It's fifteen minutes before show time, and INXS guitarist Tim Farriss strolls over to a visitor in the band's dressing room at the Municipal Auditorium, in New Orleans. "Eric Clapton dies, right, and goes to heaven," he says, moving close to his listener and grinning expectantly. "He meets Saint Peter at the gate. Saint Peter says, 'Come on in. I'll show you around.' So Clapton is looking around, and he sees a group of three people together. He asks Saint Peter, 'Who's that?' Saint Peter says, 'Why, that's Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon . . . and Bono.' Clapton looks at him, amazed, and says, 'But Bono's not dead.' Saint Peter says, 'Shhhhh. That's God – he just likes to pretend he's Bono!' "Farriss crumbles into delighted laughter.
INXS has been on the road in the States for about a week now, and this joke has been making the rounds among the members of the band and their entourage. While not exactly a candidate for an updated edition of Freud's Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, the story it tells is nonetheless revealing.
Just four dates into the tour, it has become clear that eleven years after the band originally formed in Sydney, Australia, INXS is the newest Next Big Thing. The band's sixth album, Kick – powered by steamy, insinuating hits like "Need You Tonight" and "Devil Inside" – has been riding high on the charts since it was released last fall, and the band's audiences have been larger and more frenzied than ever before in this country.
But as INXS prepares to seize its moment, the group's relentless good times are haunted by a gnawing anxiety. The latest chapter in the six-man band's steady rise has been accompanied by – and is, in part, dependent on – the emergence of singer Michael Hutchence as a sex symbol and media personality, a first-rate crotch throb sought after by fashion magazines, film directors and a universe of teenage girls. Hutchence's starring role in the film Dogs in Space – albeit as a heroin user whose primary activity is crawling around a ramshackle house – lent further credence to the perception of him as a talent independent of the band.
The members of INXS – in addition to Hutchence and Tim Farriss, the group consists of keyboardist Andrew Farriss, guitarist-saxophonist Kirk Pengilly, bassist Garry Gary Beers and drummer Jon Farriss – came together in high school and have remained a tightly knit and unchanging unit ever since. All the members of the band write songs, though Hutchence is the primary lyricist and Andrew Farriss writes most of the music. Tim, Andrew and Jon are brothers – the band's original name was the Farriss Brothers – so at an elemental level the group's ties are bred in the blood. Toughened by years together on the road and blunt in a distinctly Australian way, the boys in INXS don't give much play to airs or pretense. So beyond saying something about the burgeoning success of INXS, the joke also seems an indirect message to Michael.
A few days later, the band plays a date in Dallas. Although plagued by sound problems, the show is a triumph. Reunion Arena is packed with well-scrubbed youths, who respond with deafening enthusiasm to the band's twenty-four-song set. So the postconcert mood on the bus is high-spirited, with beers being cracked open, Bryan Ferry's Bête Noire pumping out of the sound system and the band planning a celebratory night on the town.
Amid the revelry, Hutchence unfurls and passes around a handsome drawing of him that was done by a female fan – and takes a good-natured, though pointed, ribbing. "What a wonderful picture of Jim Morrison," Kirk quips, noting the resemblance between the slender, leonine Hutchence and the Lizard King of an earlier generation – a comparison the singer finds embarrassing. "And look, she's even given him muscles!"
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