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INXS: New Sensation

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When the laughter subsides, Hutchence is again holding the drawing in his hands and, distracted for a moment, seems to be staring dreamily at his own image. "Watch it, mate," Tim Farriss chimes in, not missing a beat. "You don't want God walking around wishing he was you."     

You could hardly blame God if he tried to pass himself off as Hutchence these days. An energetic and sexy performer, Hutchence, 28, is quieter and more composed, but no less magnetic, offstage. Articulate, graceful and seductive, he has the ability to make his attention seem like a valuable gift. Throw in good looks, talent and a gig as singer in a powerhouse rock & roll band, and the combination is pretty much irresistible – as was demonstrated one loony Saturday night on Bourbon Street, the main artery of New Orleans's French Quarter.

After the Municipal Auditorium show, Hutchence and his long-limbed companion, Virginia Hayes – an actress who is eight years older than Hutchence and another compelling reason that God might covet a stint as the INXS singer – took off down Bourbon Street with some friends in search of fun. But not too much fun. Hutchence was temporarily on the wagon because of the excesses of the previous night, when, with the rest of the band and members of PiL, the opening act on part of the tour, he got a crippling dose of Crescent City club life. Besides, he likes to be cautious in New Orleans: a few years ago, local authorities, inexplicably unappreciative of his "Jump back, I wanna kiss myself' James Brown imitation when he was hanging out in a club, arrested him on drunk-and-disorderly charges.

Despite his own restraint, Hutchence freely encouraged his companions to indulge in hurricanes – the sweet, enormous, paralyzingly potent red drinks that lubricate the flow of tourist street life in the French Quarter. He even stopped for a moment at one of the area's innumerable souvenir shops for a two-dollar blast of laughing gas. A fairly conspicuous sight with his streaked, shoulder-length hair, fashionable black suit and tinted glasses – not to mention the six-foot, blond-haired Virginia, wearing a handkerchief-size dress, on his arm – Hutchence gradually drew a sizable crowd.

"Is that . . . Is that really? No. Tell me, really?" stuttered a young girl to one of the people with Hutchence as the singer stood about a foot away, chatting with the proprietor of the souvenir shop. "Listen, tell him I think he's just the greatest!" Back on the street, Hutchence was stopped about every fifteen seconds for autographs, and he routinely obliged. He finally turned somebody down, saying, as he continued to walk, "I'm sorry, but if I stop and sign one, I'm going to be here for half an hour."

The night then took a surreal turn as two chubby teenage girls ran several feet in front of Hutchence and turned around to face him. As he and Virginia walked toward them – the chaos of the street suddenly framing itself around this Felliniesque confrontation – the girls started singing the Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" in unison, pointing at Hutchence and gesturing with their hands in time. The sheer strangeness of that sight was both hilarious and sobering; the group decided to duck into a nearby Houlihan's, and soon afterward called it a night.

"There's one thing that working in Australia a long time doesn't prepare you for, and that is what they call in America 'becoming a star'," says Hutchence with a chuckle between bites of chicken salad the following afternoon in the dining room of the Omni Royal Orleans Hotel. "We don't really have a star system in Australia. It doesn't exist. There's no use in becoming one, or acting like one, or pretending you're one, because it doesn't get you anywhere. In fact, it's really the worst thing you can do there."

Hutchence's outfit for the day – black pants, black silver-tipped boots, a floppy black leather cap and a white T-shirt emblazoned with Love Hope Honour – argues that even if life in his homeland failed to prep him, the singer managed to get lessons in stardom somewhere along the line. But while he clearly thrives on the attention he attracts, he is convincing when he asserts that fame is not what drives him – or INXS.

Hutchence says, "I think [INXS manager Chris] Murphy said this once to the [record-company] people in America: 'Don't send cocaine, limos and women. It won't make us write better music; it won't make us a better band; it won't give us any incentive.' And it's true. We just don't work that way. Sometimes I think people get an image of us, that we may be that way. We're called INXS [pronounced "in excess"], and we don't fit into the real normal, cleaned-up corporate rock thing. At the same time, we're not a heavy-metal band running around with girls in fish-net tights."

Indeed, the girls who fill the halls, prowl the hotels and crawl the clubs where the band turns up are, generally speaking, a wholesome-looking lot. The blaze of prettiness that comes into view as one of the band's cars pulls out of Municipal Auditorium after sound check inspires Kirk to exclaim, while smiling and shaking his head, "My, there are some cute girls in the world, aren't there."

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