Listen Like Thieves: A Discourse on the World through the Lyrics of Michael Hutchence

Photograph of Michael Hutchence taken by author, 1994.


The purpose of this site is to examine the transcendent lyrical messages of Michael Hutchence, which we feel have been treated as afterthoughts to his stage presence and sexual charisma.  

Beyond his media persona and rock-n-roll lifestyle, Michael was a poet, an artist, and an intellectual. He was well-read, with some of his documented favorite authors being Hermann Hesse, Oscar Wilde, Jean-Paul Sartre, Arthur Rimbaud, Peter Carey, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Michael was known to be articulate in conversation: gracious, playful, witty, and remarkably present.


Hutchence also had passionate political beliefs. He was a very well-traveled person, a sort of “world citizen” who grew up in Australia, Hong Kong, and California, and who lived as a “nomad” touring the globe constantly. He had a grasp of Cantonese and several other languages. Time and time again in interviews, he demonstrated a clear-eyed, almost visionary awareness and concern about the social and political dynamics of the world. From his fervent quest to raise awareness for the plight of the people in East Timor, to his vocal support of the Labour Party, there is no question that Michael was a champion of humanitarian causes and a proponent of social self-determination.

The authors
The authors in 1992. We had established communication a year prior as snail mail pen pals in the INXS fan club. Note that one of us points to his head and the other to his heart.

Now, twenty years after his passing, much has been discussed about Michael as an 80’s icon and sex symbol, and perhaps even more so about his private life and the “person he was.” However, less attention has been paid to his prolific rhetorical works, the lyrics and the messages he was trying to convey, transcendent of his own “story” or ego. What better way to gain insight into the mind of Michael Hutchence than to ponder the words he actually wrote down and sang throughout his career?


Disclaimer: Most of Michael Hutchence’s song lyrics are clearly not meant to be taken literally. His inclination to put things into catchy terms open to broad interpretation helped his work appeal to millions of people from all different walks of life, but it also makes any objective, singular meanings impossible to derive. 

In one interview captured on video circa 1988, Michael was asked whether he had political message like so many of his Australian counterparts like Midnight Oil. His response (to paraphrase) conveyed that no, his lyrics did not address issues of topical, local activism compared to these other bands. He explained that he felt he had to write in more general terms in order to “crossover” and have a more worldwide resonance. ¨In our lyrics, on every album there’s a couple of songs like that, but it’s not an overwhelming factor. I think that artists have got way bigger things than politics to contend with. Politics are just there because we can’t get the basics right….life, death, and everything in between.¨

Like the Dadaists referenced in the spoken broadcast within the INXS song “Communication,” Michael sometimes protested in the form of playful nonsense, lyrically and musically. Michael was a poetic maverick; while creative liberties were taken with the words and imagery, his lyrics undoubtedly carry overtones of universal love and light, freedom, and the idea that we should all simply love one another as brothers and sisters irrespective of race, religion, creed, sexual orientation, nationality, or origin. It is precisely that sentiment of “love and peace” which we hope to pass on through this analysis of his lyrics.

We recognize that the beauty of art is that it is open to interpretation. However, we still contend that it would be disingenuous if the undeniable, inherent political implications embedded in Michael’s words were not discussed. Upon scratching the surface of Michael’s repertoire, a rich substance is revealed, and a sometimes startling relevance to the prevailing issues in today’s political and cultural climate. Particularly noteworthy are the revolutionary themes and currently relevant underlying messages in Michael’s side project, Max Q, which railed against the “Way of the World” and its Capitalist plight. This and other songs will be fully analyzed throughout this site. Furthermore, the obsession that people have with celebrities, which led to paparazzi-driven intrusions into Michael’s private life and ultimately contributed to his depression, is still present today, especially in the American political arena where the state of politics has become a theater of caricatured personalities. This fixation on the lives of celebrities has had the negative cumulative effect of distracting us all down on a large-scale, manipulating the captive market with simplistic, divisive narratives. It has caused us to aspire to lead morally-devoid, materially-rich lives rather than spiritually-rich ones, and provided a major diversion from topics and issues that actually matter. In an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine in 1988, Michael said, ““We don’t make any great claims to change the world, but hopefully somewhere in our lyrics we are prodding people. I mean, don’t listen to ‘Guns in the Sky’ and go, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s my political bit for the day,’ and then have a beer and go out. Buy books, really read the newspapers, really watch TV, watch what the government’s doing.”

Michael indicated that he wanted to donate part of his earnings to both Greenpeace and Amnesty International. Unfortunately, neither Greenpeace nor Amnesty International received a single cent from Michael’s estate. By magnifying the deeper messages in Michael’s songs, we hope to highlight the fundamental reasons why Michael respected these organizations in the first place. In other words, let’s make a collective spiritual donation to the original ideals of Greenpeace and Amnesty International by reflecting on the themes present in Michael’s lyrics.

Click here to sign a petition requesting permission from the Australian government to erect a statue in Michael’s honor.

Click here to order a copy of the recently published book, Michael: My Brother, Lost Boy of INXS by Tina Hutchence, Michael’s sister.

Click here to watch a trailer of Mystify-Michael Hutchence. If you are in the US, please contact your local theaters and ask them to run this movie!

Note on Format: The following is a compilation of some of Michael Hutchence’s lyrics, with the authors’ analyses of what they might mean. The font and arrangement of quoted text has been chosen to reflect the ALL CAPS, BLOCKY STYLE of the original lyricist’s handwriting, with the authors’ analysis in italics.

Thank you for your interest in what Michael Hutchence had to say. Please feel free to leave a comment with any additional interpretations!