He couldn’t even bring himself to watch replacement performances by Guns N’ Roses frontman Axl Rose, Johnson confirms in his upcoming memoir The Lives of Brian. In fact, Johnson admits he “wouldn’t have minded” if he died during one of his own motor races.
Johnson had been receiving treatment for some time before being told by a medical expert that if he didn’t stop performing immediately he’d lose what was left of his hearing. He initially tried to argue that he had contracts to keep singing, but finally accepted the situation.
“I called Tim, the tour manager, on my mobile right there in the room to tell him that I just couldn’t continue,” Johnson writes. “It was one of the most difficult conversations of my life – the pain of it made worse over the weeks that followed when the tour simply went on without me. It was a sheer cliff. I didn’t tumble down, I was in free fall.”
For Johnson, “part of the pain of it was that I blamed myself. For most of my career, I’d been in the loudest band in the world. I’d flown constantly. I’d flown even when I knew I wasn’t well,” he added. “For a while, people would ask me if I was depressed, but depression is treatable. My hearing loss wasn’t. What I was feeling wasn’t depression. It was something closer to despair.”
Rose stepped in for the rest of AC/DC’s Rock or Bust world tour. “I’m told that he did a great job,” Johnson says, “but I just couldn’t watch – especially when you’ve been doing it for 35 years. It’s like finding a stranger in your house, sitting in your favorite chair. But I bear no grudges. It was a tough situation. [AC/DC co-founder] 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 said messages of support from friends and fans “got me through,” as he shifted focus to “the other thing I’ve always loved: racing cars. I found myself winning more than usual. People would come up to me afterwards and say, ‘Brian, you’re fearless!’” Johnson writes, “but I wasn’t fearless. I just didn’t fucking care any more. 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.”
Later in the year, Johnson met the technician who’d developed a new kind of in-ear monitors that addressed his particular hearing issues. “Whatever magic he used, it worked. I could hear again – even in my deaf ear, meaning I was able to enjoy stereo [again],” Johnson confirms. “Suddenly, I felt something that I hadn’t felt in what seemed like an eternity: Hope.”
The Lives of Brian is set to arrive on Oct. 28.
Rock Hall’s Worst Band Member Snubs
When the group gets inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame without you.
AC/DC Discuss Making ‘Back in Black’