Brian Johnson opened up about the hearing loss that forced him off the road with AC/DC this year, and how he talked about it with the long-running group’s Angus Young and Cliff Williams, in a new interview on Sirius XM.
“It’s like a young sports player getting an injury,” he told In the Driver’s Seat host Doron Levin, expounding on his previously release statement. “I feel sorry for [athletes], being 24, 25 and they have an injury and it ends their career. And it’s an awful thing. But I’m lucky. I’m 68. … And I’ve had a pretty good run. I’ve been in one of best bands in the world.”
The singer – who is also a car enthusiast – also detailed the time he first noticed his hearing loss, at the racetrack Watkins Glen International in New York State. At a race about eight years ago, he forgot to put earplugs in and five minutes in, he felt “a little pop” in his ear. “I was like, what the heck was that?” he said. “But it was fine. All that happened was I had suffered tinnitus for about six or seven months. But it cleared up and then I was fine again.
He did an AC/DC tour after that, but he said that “onstage you don’t have any defense” against what he described as “that industrial noise.” “You’re in a rock & roll band,” he said. “What the heck do you expect?”
Johnson also explained how he had been working with a doctor on his hearing leading up to his departure from the Rock or Bust world tour. The trouble began at the band’s Winnipeg gig on September 17th, 2015. AC/DC played outside during a rainstorm in the cold, and both Johnson and Young had caught fevers. “We were dripping wet, soaking wet, absolutely freezing,” the singer said. Nevertheless, they got on what he remembers as a two-and-a-half-hour flight to Vancouver right after the show. “Unfortunately the fluids went up into my sinuses and around my ear,” he recalled.
They carried on with gigs in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and by the time they’d made it back to Australia for a break Johnson realized he ear still hadn’t “popped.” He continued with the Australian leg of the tour and went to see a Sydney-based specialist he identified as Dr. Chang, whom he met with nine times before Christmas of last year.
“I was getting worried because my right ear is my good ear,” Johnson said. “My left ear is just about totally deaf. And when we got there, that’s when Dr. Chang found out that the fluids had crystalized and had been eating away at my ear. So my good ear, I lost – I don’t know what percentage but it was enough to make things very difficult. So they worked on me.”
The singer had tubes in his arm, and he was being given liquids and steroids as they attempted to break down the crystals. Johnson laughed when he recalled Dr. Chang looking him in the eye “with that horrible look doctors have when they know something bad’s coming.” That’s when Johnson learned he would not regain his hearing. He nevertheless performed another run of U.S. shows when his doctor said he was killing his years.
“The boys saw the charts,” he said. “I’d been getting checked regularly. And they saw there was a massive dip and if I’d have kept on going, there was a possibility I would never hear again. Angus and Cliff just said, ‘Johnno, you’ve got to think of your health.’ And everybody else said, ‘Brian, your health comes first. You’ve done a whole year on the road. You’ve done everything. We want to finish.’ And that’s what they did. It’s simple. What people don’t understand is it is what it is.”
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“I had so many good times with the boys,” Johnson said. “And I’ve had such a lucky and great life. And I’m just thankful really that I came out of it in one piece. Now I guess I could rest me socks off.”