After dumping frontman Brian Johnson for Axl Rose after 30 years, Shaun Ponsonby bids farewell to one of rock’s most beloved outfits.
It’s sad to see the wheels come off one of the greatest rock & roll bands in history so quickly.
In case you haven’t been following the AC/DC saga, it’s basically now akin to series 97 of Last of the Summer Wine. Everyone is old and original cast members are dropping like flies. Bear with me while I get you up to speed.
In the time between the release of 2008’s Black Ice and 2014’s Rock Or Bust, founding member and one of the group’s principal songwriters Malcolm Young was sadly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and drummer Phil Rudd was arrested in an attempted murder charge, leading to bizarre hi-jinx in the court room, where I seem to recall him jumping on someone’s back for reasons no-one should give a shit about.
They drafted in a guy who drummed for them temporarily in the early 90’s and another member of the Young family on rhythm guitar to get through Rock Or Bust and the tour appeared to be going pretty well. No harm, no poultry. It was sad the Malcolm had gone, but his presence was felt.
Then a few weeks ago, nearing the end of the tour, frontman Brian Johnson was told he had to cease touring immediately or risk going permanently deaf. This has led to him apparently exiting the band to be replaced by Axl Rose which makes the rest of us envy Johnson’s predicament with his hearing, or lack thereof.
Twitter was not happy.
This Axl to AC/DC story can't be right? Has to be a joke… https://t.co/WNlBsPIUwG
— Lloyd Cole (@Lloyd_Cole) April 17, 2016
I can't wait to see Axl Rose perform with AC/DC, said no one ever.
— Ruari Burt (@RuariBurt) April 17, 2016
@acdc where can I get a refund?? Complete joke!!! I'm not paying £80 to see an AC/DC tribute band!! AC/DC RIP
— Nathan Mansfield (@N_Mansfield) April 17, 2016
And it doesn’t end there. After sources close to AC/DC supposedly told the Australian press that the move has been “financially motivated”, band biographer Jesse Fink called this “the worst decision AC/DC has ever made. Fans are pretty disgusted”.
In complete fairness to AC/DC – or Angus Young and the DC’s as they might as well now be called – they have always been consummate professionals as a band and nothing is going to stop them finishing a tour. I can understand why they would want to honour their commitments.
But it is not so much what has happened as the way it has been handled.
Firstly, Axl Rose actually makes a bit of sense, not only is the sound of his voice akin to an AC/DC record – an observation I made as a kid myself – but it’s probably a good thing that they have gone for a frontman who is used to playing stadiums. Plus, like Guns N Roses, AC/DC has a slash in it.
However, as I say, AC/DC are consummate professionals and Rose is a notorious fucking diva who whinges about just about everything, regularly shows up hours late and has the nerve to throw a hissy fit when people who have paid hard earned cash show their dissatisfaction with being kept waiting for two hours without any announcements or apology like he’s the one who has been somehow inconvenienced. His own audience barely stand for it half the time, AC/DC’s certainly won’t when they’re used to being treated with comparative respect. If he pulls constant dick moves on tour with AC/DC they will never finish a show.
Axl is also way too intense for AC/DC in his delivery. He is aggressive, and AC/DC aren’t that aggressive, despite the volume. They’re funny and playful. I have never been all that convinced that Axl Rose even has a sense of humour. He strikes me as the type to answer the phrase “Knock, knock” with “Fuck off, I’m eating”.
AC/DC are a meat and potatoes, working class, get the job done rock & roll band. That is reflected in their dedicated audience. Brian Johnson has always seemed quite humbled that he is in the good fortune to be in AC/DC. In Behind The Music, he said in his unmistakable Geordie burr that he loves being in the band as “I get into all the gigs for free!” Axl Rose, on the other hand, keeps audiences waiting whilst his piano gets polished (and, no, that’s not a euphemism – I’m literally talking about a grand piano).
The nail in the coffin though is the press release from AC/DC themselves, which seemed particularly cold and patronising towards Johnson; “AC/DC band members would like to thank Brian Johnson for his contributions and dedication to the band”. Yeah, Bri, the rest of the band, most of whom are now short term members who have been in the fold for less time than you have, would like to thank you for your “contributions”. Like being a full time band member for over thirty years, co-writing some of the band’s best known songs and leading the group on Back In Black – the second biggest selling album ever released, behind Thriller. So just be grateful, will you?
Seriously, the guy must feel like he has been nothing more than a hired hand, which is bollocks because he has led AC/DC into stadiums for the last 30+ years.
Although Johnson did replace original singer Bon Scott, it was Back In Black, Johnson’s first album with the band, that turned AC/DC into superstars. As much as I prefer Scott’s years in the band on the whole, it was the darker edge of much of Back In Black that cemented AC/DC as a stadium act. As controversial as it may sound, I have always been wholly unconvinced that Scott could have embodied some of the darker edge of the record that captured people’s imaginations. His much sillier image may not have fitted with it so easily.
The press release went on; “We wish him all the best with his hearing issues and future ventures. As much as we want this tour to end as it started, we understand, respect and support Brian‘s decision to stop touring and save his hearing.”
But that might not be as straight forward as we are being led to believe. Comedian Jim Breuer – a long-time friend of Johnson’s – spoke of a conversation he had with him on his podcast, with Johnson apparently saying he felt like he had been “kicked to the curb” and is feeling “depressed” about the way it has been handled.
“He said that he called and let them know, ‘Hey this is what the doctor said, but let’s try to figure this out.’ He didn’t say he wanted to quit. He didn’t say he was done. He called with that information, and two days later, he read in the papers and heard on Twitter and everywhere else, ‘Brian Johnson going deaf, cancelling tour.’ A day later, and it was ‘Oh, we’re gonna have guest singers.’”
Breuer also said that Johnson had received a second opinion and was told his hearing damage wasn’t as bad as he was initially led to believe. “Then he’s like, ‘You know what? I would really like to finish and do some shows. I think we can knock this out.’ Then all his luggage that he toured with showed up at his driveway. There’s been no calls. No, ‘How’s your hearing? How’s your health? What’s going on?’ Boom. Here’s your shit, nice to know you.’”
Breuer later took back his comments; “I’m not quoting Brian Johnson. It’s me venting. He didn’t say a lot of those things. When I first saw him he was just down and sad…Then I just talked in a conversation with a friend kind of exaggerating some of those points. I had no clue the madness that it would create.” Yet what he said doesn’t sound like a talk-up. Some of it would be really oddly specific stuff to pull out of your arse.
To his credit, Johnson maintained dignity by remaining silent on the subject for a number of weeks, whether at his own behest or Angus’. He eventually released a personal statement on the matter, as in his words; “I don’t believe the earlier press releases sufficiently set out what I wanted to say to our fans or the way in which I thought it should be presented.” His statement was classy, heartfelt and dignified – the complete opposite of AC/DC‘s cold official statement.
Either way, AC/DC is basically dead. This sudden implosion is a pretty sad state of affairs. I feel a little like Sean Connery at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, looking into Angus Young’s eyes and just saying with shrugged shoulders and resign; “Angus…let it go.”
Worst of all, it has left a bad taste in the mouths of their audience, which AC/DC have never truly done before. So,farewell AC/DC. It’s been fun, but it is well and truly over.
Did we really need science to tell us that Freddie Mercury had a good voice? Anyway, happy birthday Queen. Hard to believe that Bohemian Rhapsody is 90 years old today.
Kanye West apparently lost early Life Of Pablo lyrics after daughter flushed his phone down the toilet. There’s a metaphor for something, I’m sure.