There was a time when singer Brian Johnson might have felt better crashing into a wall at 180 mph than living the rest of his life without being able to perform anymore with legendary rock band AC/DC.
After Johnson was forced to leave the band — and its large-venue performances — in 2016 due to a risk of total hearing loss, the “Back in Black” singer turned to the second love of his life after music. That was racing cars, and he found himself winning more than he had in the past.
“People would come up to me afterwards and say, ‘Brian, you’re fearless!,’ but I wasn’t fearless,” Johnson writes in “The Lives of Brian,” his new memoir, via Ultimate Classic Rock. “I just didn’t f— care any more. I’d always thought that the best way to go out would be at 180 mph, flat-out around a corner. You’d hit the wall and boom, it would be over, just like that.”
In 2016, Johnson said in a press release that the day of his hearing-loss diagnosis was “the darkest day of my professional life.” He had been advised that if he continued to perform with what he called “the loudest band in the world,” he risked losing what was left of his hearing.
“Our fans deserve my performance to be at the highest level, and if for any reason I can’t deliver that level of performance I will not disappoint our fans or embarrass the other members of AC/DC,” he said at the time.
In his memoir, Johnson revealed that he couldn’t watch his bandmates perform after Axl Rose took over for him on the Rock or Bust tour. But he said he wasn’t suicidal when he turned to racing and began to drive recklessly.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Johnson wrote. “I didn’t want to die. … I just wouldn’t have minded all that much.”
The man who’d gone from installing vinyl car roofs to leading one of rock’s greatest bands was distraught.
But hope lurked over the horizon in the form of an invention from Tennessee in-ear audio technology expert Stephen Ambrose, who created the first in-ear monitors for musicians decades ago and more recently improved on that product.
“He said, ‘I’ve invented these. Put them in your ears,’” the singer said Tuesday on “Good Morning America.” “I went, ‘Ooh! God! I can hear everything!’”
By 2017, Johnson was singing again, and he was able to return to AC/DC for the band’s 2020 album, “Power Up.” (An accompanying tour was delayed by the pandemic.)
The “Thunderstruck” singer went from being able to hear “no tune to the guitars — it was awful” to rocking out in September at Wembley Stadium at a tribute concert for late Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins.
“It was just magic. Just magic,” Johnson said on “GMA.” “It’s what you live for.”
“The Lives of Brian” is available from major booksellers.