Why Brian Johnson ‘Couldn’t Watch’ Axl Rose Play With AC/DC – ‘I Bear No Grudges’
It’s never easy to watch your former bandmates carry on with your substitute, especially when you’re Brian Johnson seeing Guns N’ Roses’ Axl Rose sing in AC/DC. In fact, Johnson reveals in his new memoir – The Lives of Brian – he couldn’t bring himself to watch Rose perform with the band back in 2016.
Longtime AC/DC fans will remember that Johnson had to step away from the group in April 2016 (during their Rock or Bust World Tour) due to hearing issues. As a result, Rose stepped in for the remaining dates.
In his autobiography (and as reported by Ultimate Classic Rock), Johnson recalls calling their tour manager, Tim, about the decision to leave:
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 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.
Understandably, witnessing Rose taking up the mantle wouldn’t have helped, so he didn’t subject himself to seeing it. “I’m told that he did a great job,” Johnson writes, “but I 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.”
Although he recognized that “the [remaining] lads did what they felt that had to do,” he admits that once he saw the band’s official statement regarding the circumstances, he “couldn’t relax or concentrate on anything. It was just always there.” Part of the problem, he says, is that he “blamed [himself]” since he’d spent “most of [his] career” in “the loudest band in the world.”
Fortunately, he was able to rely on friends, fans and other interests (such as racing cars) to make that chapter in his life more bearable. Meanwhile, AC/DC went on a roughly four-year hiatus following the completion of the Rock or Bust World Tour.
As luck would have it, Johnson eventually found “magic” technician Stephen Ambrose (who developed the ADEL in-ear monitors Johnson needed to get back into the swing of things). Consequently, AC/DC announced in late September 2020 that Johnson had returned to the fold. Two months later, they issued their comeback studio LP, Power Up, which garnered mostly positive reviews.