Brown, who is well-known for teaching us the value in vulnerability and the personal benefits we gain from choosing to explore our emotions rather than bottling them up, says that the path to self-awareness and true connection is through our willingness to get vulnerable with the people who are important to us.
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of connection and the path to the feeling of worthiness. If it doesn’t feel vulnerable, the sharing is probably not constructive.”
Hutchence was clearly in touch with himself and his masculinity enough to be true to who he was. He was a free-spirit who didn’t lack the courage to express, explore and open himself to his vulnerability — the creation of connectedness that rippled from the inside out and into his music to unite nations.
Bono, who is the frontman of the legendary rock band, U2, was said to be impressed with his friend’s (Michael Hutchence) take on music: “I remember asking Michael what his definition of rock & roll was — he said, ‘Liberation.’”
Liberation on a personal level is self-exploration to achieve freedom from self-limiting thoughts. It is daring to realize your pure spirit and understanding freedom in its truest form, and that requires a certain dose of vulnerability.
Freedom is knowing who you are and believing in that person enough to then liberate and uplift others through the important work you offer the world. Freedom is in your essence.
Michael’s father, Kelland Hutchence: “Michael was a shy, lovely kid…. He was warm, tender. A gentle boy who loved writing poetry.”
I believe Michael’s vulnerability radiated like a rare star brighter than any rock. His presence was a sensually creative interpretation of quiet yet open, intelligently fun…. a grounded futurist — he managed to strike a balance with his Rock God alter-ego, enjoying the perks and trappings of superstardom while still possessing an understanding of life and humanity.
Essentially, it was Michael’s vulnerability that we fans’ picked up and homed in on; it made him feel reachable, relatable and connected; and that’s the overarching quality that contributed to his uniqueness and made Michael Hutchence so damn special.
“He was something like tomorrow.” — Billy Zane
But with all of his reserved and introspective qualities, Michael had to find a way to cope with the attention of being a rock star — he had to compartmentalize himself to manage fame.
Michael said: “I get pretty terrified, to be honest, when I’m on tour. You really have to muster a lot of ego to go out there, which I find draining.”
So how did the rock star deal with it?
He had to insulate his gentler characteristics to protect himself. Kory Grow from Rolling Stone Magazine:
“When the band’s Kick album became a sextuple-platinum megahit, Hutchence had to get over his innate shyness quickly and figure out a way to navigate all the attention — “From the fantasy to the reality of, ‘Oh, this is actually happening,’ that would be really tricky because I wasn’t that comfortable with it,” Hutchence says of fame. “So, I sort of invented that [big] persona with the necessity of getting through it. I enjoyed it but I had to create something that kept me inside as well.”
Michael may have wavered from time to time. We know that he struggled with his inner-demons and like the rest of us, made his fair share of mistakes along the way. But through it all, he never truly lost sight of who he was, where he was going and his deepest truths; and he cared enough to cherish that part of himself.
Honestly, having an insight like that is like knowing a secret. It’s an intangible quality in a person’s soul that you can just sense.
Some years later, I sensed it in Michael the night that I met him (minus the hormone-induced emotional eruption). It was drizzling wet and late, and I was waiting for him at the backstage door after a concert. Michael had a broken leg (from falling off the stage at another gig) and he was accompanied by a throng of hangers-on, some of them quite beautiful.
I said nothing to call on his attention. He could have easily dismissed me and climbed into the waiting car but he didn’t. Instead, he flashed a grin before hobbling down the stairs on his crutches over to where I was standing, stopping next to me to give me his time.
Time is a gift we lend of ourselves to others.
Shine Like it Does
So, what’s the biggest takeaway that we can learn from a guy like Michael Hutchence?
This was a rock star who didn’t think it beneath him to find the time to talk and laugh on the phone with a gushing Sydney teenage girl one Saturday morning sometime during the late 80’s.
Michael’s ability to stay real, spirited and humble through mighty fame and fortune is the one thing I always admired the most about him.
I don’t know about you, but of all the qualities for a person to possess and demonstrate in this life, I believe that keeping our spirit humble has to be among the most important.
That’s where lies the key to real success and fueled the underlying qualities shining below the surface of Michael’s vulnerability — the story since time began.
Michael had success nailed long before fame found him; and it was in him all along — the magic of vulnerability.
Originally published by Living Out Loud on Medium
- Images by Getty