EDWARDS: Judging ‘The Australian of the 1990s’

As flagged earlier this week, The Public Apology editors have decided that it is time to crown THE Australian of the 1990s. We have deemed two contenders – cricket legend Shane Warne and INXS frontman Michael Hutchence – worthy of dueling it out for the honour. In this piece, TPA founder Dave Edwards provides a comparative analysis of the two icons, awarding each individual a score  (out of 100) for their impact across a range of categories. Read on to find out who he believes is THE Australian of the 1990s…

MASTERY OF CRAFT:

Warne’s dominance is well-known among cricket aficionados. As legendary cricket/business writer Gideon Haigh wrote in his brilliant tome, On Warne, the leg-spinner was “for two decades, the best at something there has ever been.” Put simply, he made the ball sing, while maintaining the control of a symphonic conductor.

It is perhaps appropriate, given the comparative analysis with one of Australia’s finest musicians, to consider Warne in the same way. I doubt that Warne is at all musically inclined; in fact, I’d strongly wager that he has never picked up a musical instrument in his life.

But in any event, were we to consider him within that musical paradigm, Warne would likely be a self-taught virtuoso. He would have no idea how to read sheet music, nor would he have any knowledge of basic musical theory. Indeed, formal music training would only stifle his creativity and individuality – and he would likely sneer at anyone who indulged in such a thirst for knowledge.

He would be, in short, a modern-day Guiliani – the 18th Century guitar virtuoso who dabbled in both flute and violin on his way to composing some 300 works for both guitar and instrumental combinations.

Beethoven, the great composer himself, was taken aback by Guiliani’s ability to simultaneously play both harmony and counterpoint, in essence transforming the guitar – a singular instrument – into “a mini orchestra.” Many former leg-spinners have, too, marveled in disbelief at Warne’s virtuosity; his ability to make the ball sing a cacophony of sounds.

Guiliani, a self-taught virtuoso
Guiliani, a self-taught virtuoso

Hutchence, on the other hand, was less of a craftsman and more of a performer. He did not play an instrument, but he was certainly, singularly, the true representation of ‘INXS’. Vocally, in this writer’s opinion, he had excellent control and a smooth, energetic, funk-driven delivery. But it was on the stage where he truly excelled. Jagger-like swagger.

Hutchence was a “package deal” – the sum of his parts. Unlike Warne, whose spin-bowling, with its loop, spin and autistic-like accuracy, set him apart from his contemporaries and marked him as the Greatest Ever, Hutchence just put everything together. The look, the vocals, the lyrics, the hair, the magnetic sexuality.

Warne had a “look”, too, but it rarely screamed sexuality – well, not in a good way, anyway. I mean, he certainly liked sex, perhaps needed it, and was not afraid to beg for it. But that’s not the same.

With Hutchence, the sex came to him, usually served on a silver platter with a few neatly chopped lines of coke on the side. Delicioso.

SCORE: WARNE 95, HUTCHENCE 80

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GLOBAL APPEAL:

Hutchence was a global phenomenon. Warne was too, but, tellingly, he never made it in America.

Obviously there is no market for Warne’s craft – spin bowling – in the Americas. And it’s not like he invested his time and money in trying to crack the North American market, like Robbie Williams, for example. He was more like the British band Blur, in that he never really tried to.

But in the colonial footprint that is the international cricketing market, however, he was nothing short of a deity.

Blur, part of the 90s Brit Pop explosion
Blur, part of the 90s Brit Pop explosion

When INXS exploded onto the international stage, having skipped foreplay on its way to fiercely penetrating the American market, they were shiny and new – part of the emerging, status-quo-challenging New Wave movement. This “new-ness” seemed almost frighteningly modern. The eclectic, angular sounds and sexually charged lyrics dared listeners to either embrace it or fuck off.

Warne’s own international breakthrough smash hit, of course, came in the form of his Gatting Ball. Before this delivery, Warne was simply a bloated, bleached-haired youngster with a shit-tonne of potential. Upon his bamboozlement of arguably England’s finest batsman – during a pretty bleak era for England, admittedly – Warne transcended. He became an international phenomenon, much like INXS did upon releasing the 1987 album Kick.

But in terms of true global penetration, figuratively and sexually, you cannot go past Hutch.

SCORE: WARNE 86, HUTCHENCE 94

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COMMERCIAL SUCCESS AND DOMINANCE:

If we’re going to judge these two individuals by their impact in the 1990s, then we should quickly look at their respective achievements during that period.

It must be noted that INXS was at their commercial peak from 1984’s The Swing to 1987’s Kick. The latter album is possibly my favourite of all time, with Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon perhaps coming in a close second. It was ridiculously slick; an album comprised of smash-hit singles, four of which reached the top 10 in the States. The album itself was number one in Australia and number three in the US.

Commercially speaking, however, the 1990s was not as successful a period for INXS. The album ‘X’, which was released in October 1990, peaked at number 3 in Australia and number 5 in the US; subsequent releases did even worse. This lack of obvious chart success lent itself to a more intense focus on front man Hutchence, who had somewhat escaped such scrutiny during the 1980s, possibly thanks to the band’s relentless overseas touring schedule.

Hutchence did release one solo album, albeit posthumously. It is difficult to rate the album given that it was released without his consent, two years after his death, and therefore he was unable to put the finishing garnishes on the end product.

Sunglasses were popular among lead singers and ODI cricketers in the early 90s
Sunglasses were popular among lead singers and ODI cricketers in the early 90s

Warne’s dominance can be looked at in terms of raw statistics, sure. From the 1992-2007 he played 145 tests, taking 708 wickets at an average of 25.41. In One Dayers, he played 194 matches and took 293 scalps at a similar average.  Warne’s elegant, loping leg-spin earned him a spot in Wisden’s All-Time XI. He was really fucking good at bowling leggies, basically.

But despite being a spin bowler, Warne had an alpha-ness about him. A rock-star quality, if you will. He didn’t let the fact that he was sending down 76km/h leggies take away from the fact that he was going to get inside your head. He was, in fact, a psychological master. His dominance was as much to do with the quality of his bowling as it was to do with his entire mythology. He scared batsmen into taking risks.

Both served as tabloid fodder for much of the 1990s, with Hutchence in particular grabbing headlines for his myriad high-profile relationships and suspected drug use. Warne was a tabloid staple for different reasons – basically, he kept fucking up. But his on-field performance rarely waivered – he always remained dominant.

SCORE: WARNE 98, HUTCHENCE 84

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JE NE SAIS QUOI:

To look at Warne’s dominance in terms of raw data would be to tell only half the story. It helps to first understand the decade itself. Australian cricket had just emerged from its terrible quagmire during the 1980s. It needed something fresh and shiny, invigorating. It came in the form of Shane Keith Warne.

But while he certainly had that little something something on the field, Warne’s off-field je ne sais quoi is perhaps less obvious. To be blunt, he was the classic nouveau riche. Greedy by nature and ill-refined, Warne chose to indulge – nay, gorge! – on his deepest, most bogan desires. Fast food, women, gambling, cigarettes, etc. For all his subtlety with ball in hand, he lacked the same deft touch off the field.

Hutchence, meanwhile, had a bit going on, in terms of je ne sais quoi. In particular, he had a very individual and eclectic fashion sense, which set him apart from his beer-swilling Australian-born contemporaries, which made him seem more global. While overtly macho and hyper-(hetero) sexual, he could also emit an androgynous vibe.

He looked like a bloke who wouldn’t mind kissing other blokes, if the situation required. Sadly, I have my doubts that Warne could perform such an act, even if pressed at gun-point.

Not quite sure what Warney's up to here...
Not quite sure what Warney’s up to here…

Also, Hutchence acted in a number of cult indie films during his career, including the acclaimed Dogs in Space – a trippy account of what it was like to live in a druggy share house in Melbourne in the late-1970s. I watched this, as an impressionable youngster, and like David Bowie’s 1986 movie Labyrinth, it bemused and confused me entirely. I have re-watched it since, now that I am familiar with Melbourne’s “little band scene,” and now enjoy the absurd level of debauchery it strived to depict. It serves as a nice footnote to Hutchence’s career.

Warne and Hutchence were, indeed, showmen. Hutchence exuded a raw sexuality on stage that has not been seen since; Warne, meanwhile, exuded an incredible level of self-belief that firstly enabled him to get inside the heads of his opponents before dismissing him with clinical precision.

But there is no denying that underneath his confident, languidly sexual exterior, Hutchence was a troubled man. His childhood was difficult and involved living in various different international cities due to his parents’ tumultuous relationship.

Warne’s childhood, on the other hand, was idyllic. He grew up alongside his siblings in the middle-class Melbourne suburbs and attended the prestigious Mentone Grammar on a sports scholarship. His summers were spent rising up through the grades at the St Kilda Cricket Club; his winters spent chasing the dream to represent that same club in the VFL competition.

So while it is somewhat easy to trace Hutchence’s emotional torment and sexual impropriety back to his adolescence, Warne remains more of an enigmatic figure. Why was he so prone to misjudgement?

Fresh-faced legends
Fresh-faced legends

Constantly led into temptation, yet time and time again, on the basis of his stunning craftsmanship, Warne was always delivered from evil. Amen.

SCORE: WARNE 69, HUTCHENCE 90

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SEXUAL NOTORIETY, RELATIONSHIPS

Following the intense rise to fame brought on by Kick, Hutchence, now famous and perhaps with a bit more downtime, embarked on a number of high-profile relationships, starting with Australia’s favourite songstress Kylie Minogue. He later dated supermodel Helena Christensen for a number of years before having a child with UK TV presenter Paula Yates, formerly known as Mrs Bob Geldof. High-profile and international.

However, the INXS mini-series, Never Tear Us Apart, probably only scratched the surface as to the amount of action Hutchence was getting off-stage. In this interview in 1993, Hutchence talked about how he had experienced “everything” during his career – group sex, S&M bondage, conventional “one-to-one sex,” voyeurism, psychological sex games, “exchange women” (not quite sure what that one means), etc.

In the same interview, later, Hutchence laments “the other side” of touring, challenging the myth that the life of a rock & roll icon is simply “one big travelling orgy.”

“When you’re getting older, you stop liking mechanical sex with cheap girls who you don’t even know. I’m not a saint, but I have grown up, calmed down a bit. I’ve slowed down, really. The reality is that after a 70,000 people gig, there is no one waiting for you backstage, you leave for your hotel room, where the TV even makes you feel more lonely.”

INXS was on the road for 15 years, possibly longer – and it is no surprise that, ultimately, conventional masturbatory methods proved too mundane for him.

Them 'bedroom eyes'
Them ‘bedroom eyes’

Warney went about things a different way. He married young and had a number of children before his caddish ways saw the marriage fall apart.

To be fair, most of Warney’s rooting probably occurred post-1999. Indeed, from his test debut in 1992 to the 1999 World Cup, it is hard to verify how much, if any, rooting Warne did outside of his marriage.

It was only until 2000 that Warne would be caught for his “text message” scandal with British nurse Donna Wright. Indeed, Warne certainly leveraged the text messaging function to full-effect, once mobile phones became somewhat ubiquitous.

And for mine, that’s one of the more disappointing aspects of Warne’s alleged affairs – the heavy reliance on mobile technology. Because Hutchence wouldn’t have needed a mobile phone to make shit happen.

In his unauthorised and widely criticised 2006 biography of Shane Warne, Paul Barry suggested that the leg-spinner had slept with “1,000 women.” I’d say that Hutchence would have had that many women on the European leg of his 1991 tour alone.

In terms of sexual notoriety, you simply cannot beat death by auto-erotic asphyxiation.

SCORE: WARNE 77, HUTCHENCE 99

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LEGACY:

In terms of legacy, there exists an obvious imbalance, given that Warne is alive and Hutchence is dead.

Popular music is a truly global business. And INXS, for a period, was the biggest band in the world – with Hutchence killing it at the helm. The Kick album will live on forever, as will the band’s famous 1991 appearance at Wembley stadium – possibly the concert of the 1990s.

INXS remains Australia’s most internationally successful band – and it’s not a stretch to think that, in this post-analogue era, this could be their lasting legacy. And really, it couldn’t have been achieved without the dynamic Michael Hutchence as front man and lyricist.

By all accounts, a 'fucking good gig'
By all accounts, a ‘fucking good gig’

Warne, meanwhile, is widely viewed as the greatest bowler to ever play test cricket – an international sport with a history spanning some 200 years. Warne clones are still seen today in junior cricket competitions; indeed, his bowling approach – measured, rhythmic, symphonic – has served as the template for youngsters across the world.

Before Warne, leg-spinners employed the frenetic run-up and round-arm style of Clarrie Grimmett – no aesthete, it must be said.

Warne made leg-spin into an art. Much like how Jackson Pollock’s technique of splattering paint over a blank canvas served to provide his inner vision of reality – and in turn gave way to a new movement known as Abstract Expressionism – Warne created his own movement and served as its chief curator for the 1990s and beyond. If leg-spin was studied at universities, Warne-ism would be a thing.

SCORE: WARNE 96, HUTCHENCE 89

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FINAL TALLY: WARNE 521/600. HUTCHENCE 536/600

WINNER: HUTCHENCE

By Dave Edwards

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