It’s finally here – the thrilling conclusion to The Public Apology’s search for THE Australian of the 1990s. In this final instalment, TPA’s Sam Perry looks at how spinning maestro Shane ‘Warney’ Warne and INXS legend Michael ‘Hutchency’ Hutchence both, in their own separate ways, embodied 1990s ‘Australiana’. As is our want, we will arbitrarily ascribe points out of a 100 for each contender in a range of categories to determine the overall winner. The results, as always, will surprise you…
In Year 10 I studied a book by Peter Goldsworthy; his tome Maestro deals with the question of the infinitesimal difference between competence and virtuosity.
It explores the journey of a young man with an abundance of talent and discipline as he attempts to achieve ‘Maestro’ status. Like most, he fails – lacking that intangible piece of genius that, if we’re honest, is really just bequeathed.
And so we come to the finale of this frankly fascinating debate over the Australian of the 90’s. Two stars that shone so fiercely in the halcyon days of 1990-1997. Maestro’s? Maybe. Mad dogs? Without doubt. So many arguments and counter-arguments. So little time.
(Actually this is incorrect – TPA has evidently spent close to two months on this integral question, mainly because I have submitted nothing.)
It’s hard to evade the blindingly rich juxtaposition that engulfs this question. The Artiste vs The Bogan. Brown hair vs blonde. Music vs sport. Hutchence’s pop art vs Warne’s niche art. Illicit/hard drugs vs beer/cigarettes. Skinny vs fat.
Yes – rich, blinding, engulfing juxtaposition.
But let’s tackle one thing first. More baffling than the question at the centre of the debate is this obvious question: why does no one really know Michael Hutchence?
I mean – in Hutchence Australia had a genuine, bone fide, sex symbol pop star in the early 90s. The man exerted a stronghold over tough markets. His music was accessible. His band wasn’t some underground niche exercise in experimental pop.
Yet, for reasons beyond my comprehension, this late superstar doesn’t even have a user-friendly moniker like ‘Hutcho’ (or does he? Fuck I don’t know).
I don’t know what’s about to happen now.
* * * * * *
MASTERY OF CRAFT
Warne was a legspinner, Hutchence was a front-man. Warne’s art, traditionally speaking, rarely plays a central role in the show. Hutchence’s craft, on the other hand, makes or breaks the thing.
Hutchence was an outstanding front man. Some 17 years after his death I am still baffled at how an Australian of the early 90s could play the role of androgynous sex symbol with genuine musical talent. He evidently drove crowds wild with tight pants and an SBS-like international accent, all while continuing to churn out hits.
But shit, Warne actually was a maestro at his craft. His legspin was virtuoso shit. Could he have achieved any further mastery? Unlikely. And using my opening sentence as a prism through which to understand this – not only was Warne a legspinning virtuoso, he was essentially the front-man in any given match.
For sheer mastery of craft, it’s Warne by a long way.
WARNE 100, HUTCHENCE 64
* * * * * *
Let’s be honest: global appeal is not about being big, it’s about being USA big. I’m sure I’ve seen Warne in a picture with Michael Jordan for some Nike commercial (as I read an unauthorised biography at age 12 for the 7th time), and if I could find it on Google this would have scored him many points.
Instead, all I can find are multiple photos of Warne and Jordan both smoking cigars in separate settings. I need to think very carefully about this, because even though there is little evidence connecting Warne with the US, cigars are a major status symbol for the mega-famous. Perhaps there is hope for Warne here yet.
The issue for Warne here is that he has only ever extended reach into Commonwealth nations, and if there’s any less relevant construct than Commonwealth nations then I don’t know it. Essentially, in global terms, Warne has only ever been ‘Commonwealth Games’ big, whereas Hutchence did do battle on the Olympic stage, in music terms.
Hutchence was nominated for a bunch of Grammy’s (well, INXS was), won MTV awards and heaps of other British stuff. We will ignore the fact that these all happened in the late 80s as it may threaten to tear this question apart, which we would never want to happen.
After Hutchence’s death Dave Navarro of Red Hot Chili Peppers fame hosted the reality TV program Rock Star: INXS, as the band combed the globe for Hutchence’s replacement in a ghastly and sordid affair – but no matter how disgraceful that was, it meant that at least someone in the US knew of Hutchence and INXS, which I guess is credible.
WARNE 36, HUTCHENCE 81
* * * * * *
COMMERCIAL SUCCESS AND DOMINANCE
In the 90s, Warne was at once the most successful, famous and notorious of Australia’s sports stars. While today’s sports stars are clearly goodies or baddies (i.e. everyone vs Khoder Nasser’s cohort), Warne was both hero and villain. On top of this, the country had pretensions to being a global ‘middle power’, and this should have spelt fat stacks for Our Shane.
Yet, looking from afar, there’s something decidedly amateur about ‘Brand Warne’. His commercial portfolio seems to lack coherent narrative – it’s just a scattergun of odd endorsements and affiliations. It’s perhaps befitting that he was managed by his brother Jason, not some slick, ‘E’-like, hotshot character from Entourage.
Beyond cricket, all I can really associate with Warne is some sort of poker project, and Eddie Perfect’s Shane Warne: The Musical. Yes, there have been other commercial arrangements that I haven’t researched, but really all I can surmise is that his commercial success has been underwhelming.
On the other hand, when it comes to the notion of ‘commercial success’, there’s just something far more tangible about a rock and roll superstar. Hutchence was arguably more respected for his commercial success than the music he earned it with. Indeed, in a Guardian article this year they said exactly that – ‘INXS were always more respected for their commercial success than the music they’d earned it with’.
WARNE 45, HUTCHENCE 73
* * * * * *
JE NE SAIS QUOI
Michael Hutchence – sophisticated rock and roll superstar from the corner of the world, master of gyrating androgyny from a blokey band, then said-band lost every shred of artistic credibility following his death.
A man who seemed as comfortable crooning in Café de Paris as he did wailing at the Civic Hotel. Hutchence, who died in some sort of auto-erotic asphyxiation act, allegedly. With Kylie Minogue around, allegedly.
Hutchence had that ah, certain…how do you say? I think the French had a word for it: Je ne sais quoi.
And plenty of the stuff.
And while I’d desperately love to ascribe French parlance to Warne, there is nothing elusive or indefinable about this cat. What is unknown about him? The bloke was a virtuoso cricketer with a deeply flawed personality.
And while he cast an illusion of sorts over batsmen, no one was under any illusion as to who he was or how good he was. He was better than most on the field, and worse than most off it.
WARNE 32, HUTCHENCE 87
* * * * * *
SEXUAL NOTORIETY, RELATIONSHIPS
This is arguably where both men come into their own. It is the category that defines both men – their style, their tastes, their various penchants for debauchery.
Even though Hutchence died from auto-erotic asphyxiation (allegedly), I’m going to plump for Warne here. As a male who has battled issues of weight previously, I hold a non-intellectual, visceral respect for any portly chap who sexually overachieves. Other fat children will understand this. And Warne has sexually overachieved.
For Hutchence, strange and copious sex was part of the brand – a given, if you will. And by all accounts he lived up to his status as leather-pant-wearing rock God. Paula Yates was also a sophisticated alluring, funny talk show host so he scores well on relationships, too. Also Kylie Minogue was ‘about’ at various stages, so Mick makes a fairly compelling case.
But like I said, this was the norm for someone of Mick/Mike’s ilk.
This wasn’t so for Warne. In the 90s he was an overweight bogan who smoked and bowled legspin – it was not a strong base for sexual achievement along celebrity standards. That’s why he wins this category.
Make no mistake, Hutchence has done all he could possibly do given his status, but Warne takes an unlikely sexual victory because of just that – the unlikeliness of his sexual victories.
WARNE 85, HUTCHENCE 80
* * * * * *
All I know is that Hutchence has won most categories here and I’m scared he will win. I’m scared he will win because Shane Warne was, and is, my cricketing idol.
But that doesn’t matter because this is about objectively identifying the Australian of the 90’s.
Look, at the end of the day, Warne has impacted his craft, his sport, and the people of Australia far more significantly than Hutchence. Everyone knows Warne and not everyone knows Hutchence.
Warne’s story is clear: an affable, blonde, cheeky Australian who was utterly blessed with sporting prowess. He even has a ‘y’ or ‘ie’ at the end of his name. Hutchence on the other hand will never be ‘Hutchency’, and this speaks volumes.
He was nuanced, our Michael. He was misunderstood. He made us proud, sort of retrospectively, but not Sydney 104.1FM proud. This is disappointing because he’s probably in the conversation about Australia’s greatest rock and roll front man – but he’ll fall short because… I don’t really know why, and I guess I should.
Maybe that’s the problem with Hutchence – there’s an elusive quality there, and while most of the world would see that as compelling, in Australia we don’t care at all for the intangible or undefineable.
HUTCHENCE 21, WARNE 98
* * * * * *
FINAL TALLY: HUTCHENCE 406/600, WARNE 396/600
MICHAEL HUTCHENCE IS THEREFORE THE AUSTRALIAN OF THE 90s
By Sam Perry