Read an Excerpt
INXS: Story to StoryThe Official Autobiography
By INXS Publications
AtriaCopyright © 2006 INXS Publications
All right reserved.
If Three Were Six: How the Brothers Farriss Doubled Their Numbers
Brotherhood, whether it is genetic, chemical, or ideological, has long been fuel for rock. There is of course the brotherhood of music, the one that sees no colors or borders; the one that inspired Chuck Berry to turn an old, white, hillbilly folk song called "Ida Red" into "Maybellene" in 1955 -- essentially the first rock-and-roll song ever recorded. The same color-blind bond drew Sam Phillips to begin recording the godfathers of rock and roll, from B. B. King to Howlin' Wolf to Carl Perkins and of course Elvis Presley.
There is also the blood brotherhood of familial jammers, a band situation that often yields as much blood as it does beautiful music -- sometimes more. Ray and Dave Davies of the Kinks were as much of a concert draw for their onstage brawls as they were for their tunes. The Everly Brothers (Don and Phil) went years without speaking to each other, though every night they harmonized like parakeets in love. The three Wilson brothers in the Beach Boys -- Brian, Dennis, and Carl -- fought famously from the start over whether they were to be the sonic equivalent of saccharine surf wax or a complex acid-test beach party. In the end they did both, and it wasn't asmooth ride. More recently, Chris and Rich Robinson of the Black Crowes fought over life-changing topics such as who should put Sharpie to paper and write the night's set list. But Noel and Liam Gallagher of Oasis truly carried the rock-and-roll bro torch into the new millennium in a sea of name-calling, onstage sabotage, and critically acclaimed prattishness.
In its worst moments, genetic brotherhood has made for great rock drama because it is true life, with a sound track, unfolding before the audience. Regardless, bands with brothers also enjoy balance, an anchor, a constant, that others lack. This fraternal bond, even if it's blatantly dysfunctional, has helped many a band weather hard times. The brothers Young, Malcolm and Angus of AC/DC, kept the band on track when original singer Bon Scott died. The sisterhood of Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart steered their band to its highest peaks just after the two brothers they were dating within their circle -- Roger and Mike Fisher -- left them and the group.
There are three brothers in INXS -- keyboardist and guitar player Andrew Farriss, guitarist Tim Farriss, and drummer Jon Farriss -- who fall within a niche subset of rock-and-roll brother units: like the Bee Gees, there are three of them and they grew up in Australia. The Farriss brothers weren't raised to be onstage brawlers, but they certainly have navigated stormy moments in the thirty-odd years they've made music together. They're all very different men whose musical differences became assets in the company of the compatriots they found in their youth: guitar and sax player Kirk Pengilly, bassist Garry Beers, and singer Michael Hutchence.
The Farriss brothers and their younger sister, Alison, were born in Perth, Australia, a conservative beach community on the western edge of the country. Their father, Dennis, was the West Australian manager for a global insurance company. An Englishman by birth and a former navy man, he was, unlike the continent's original Anglo settlers, sent there for good behavior. He met their mother, Jill (who passed away in 1995), fell in love, married, and set about raising a family. In 1971, Dennis was promoted to assistant manager of the company for all of Australia and relocated the family to Sydney, just as their eldest son, Tim, turned fourteen; the family settled in the leafy suburb of Belrose, a short drive from the inner city.
The story usually goes that parents who produce musicians -- let alone three of them -- are musicians themselves. Not so here. In this case, two avid music fans appear to have willed musical ability into the DNA of their children. "My wife and I were a sweet team," Dennis says. "We were huge pop music fans and I had a banjo and a ukulele and was always on to one thing or another, but I was never remarkable. I'd give them to the three boys to perform for us for half an hour before bed. It taught them to make a noise and it was a good way to tire them out." Dennis's love for an impromptu jam became a Farriss family institution over the years and continues to this day. "It happens every Christmas dinner," says Tim Farriss. "After everyone has had plenty of wine, my dad puts on some music, usually Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66, and insists that everyone pick up something and make a noise. People play bottles, spoons, the table, this wash-bucket bass made out of a broomstick and a string. It's quite hilarious. Last Christmas our sister, Alison, was very seriously playing a rake."
The Farriss parents were very supportive, allowing their sons to choose whatever instrument they liked, furnishing them with lessons, and exhibiting the saintly degree of patience required to cohabit with three tykes practicing three different instruments. "They were always behind us," Jon says. "I mean, they just let us play all the time. I was playing drums in my bedroom. We had a very typical, middle-class life, not wanting for anything, but our house was in no way big enough that you would not hear all of it. And for a long time there, I'm sure it was just an awful racket. Coming out of one room, you'd hear a guitar, another, drums, and in the other, piano. And none of them playing together." By the time he was twelve, Tim, the oldest, was an accomplished guitar player, who learned flamenco stylings under the guidance of his teacher Peter Federicci, who played with the Australian Symphony Orchestra. Middle brother Andrew took to the piano intuitively. At just five years old, Jon began drumming. "I bought him a tambourine drum and screwed it to a stool -- that was his first one," recalls Dennis. "We got him professional lessons later, but he just took to it right away. When we'd go to his school to see him play in the drum-and-fife assembly, we could always pick him out easily -- he was the kid drumming away as if his life depended on it."
Along with their parents' undying support, one childhood event should be considered when analyzing the Farriss brothers' musical evolution: the first rock-and-roll band they ever saw was the Beatles -- though their memory of it is as hazy as marmalade skies. They were three (Jon), five (Andrew), and seven (Tim) and were in London visiting Dennis's family, when an old school friend of their mother's named Rolf Harris, who hosted a TV show on the BBC, gave them tickets to a taping featuring the Fab Four. "I vaguely remember meeting George Harrison backstage," Andrew says. "But I do remember people screaming their heads off when they played. I think we were too young to know exactly what a rock band was but we were just staring with open mouths -- just look at that! And what we did learn is that whatever that was, we wanted to do it."
Soon enough, long before they developed the musical language to play together, they began to play in the same place. First it was the basement, and then it got serious -- they moved into the kind of rock-and-roll womb where legends are born and dreams are made: their parents' garage. The house where the boys grew up is, from the outside, identical now to the way it was then: modest, two-story, brown with green trim, with a backyard swimming pool that was dug by the boys (under Dad's dictum) one summer when they were teens. The driveway slopes down to a wide two-car garage door behind which the Farriss boys played their instruments relentlessly. "We'd let it go as long as we could and as loud as they wanted," Dennis says. "But not always. Jill and I would be sitting in the lounge directly above them and whenever she thought it was coming to a killing crescendo, she'd grab her walking stick and flail the floor with it. That was their warning to turn it down."
The boys began to form bands on their own at an early age. Jon played drums for his older brother Tim, but as Tim's musical endeavors moved out of the garage and onto local stages, the fifteen- and sixteen-year-old members of Tim's early bands weren't exactly thrilled to have a ten-year-old drummer. "It wasn't a lot of fun for those guys having a ten-year-old brat hanging out," Jon says. "I mean, it's just not that cool to have to get your drummer home before his bedtime." Jon moved on to a more age-appropriate outlet when he turned eleven, playing drums for a Christian choral group who wanted to jazz up their image by adding drums to the choir. He also began to jam regularly with middle brother Andrew. "Andrew and I would practice and got into it really well. He had this little organ and we learned each other's style and sensibilities. Early on we learned to feel rhythm and tempo and how to play off each other when one of us would push forward or hold back."
In 1971, the eldest Farriss, Tim, made a friend at high school who became an honorary Farriss -- Kirk Pengilly, with whom he pursued all of his musical endeavors. Kirk and Tim attended the Forest High School, and met one day in science class when Kirk, already an avid bedroom guitar player, noticed that Tim had drawn a guitar on his pencil case. Pengilly was born in Melbourne, Australia, the more urban, edgier, and darker -- in both weather and attitude -- sister city to Sydney. If Sydney is Australia's version of Los Angeles, Melbourne is certainly its New York -- it is the scene that spawned the literary misanthropy of Nick Cave, and little more explanation should be necessary.
When Kirk, the youngest of three brothers, was eight years old, the Pengilly clan found their future home on the sunny side. During a family holiday spent sailing the Hawkesbury River on a hired thirty-six-foot cruiser, they eyed a unique house for sale in Cottage Point, an isolated weekend destination town nestled in the center of a national park twenty-three miles outside of Sydney. "The house was right on the water with its own mooring, pontoon, and a shark-fenced tidal swimming pool," Pengilly says. "It was 1966, and back then there were about fifty houses, a general store, a small yacht club, and a boat repair shop. There were only a dozen families living there on a regular basis, two-thirds of which were fishing and drinking their lives away." Kirk picked up his love of music from his oldest brother, Mark, a guitarist and songwriter in his own right, who eventually left home for London to follow his dream. Tim became Kirk's partner in music and the two were quickly as inseparable as Vegemite and butter (for the uninitiated, that is how you are supposed to eat Vegemite -- with butter, on toast, with much more butter than the salty malt tar that has been a staple of Aussie nutrition for years). Tim and Kirk were so inseparable at school that their math teacher, Mr. Labalestier, seemed convinced that the young lads were what some call "special friends." "We thought it was hilarious and led him on whenever we could," Kirk says. "When we knew he could see us, we'd start holding hands and nearly piss ourselves as we watched him nervously look the other way."
Kirk's house was so far from school that he was soon spending weekends and school nights chez Farriss. "Jon had a bunk bed, so I'd sleep in the lower one," he says. "He was such a little kid then. But we'd sit in there and talk about music. Years later, on a few occasions, after a few drinks, Jon has told me how amazing that was for him to be taken seriously that way, to just hang out as an equal, because there's quite a big difference between a ten-year-old and a fourteen-year-old. That gap matters less the older you get, but when you're young, it's huge." Big brother Tim's room was downstairs, where, as a teen, he'd created a Greg Brady-style pad by building a wooden partition in what was formerly the brothers' rumpus room. "Tim had this kind of partitioned office where he slept, which was bizarre," Kirk says. "He'd play records down there and we spent lots of time there, but I also spent lots of time with Andrew in his room because he was quite private. I always liked to go and jam with Andrew or just chat about music. He and Tim didn't always get along, as brothers will, so he'd often be up there strumming a guitar and writing songs. He and I had some great times."
Tim and Kirk put a band together and they were called Guinness, named after their bass player's dog; in a later incarnation the group featured a thirty-two-year-old American pedal-steel guitar player named David Stewart. They were always something different, and had a very unique blend of influences: Tim's classical-style guitar and Latin conga playing; Kirk's Steely Dan rhythms, Hendrix-influenced leads, and Eagles'-style vocals; bass player Steve Spencer's Yes-meets-Pink-Floyd excursions; plus Malcolm Walker's jazzy, Buddy Rich-style drumming. By all accounts it was as out there as that last sentence sounds, even by mid-seventies standards.
During the same period, Tim and Kirk joined another group, one which, historically, has changed more lives and converted more souls than rock at its most Satanic -- the Born Again Christians. "We were in public school and it's weird to think about it now, but we used to have a scripture lesson each week -- and it was nothing but purely Christian scripture," Kirk says. "We were fourteen or fifteen and this guy came in for an hour a week. It wasn't very fair to any of the Muslims, Asians, or other cultures in our school." The head honcho of the Forest High School Bible sessions was John Kidson, whose task it was to make Christ cool. However he did it, he had a David Koresh-esque effect on Kirk and Tim. "We totally got sucked in to it like people in a cult," Kirk says. "A group of about a dozen of us would go down and have these in-depth Bible studies once a week after school. We'd go to someone's house and study a passage for three hours and really get into it." Kirk and Tim became full-bore Bible pushers who trolled the hallways of their high school, hell-bent on conversion. "Tim was amazing at it. He is the kind of man who goes all the way, all the time, with whatever pursuit he's chosen, which I've always admired him for," Kirk says. "And he's such a charmer that he got so many people into being Christies, as we'd call it. He even got this really tough guy, the head of this really tough bunch in school, to start coming down to our meetings. Actually, that guy went on to become a minister."
Kirk and Tim did what Mr. Kidson couldn't accomplish alone -- they gave Christian scripture street cred. At Bible meetings they did guitar jams while Tim preached the word in their school's locker-lined trenches. But they also gigged as Guinness and prayed at the altar of rock and roll. And they did so for the same reasons that so many rockers before and since have done: to justify smoking pot and kiss many girls. Miscommunication was afoot and eventually Mr. Kidson held an intervention. "One day he took us aside and told us that we couldn't go around smoking pot and having sex with girls any more," Kirk says. "He said we had to decide whether we were going to be Christians, which would not allow for smoking pot and having sex of any kind before marriage, or whether we were going to live like young men who wanted to be rock stars." The two looked at each other, said, "Okay, then," and dropped Christianity quicker than a rabbi would a cheeseburger. "We felt bad about it because we'd really converted a lot of people and made the Christian thing in our parish really popular," Kirk says. "It had become a rather large group of kids who'd just get together and, well, be very Christian. But we left it as quickly as we took it on. It was very bipolar, really." Ironically, it wasn't the last time the pair was confronted with a Christian ultimatum -- and perhaps if they'd been so inclined in their teens, Kirk and Tim might have led the world's funkiest Christian rock band.
Kirk and Tim chose to rock, smoke pot, listen to Pink Floyd, Steely Dan, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and gig wherever they could with Guinness. Perhaps their Christian affiliation had protected them before, but once they were openly devoted to being band dudes, their reputation at school took a turn for the worse. "The disciplinary officer at our school was Mr. Mullins and he was just the scariest guy," Kirk recalls. "I wouldn't be surprised if he'd been a narcotics officer because there was a period where he focused on ridding our school of anyone who smoked marijuana." Mr. Mullins led a Tokers' Inquisition, calling in suspected dealers, those who sat next to suspected dealers, those who might know suspected dealers, and those who were blatant lovers of Mary Jane. Kirk and Tim were no strangers to the mighty Cheeba, but though they might furnish their friends with pot for a fee, they were in no way doobie-dealing kingpins. Regardless, they came under the wily eye of Mr. Mullins. "We were like, 'Oh, fuck,'" Kirk says. "We were called into his office, sat down, and he just stared at us. He says, 'I believe you two have been selling marijuana in school. I have a list of names here of the people who have been supplying, and I want you to tell me what you know about them. There are going to be expulsions and much worse.'" Of course Kirk and Tim knew everyone on the list but, like true good fellas, they denied everything and implicated no one. And in the way that yin and yang, light and dark, and hypocrisy and truth do, this worked out against all odds. "He stared at us for a while and then he said, 'Okay, here's what we're going to do,'" Kirk recalls. "'My wife runs all these charity fetes for the schools and other organizations. If you play all of the dances she asks you to, I'll turn a blind eye to you guys and take you off this list.'" And so these members of Guinness passed Go and earned their Get Out of Jail Free card.
Unfortunately, when their thirty-two-year-old American pedal steel guitar player decided to return to his homeland to pursue other things, Guinness dissipated like head on a poorly poured lager. It was for the best, because while Tim and Kirk followed their muses -- musical and otherwise -- Andrew Farriss formed a creative kinship that became the stuff of legend.
Australian public schools are government regulated and each student is issued a uniform. In the fashion of British schools, said uniform generally consists of white shirts, both short and long pants to abide the change in seasons, a blazer emblazoned with the school's crest, and given the strength of the Australian sun, a hat.
When Andrew Farriss was set to enter high school, he was, in the strange way that land zoning, taxation, voting electorates, parking regulations, and so many other bureaucratically controlled facts of life defy logic, enrolled not in the Forest High School, the one his older brother Tim attended, but in Davidson High School, an institution equidistant from the house in which they both lived. The only problem was that Davidson High School did not yet exist -- it was under construction until Andrew's third year. In the interim, those future Davidson graduates were redistributed among several schools in the surrounding area. This system looks vaguely logical on paper until you consider the fact that said students were never issued new uniforms -- instead, they wore their Davidson High School colors. High school isn't easy anywhere, anyhow, even when you're wearing the right uniform. These Davidson High misfits were fucked. Andrew Farriss was bused to Killarney Heights High School, Davidson High's rival, where his uniform was akin to wearing a bull's-eye on his chest and a kick me sign on his back. "We had blue shorts, a white shirt, and a bright red jumper [pullover sweater] that was different from everyone else. Plus we had white socks and a tartan tie. And Killarney Heights' uniform was all gray!" Andrew says. "Some of my friends and I from primary school got served straightaway. We'd be out in the yard and the older boys would brand us with tennis balls. It was target practice for them. They'd just hit us in the head with them nonstop and they used tennis balls because they wouldn't leave bruises. Some kids were chased, and their heads dunked in toilets. It was horrible." The school wasn't much better -- in those years the Australian government allowed physical punishment, so those who misbehaved were caned across their hands. "It was a terrible situation. Let me tell you, a cane across your hands really hurts."
The Davidson outcasts banded together like a rebel army that, as much as they could, held the Imperials at bay. They did have one advantage, one Paul Schofield, who, at nearly 6'1" was a formidable lad for his age. "I was picked on, but so many others had it worse than me," Andrew recalls. "But there were days that I would walk the four miles back home because I didn't want to get beaten up on the bus. In school we stuck together -- my very good friend Paul Schofield would always back me up." One day in their second year, Andrew and his Davidson crew were outside in the school yard when they saw a new kid arrive who was clearly bound for a world of hurt. His name was Michael Hutchence. His family had just moved from Hong Kong and until now, he'd been educated in British schools. To the bullies of the world, particularly the overly hormonal high school wolf-pack variety, there is nothing more irresistible than an alien. Michael not only had an offshore accent to irritate the pubescent boors of Killarney High, he also bore a uniform as inexplicable as scuba gear in the desert. In short, he was doubly fucked.
In a matter of minutes, the bullies were on to him and it looked as if the scene would descend into the type of ridicule and carnage that was considered entertainment in the Middle Ages. "As soon as I saw Michael, I turned to my friend Paul Schofield and said, 'This guy is going to get so much trouble.' And then I decided I'd do something about it. I don't know what came over me because I've never been any kind of Robin Hood, but I got my friends and we went over and got in the middle of it and told them all to leave him alone." It worked and Michael was grateful. But the two didn't talk again after that for months, aside from occasional hallway salutations. "Then one day, he kind of found me and said, 'Look, do you want to come over to my house and meet my family?'" Andrew says. "I remember the first time being at their house, and looking at all the art and everything they'd brought from Hong Kong. I'd never seen anything like it."
The Hutchence family lived a short drive or a very long walk from the Farriss compound, at the end of a cul-de-sac in a house obscured by beautiful old trees. Michael's father was an importer, and Michael and his younger brother, Rhett, had grown up in Hong Kong, where his father's business was based. In Hong Kong the family had servants, and the boys attended private schools of a fashion closer to those of the English upper crust than the Australian middle class. As a teen, Michael was worldly, well-read, and interested in Eastern religion and culture. Like Andrew, he wasn't like his classmates, whose lives revolved around the beach, the opposite sex, and cars. Michael was into motorcycles and the two spent as many hours in the Hutchence family garage working on them as they did in the Farriss family garage while Andrew and Jon played music. "Michael and I would hang out for a while and then not see each other again for ages," Andrew says. "Isn't that what you do in high school? Maybe you're testing each other, but we'd always come around to each other again."
Michael's parents divorced in 1975, when he was fifteen, and his mother, a makeup artist, brought Michael to Los Angeles where he attended Beverly Hills High, an institution known for other rock alums like Slash and Lenny Kravitz. One year later, Michael and his mother returned to Australia, and the poet-in-the-rough that Andrew had known had grown. He'd also moved into a house a very short walk away from the Farriss's garage -- so the two saw much more of each other. "He'd always been into philosophers like Hermann Hesse and he was already writing poetry before he went away," Andrew says. "But when he came back, we really had so much in common. He'd gotten into so much American music that I'd been listening to as well. We'd get stoned and listen to Eric Burdon and War and Pink Floyd for hours in his room." Michael and Andrew soon formed a band: Neil Sandon, a surfing buddy, was on drums, Andrew played keyboards and guitar, and a school friend named Kent Kearney played guitar. But the obvious was missing -- a bass player. The boys did what they had to do -- they placed an ad in the paper, and in so doing, found the final link in the chain that later became INXS.
Garry Beers attended the Forest High School with Tim and Kirk, but he didn't run with the same crowd. He was a surfer and had played school team rugby. "I was into surfing and still am today, but I wasn't like all the other surfers down on the beach," Garry says. "I was into music, I was into playing, and I was in a band. And the only reason I learned to play bass was because I lost a bet. We had two guitar players in my band and whoever lost the bet had to learn bass. That was me -- and good thing I lost." Garry knew the Farriss family because he knew Tim and Kirk's band Guinness. "They were such a weird band. No one liked them at school because they were so different," he says. "They had that thirty-two-year-old pedal steel player and they did four-part harmonies. They were country music meets Yes -- clearly very out there. Everyone at school was confused, but I have to hand it to them, they stuck to their guns, started recording stuff, and went for it until their pedal steel player went back to America."
According to Andrew, he found an ad that Garry had placed, advertising a bass player who also had a car, which, to a crew of teens, rockers or not, was worth more than musical chops. Garry recalls it differently. "I ran into Andrew at the local surf club and I approached him because I thought he was Tim -- it was a very dark room -- but we started talking and I told him I played bass and we arranged to jam the next day with Jon, who was eleven at the time. It was great, that was the first time I'd ever played with a drummer. And we played a complete load of crap." Jon didn't join the party on an official basis, but with Garry on bass, Andrew playing keyboards and guitar, Michael singing, Neil Sandon on drums, and Kent Kearney on guitar, they carried on, dubbing themselves Dr. Dolphin, learning covers and writing their own material. They intended to form a unit tight enough to play out -- though the only venue that had them was Davidson High School.
Internally, it was soon clear, however, that unless Dr. Dolphin intended to jam through their metaphysical third eye, solely in the key of whoa, Neil needed to ease on down the road. "Neil was a very lovely guy, but he was a bit of an acid casualty kind of surfer character," Garry says. "He was just so mellow. He could only play one beat, which, looking back, was way ahead of its time. It was that loose hip-hop groove thing. But it was all that he could do. I remember one day we actually did get pretty rocking and Neil went into this serious drum roll and I couldn't believe it. Then he stopped cold, because all of that activity threw him into what looked like an acid flashback! He apologized, because he had to take a rest for a while.... God bless him wherever he is."
Copyright © 2005 by INXS Publications Pty Limited
Excerpted from INXS: Story to Story by INXS Publications Copyright © 2006 by INXS Publications. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.