When Brian Johnson was told by his audiologist to quit singing live or face “total deafness” he thought his music career would be over. Instead, he took a break, learned about the hearing aid technologies available to him, and came back with a vengeance.
For Those About to Rock, We Salute You
AC/DC is an icon of rock music. Since it was founded in 1972, the band has always had an extensive touring schedule, playing large venues across the world. Johnson joined the band in 1980 with his signature growly voice and trademark newsboy cap.
Too Much Noise Pollution
Ask any true AC/DC fan and they’ll tell you that their songs are meant to be played loud. Crowd favorites like “Thunderstruck
,” “Hells Bells
.” and “You Shook Me All Night Long
” create a ripple effect as reverberations pour out of the speakers. Guitar riffs, gnashing vocals, and even cannon-fire shots are part of the concert experience. Historically, this is a band that never apologized for waking the neighbors with their High voltage
rock-n-roll. The higher decibel level came with the territory. However, it also made Johnson experience hearing loss
Highway to Hearing Loss
Professionally, Johnson sang lead vocals for one of the loudest bands in the world while collecting and racing cars in his free time. Two loud activities, go figure. “Rock 'n' roll and cars [are] the only things that ever really got me going,” Johnson said to AutoWeek.
In an interview with Howard Stern
, Johnson tells how the combination of concerts and cars put the brakes on his hearing ability.
"I've got hearing loss in my left ear. I didn't get it from music. I got it from sitting in a race car too long without earplugs. I heard my ear drum burst because I forgot to put my plugs in under my helmet. That's how it happened.”
A race in 2016 was the first time he heard his ears pop. He also noted that he got very dizzy, a common symptom associated with hearing loss - since the balance center of the brain is located in the ear. When he removed his racing helmet, he found blood inside.
Dealing with the Diagnosis
“The doctors made it clear that I had no choice but to stop performing on stage. That was the darkest day of my professional life,” recalls Johnson. After retiring from the band, Axl Rose (lead singer for Guns and Roses) has since taken over Johnson’s role.
In an interview with The Guardian
, the proud singer comes to terms with his hearing limitation saying, “I was not able to hear the other musicians clearly, I feared the quality of my performance could be compromised. I could not disappoint our fans or embarrass the other members of AC/DC.”
Seeking Treatment and Technology for Hearing Loss
Johnson refused to be a victim. Far from being a denier, Johnson embraced his hearing loss and came clear to his bandmates. He also reached out to in-ear technology specialist Stephen Ambrose, the creator of an in-ear monitor called ADEL.
Johnson supported the hearing aid technology and was quoted by Billboard on his positive review:
“It works. It just totally works and you can’t argue with that. I was really moved and amazed to be able to hear music again like I haven't heard for several years now. I can’t wait for it to be miniaturized so I can use it in every situation - from normal communication, going out to noisy restaurants, and performing live music onstage.”
Brian Johnson’s Lasting Legacy
Happily, Rolling Stone reported that Johnson did sing again. In May 2017, he joined Robert Plant and Paul Rodgers for an intimate concert in Oxford, England. However, it remains unclear whether the return to stage was a direct result of the in-ear technology.
Reflecting back on it all, Brian Johnson was glad that he took the time to focus on his health. He had this to say about his legacy to Rolling Stone :
“It’s like a young sports player getting an injury. 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 the best bands in the world.”