Wednesday, November 21, 2012

REWIND: Not Enough Time, Part One.

2012 Introduction

The links were not at the top of the news feed, but my eye caught them, anyway.

INXS finished

INXS sudden retirement

Whenever I’ve mentioned INXS just now disbanding in the days since, friends have replied with variations on the same basic question: “But didn’t INXS call it quits after that singer – you know, what’s his name – died?

The singer was Michael Hutchence, who died on November 22, 1997, and obviously the band indeed carried on after his death, although this isn’t really the central point of this week’s reprint series entry.

“Not Enough Time” will be “rewound” in three parts beginning today. My essay originally appeared in the FOSSILS newsletter way back in the winter of 1997/98, and went up electronically at NA Confidential in 2005 – just months before INXS embarked on the reality TV audition carousel that resulted in a Canadian named JD Fortune becoming the band’s (then) most recent replacement for Hutchence. In short, my fears of farce were fulfilled.

Absent critical mass, the unfortunately named Fortune eventually relinquished his microphone to an Irishman named Ciaran Gribbin, and now, 35 years after INXS began Down Under, there remain individual members of a great band, equipped with a fine back catalog of songs … and nary a front man alive capable of singing them.

Today: The introduction from 2005, followed by Part One of “Not Enough Time,” a remembrance of things past. The second and third parts will appear on Thursday and Friday. I've changed nothing, which is unusual for me.

2005 Introduction

Sometimes while writing, you must follow your muse’s orders to the letter, and when the piece is finished, you’d like to know what she could have been thinking.

Accordingly, what do a Central European city, an Australian rock singer and Southern Indiana pub owner have in common?

It has been almost eight years since this article was written in 1997, and a decade and a half since the Czechs and Slovaks embarked on a post-Communist experiment that has led them, as separate and independent countries, into European Union membership.

For the surviving members of INXS, perhaps the world’s biggest rock band for a brief period in the 1980’s, the eight years since singer and front man Michael Hutchence’s 1997 death by suicide have been lackluster, to put it charitably.

With no new projects, and without a permanent replacement for Hutchence, the group completely disappeared from the transitory world of pop culture, and this absence had the odd but not unwelcome effect of burnishing its earlier achievements, to the point that critical perspective seemed at long last ready to go in INXS’s direction.

Alas, the band, now desirous of a comeback and a fresh round of fame, has chosen the unfortunate vehicle of a “reality television” show to select a new lead singer, who will record a new album and go on tour. Needless to say, I’m expecting the worse.

The other central character in “Not Enough Time” is yours truly – brewery and pub owner, dedicated European traveler, and recently reinvented blogger, who seems to have survived well enough after a decade of much joy and occasional madness. I’ve still not forgiven Hutchence for choosing the route he did …but that’s life, and I’m enjoying mine.



To the discerning wanderer, the act of traveling serves to reveal many variations of reality, existing both inside and outside the individual.

Perhaps the least interesting of these expressions, which embody moments floating nebulously somewhere in time, are those manifested by scribbled notes on the back of snapshots, simple expository comments like “Here we are in front of the Eiffel Tower.”

The most challenging and enduring of these expressions are those offered in long, often drunken and chaotic conversations with friends, at first when safely back “home,” and then later, long after the fact.

It’s when one tries to explain what it feels like to be standing atop the Acropolis, feeling the heat of the Greek sun, and hearing the echoes of 25 centuries drifting up through the pollution and traffic noise, or seeking to communicate with someone who doesn’t speak the same language, and making do by using beer coasters and scraps of bus fare tickets to construct multi-lingual metaphysical systems.

It is unfortunate that those who travel solely to achieve fleeting leisure and recreation of the sort typified by the balmy beachside jaunt stand a fine chance of missing the whole point of travel (although not of recreation, a quite different topic), which is to alter one’s consciousness by comparing and contrasting differences, both internal and external, and placing one’s own life into another context.

The process never ends so long as the individual continues to evolve; you’re different than the last time you went there, and your responses will vary according to how you’ve changed during the interim. Sitting on a deck chair on Carnival cruise lines and sipping a frozen rum drink is relaxing, but it is unlikely to conjure an epiphany, and as with the potential for an orgasm during the act of sex, for one to lack from the very outset the slightest chance of experiencing an epiphany during a particular travel encounter is to reduce it to a merely physical exercise.

It is to deny the chance for transcendence, and why go to the trouble if there’s no chance for transcendence?

Certainly, experiences that raise one’s consciousness cannot be forced into being; an element of luck is involved, and one must be in the right place at the right time. Some times it happens, and some times it doesn’t, but if it does, it can be like an epileptic burst of brute gale force that drills into your skull and sends you sprawling, and after you’ve gotten up and brushed the dust from your trousers, you’re obliged to spend a few moments reflecting on the impact.

For me, traveling in Eastern Europe during the Communist era was like that, and there are times, even eight years or more later, when I’m not sure any of it ever really happened. Some things that I’m sure actually did happen have, in retrospect, turned out to have less to do with the geography or history of the area than with some aspect of myself at the time, some part of me, some specific way that I was thinking and reacting during the moment.

Eastern Europe has changed quite a lot since the 1980’s. To my surprise, so have I, but like some programmed response, it doesn’t take much to trip a wire and have the whole experience come back to me, demanding attention.


So it was that in late November of 1997, I reacted with a mild and disinterested shrug upon learning that Michael Hutchence, the charismatic lead singer for the Australian rock band INXS, had died, but after a few pints of reflection over a period of days, his death began to disturb me.

I didn’t understand why.

Certainly, I shouldn’t have been bothered. Like many others, I’ve grown jaded and weary with regard to the rituals of grief that follow the passing of public figures, people none of us ever really knew while they were alive, especially rock stars and similar icons of disposable pop culture.

Granted, I understand that in our society of rootless ephemera, where none of us really believe in anything except money, USA Today’s trend of the nanosecond might as well be celebrated as an eternal truth. Pamela’s and Tommy’s “stolen” sex video is as good as anything else we have to hold aloft as an 11th Commandment; with nothing better to do, we might as well pretend that we personally knew the celebrities who died before their time, who overdosed on heroin, crashed their toys, and hanged themselves in hotel rooms halfway across the planet.

We might as well join the queue for the teary tributes to these abstract entities, who we insist in some way enriched our lives, as though they may have been the only real friends and siblings that we ever tricked ourselves into believing existed.

An earlier generation remembers the day that John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I remember the day John Lennon was murdered. Now, our lonely nation turns its eyes to Elton John and remembers the day, the month, and the calendar year, that Princess Diana died.

I’m cognizant of an obvious cheapening, and it is a form of non-participatory sport that I’d prefer to avoid.

The less meaning in our lives that we’re permitted to have apart from the patriotic imperative to support the national economy by buying things we don’t need, the more that we look for something to believe in: Celebrities, rock stars, the prattle that passes for dialogue on television talk shows, the insipid and scarcely alchemized liquid posing as beer behind prophylactic sheets of aluminum.

To wail and moan for fallen icons makes it possible for consumers to feel – and to feel around in their pockets for the credit card to buy the commemorative video, the pay-per-view, the Franklin Mint’s numbered and registered plate.

Part Two, tomorrow.

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