In six years since he departed AC/DC mid-tour to address his hearing loss issues, Brian Johnson hasn’t really commented much on Axl Rose’s time filling in for him in the band.
It seems he was leaving it for his book.
AC/DC postponed 10 dates of its 2016 ‘Rock or Bust’ tour after Johnson’s doctors warned him that he would go completely deaf if he continued. Unwilling to cancel the whole tour, the band took some time to regroup and then hired Guns N’ Roses frontman and AC/DC superfan Rose to help them finish the touring obligation.
In his new autobiography, The Lives of Brian, Johnson acknowledges that Rose “did a great job” stepping in for him, but he “just couldn’t watch” the band performing without him.
Informing AC/DC’s tour manager that he couldn’t continue the trek was hard enough, Johnson recalls, but the frontman’s feelings on it only got worse when he returned home and watched as the tour “simply went on without me.”
“It’s like finding a stranger in your house, sitting in your favourite chair,” Johnson said of his feelings on Rose taking his place. “But I bear no grudges. It was a tough situation. Angus [Young] and the lads did what they felt they had to do. That said, after the band released a statement confirming that I was leaving the tour and wishing me all the best for the future, I couldn’t relax or concentrate on anything. It was just always there.”
Johnson continued, noting that he’s performed through all manner of maladies through his career. But his hearing loss wasn’t treatable; there was nothing he could do.
“What I was feeling wasn’t depression. It was something closer to despair,” he recalls.
He says he threw himself back into his other love, auto racing, which he says was a much bigger factor in his hearing loss than rock ‘n’ roll.
“I found myself winning more than usual,” Johnson writes.
“People would come up to me afterwards and say, ‘Brian, you’re fearless!’ But I wasn’t fearless. I just didn’t fucking care anymore. I’d always thought that the best way to go out would be at 180mph, flat-out around a corner. You’d hit the wall and boom, it would be over, just like that. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t want to die. … I just wouldn’t have minded all that much.”
But the story picks up from there.
Johnson eventually got back onstage, performing as a guest with other big rock bands, including Muse and Foo Fighters. He even returned to AC/DC in 2018 to record the band’s PWR/UP studio album.
It’s all a credit to the developers of a new in-ear monitoring technology, developed for people with his particular hearing issues. Johnson described the new tech as “magic” that allowed him to hear a band onstage again “even in my deaf ear, meaning I was able to enjoy stereo [again].”
When the music came back, so did his hope.
The Lives of Brian is set for a worldwide release this week.