IVP - Strangely Dim - INXS in Excess

September 2, 2005

INXS in Excess

This summer INXS is doing what it's always done pretty well: overexpose themselves. Three nights a week we're called upon to watch Rock Star: INXS, as admittedly talented singers perform an odd range of songs on the slim chance that INXS--and America with them--will give them a steady gig. Every week one or sometimes two people are eliminated from the competition for the lead singer spot, and between performances we're shown the rigors of band-leading--from choosing whether you should wear a boa and which one goes with your stilettos, to how you can protect your voice well into your thirties. Meanwhile we observe what's come to be considered normal on reality television: interpersonal conflict, trauma and corresponding drama, and back-stabbing hypocrisy.

We're narrated through this rock-n-roll ropes course by Dave Navarro, himself the master of overexposure both literal and figurative, and Brooke Burke, who never quite adds enough edge to the "edgy" lines she's fed by the teleprompter.

I've never watched American Idol, and I swore I wouldn't watch Rock Star, but I found it almost impossible not to. The only time Rock Star was taken off the air earlier this summer was to make room for CSI something-or-other and advertisements for Rock Star. So I've been watching it, and I admit that there's a steady stream of good musical performances that span the years and genres of rock music, right up to the present. For every Beatles or David Bowie song, for example, there's a Hoobastank or Franz Ferdinand song not far behind. And occasionally you'll even hear a song by INXS.

I should say that I've always liked INXS. I liked INXS while my brother and sister were busy liking Duran Duran. I have Shabooh Shoobah on vinyl and Kick on tape, I went all the way to Nebraska to see them in concert, and I even bought the album MaxQ for kicks. (The reason you haven't heard of this side-project from their lead singer is because I bought the only copy.) But since the death of Michael Hutchence the band has been quiet, and their songs have gone by the wayside.

Now with Rock Star I'm able to imagine INXS with another bandleader--a woman, perhaps, or an African American, or a southern rock junkie. Or at least I'm invited to try and imagine it. INXS was a band of a distinct era, and for all its coherence as a band (they dress completely alike throughout the interior photos of Welcome to Wherever You Are, and inside Shabooh Shoobah we see the band lying naked together under a teeny tiny sheet), Hutchence was the quintessential lead singer. Distinctive voice, distinctive swagger--he was even talked about to play icon Jim Morrison in the film The Doors. So whoever wins this thing had better be something distinctive.

Consider, for example, other bands who have had to replace their lead singer. Natalie Merchant was replaced by 10,000 Maniacs with someone who sounded eerily like Natalie Merchant. Queen finally recoiled from the death of Freddie Mercury by tapping a lesser light from the same era: Paul Rodgers, formerly of Bad Company and Free. And neither group has reached their previous heights of fame. By contrast, drummer Dave Grohl mourned the death of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain and then moved on, fronting the profoundly successful Foo Fighters himself.

INXS has hype going for them, but I wonder if they've thought this through. For one thing, they're subjecting their new lead singer to weeks of very public humiliation, not the least of which is having to perform his or her heart out while they sit in the back row with legs crossed and sunglasses on, complaining about being too "pitchy." By the end of this game, everyone will have an opinion about who should be INXS's lead singer, but only one-sixteenth of them will be happy about who will front the band.

Or consider this: INXS, a family band to be sure (three of them are brothers), will have as its figurehead the neophyte they've been systematically deconstructing for a whole summer. Are they ready to be led by their new lead singer? Are they ready to perform songs written by him or her? Ready to travel in the musical direction their new lead singer takes them? They're a family band, but they're sticking their most prominent member at the kiddy table, and that kind of disparity is no way to build trust or community.

I'm hopeful for INXS. Michael Hutchence was in no way the only great talent in the band, and if they have more music in them, more power to them. But for the sake of INXS, their new lead singer, and the scores of rock bands eager to follow them into reality TV land (I'll give odds on Rock Star: Genesis but not on Rock Star: Nirvana), I hope they'll turn the cameras off for a while and spend some quality time with their newest family member.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at September 2, 2005 8:19 AM Bookmark and Share


i seem to recall that steve & i also drove all the way to nebraska to see inxs, and as far as the duran duran thing, i'm pretty sure you bought "the reflex" for me as a gift.

place nice, dave, or i'll have no choice but to bring up "urban chipmunk"....

Comment by: elaine at September 2, 2005 8:40 AM

Touche, sister mine. But let me defend myself:

1. I was rocking to "The One Thing" while you were jamming to "Hungry Like the Wolf," which, incidentally, is a vastly inferior song to "Reflex."
2. Speaking of "Reflex," I bought it for you, not for me. I bought INXS for me, thank you very much.

Having said that, I did enjoy the INXS concert in Nebraska with my sister, Elaine, and my brother, Steve. Steve was a student at Creighton University and made it happen for us, so thanks bro.

And thanks, Elaine, for not bringing up my love for Urban Chipmunk, featuring the hit single "Mommas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Chipmunks." I would die if people knew about that.

Comment by: dave at September 2, 2005 9:04 AM

What a blog...I never thought I'd get into the middle of an argument between whether "Hungry Like the Wolf" was inferior to "The Reflex..."

Ok...I sang along with Duran Duran, but never thought they were as great as billed (they were being compared to the Beatles at the time - HUH?) I liked INXS a lot growing up, and with U2 were among my favorite bands when I went to college. However, you were always more cutting edge than me, and I usually didn't start to really like a band until their 2nd or 3rd album (insert our ongoing REM argument here). I didn't care for "The One Thing" when it first came out, but loved "What You Need" and "Listen Like Thieves," and all albums going forward.

So if the Chipmunks had made a few more albums, I might have been a bigger fan...

Love you bro & sis...

Comment by: steve at September 5, 2005 12:21 AM

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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