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“The Lives of Brian”: the screamed confessions of the AC/DC singer

” cobsessing in AC/DC is not like singing in any other band. There are no walks. There’s no way to save his voice for the next song. At all times defend your territory. There is adversity. It’s like singing with a bayonet gun in hand. Brian Johnson writes while he sings. Simple, direct, from the depths of the bowels. And sometimes even with style: “You have to be a wounded animal to look for those notes in ‘Back in Black’, ‘Thunderstruck’ or ‘For those about to rock’. In his autobiographical work Brian’s ways* (a deliberate nod to the classic Monty Python, of which the author is a fan), the cheeky AC/DC screamer delivers the highs (and lows) of his electric journey with heartwarming sincerity. Yes: it is above all a reading for the fans. No: his interest does not stop there, as the adventure was really worth living, writing and reading.

Reminder for dummies: historically, the son of this founder is the third lead singer of AC/DC after the ephemeral Dave Evans and above all the colossal Bon Scott, who died tragically in February 1980 after a fatal mixture of alcohol and other substances. Aged 31 at the time and basically out of nowhere, Brian Johnson filled in for the dearly departed on short notice, in the middle of recording the album. Back into the dark“continuation” of the monumental Highway to Hell released in 1979.

First attempt, masterstroke: released on July 25, 1980 and totaling more than 30 million certified copies sold, Back into the dark remains to this day the best-selling LP of all time behind the Thriller by Michael Jackson. Long derided by purists obsessed with Scott the Terrible, Johnson ended up winning on points and taking his place in the group, thanks to the power of his singing but also to his unanimously recognized human qualities.

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But to those who have since been waiting for a detailed epic of his CV within AC/DC Back into the dark in 1980 until Turn on in 2020 you risk being disappointed: the now 75-year-old brawler basically covers his pre-AC/DC life up to his hiring in the quintet and recording and then leaving Back into the dark. By way of prologue and epilogue, Brian Johnson also opens up on more recent events and in particular on the terrible episode of his brutal deafness which, in 2015, earned him the temporary exclusion from the band on tour Rock or bust. His colleagues then replaced him with his colleague Axl Rose from Guns N’ Roses. A personal heartbreak that the artist evokes frankly, like the other great recent drama in the life of AC/DC: the untimely death of rhythm guitarist and co-founder, Malcolm Young.

Love at first sight for “Tutti Frutti”

For the rest, it’s more good humor and ardor that triumph over these 355 very intimate pages soaked in the ink of love for rock. We also taste the pleasure of learning more about this secret bard, whose song is often criticized but no page of this book betrays the slightest resentment or jealousy. When reading the Dirty the Brian, so you will know almost everything about the mold from which Brian Johnson emerged. The author dwells on many details that reveal a sensitive being and subject to frequent personal questions. We can also see the uplifting composite portrait of a factory worker’s teenage son in England at the dawn of the 1960s, as in a Ken Loach film.

Johnson talks about his Italian ancestry (through his mother), his impoverished childhood near Newcastle, the domestic scenes between his parents, his awakening to music from kindergarten with his triangle he “loved to play”, his micro-tape recorder as a decisive element the Christmas present, his initiatory journey to Italy at the age of 8, his passage among the scouts of the sea (funny: his first scout chief was called Warren Young, not related to the Young brothers of AC / DC) … All this and his first contact with rock’n’roll, of course.

Johnson received heaven on his head the day he saw Little Richard sing his feverish “Tutti Frutti” on a British TV show. “I felt like I was suddenly plugged into the electricity grid. Every part of my body was spiky, from my hair to my nipples to the parts underneath that I still didn’t know how to use. I had never seen, heard or felt anything like this before…”

And it is within his scout choir that he will show his voice for the first time, while his adolescence will be illuminated by the swinging sixties, beatlemania and – most surprising from the AC/DC singer – Bob Dylan. His obsession with music will lead the teenager to create his first amateur group, Section 5, while starting an apprenticeship as an industrial designer after school (unleashed with the help of Warren Young) to pay future bills.

Bruised by the failure of his Geordie group

Apart from the introduction of the book related to the recent past, it is only on page 235 that AC/DC comes into play. Previously the singer will have written of his defloration, of his first more or less squalid pro concerts, of a serious car accident, of his marriage, of his successes then of the jails with his band Geordie, his fascination for Jimi Hendrix to which Angus Young compares… It’s all a meticulous observation of the cultural ferment that flooded England in the late 60s. the importance of his father and young Brian’s electric relationships with the latter, the subject of frequent emotional swings. Brian Johnson’s attraction to a harder sound style became clearer when he discovered, in 1968, Status Quo as well as Black Sabbath and the legendary single “Paranoid”… Influences that would fuel (in particular) the style of Geordie, the first real band with which Jonah (his nickname) will touch a short hit before AC/DC.

With four albums between 1973 and 1978, Geordie would score fifteen passes on the British TV show Maximum pops and, the same, will place a single in the top 10 of the British charts (“All because of you”). Of this period, and in the book, we remember in particular the surprising friendship of Johnson with Roger Daltrey (the lead singer of the Who), behind the scenes of Maximum pops. And also this incredible anecdote about a fortuitous meeting – the only one in his life – with Bon Scott, during a joint tour between Geordie and the Australian band Fang, where the future cult leader of AC / DC then officiated. An account of the lean months following Geordie’s breakup in 1978 reveals a nervous and deeply hurt Brian Johnson by the bankruptcy: “It was a horrible, upsetting and difficult time. I could not sleep. I could barely eat. I didn’t even want to see my friends…” Around the same time, Brian discovered AC/DC not on stage, but on BBC2, in the program Rock goes to college broadcasting filmed concerts in student hostels…

Her first audition for Back into the dark

The book then continues to teem with anecdotes as easy to drink as an Angus solo, such as this motorway repair by Brian Johnson-turned-windshield repairman (!) of the car of singer Ian Dury (writer of the hit “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick”), late for a concert. Also, Johnson reveals the origins of his immovable stage outfit: his football shirt and especially his cap. It is finally from page 271, chapter 18, that the singer discusses his version of the facts surrounding his hiring in AC/DC.

We won’t say more here, but, once again, the rocker knows how to show a lot of humor and sensitivity when talking about his first audition with the group: a cover of the emblematic “Whole Lotta Rosie”, a furious classic immortalized by Bon Scott in the album Let there be rock. Without a filter, Brian multiplies the more or less exciting anecdotes of everyday life in his prose, let’s face it, but the melody of boredom never interferes with reading: Jonah writes like an old friend, thrown into sharing his memories as if we were discussing them with him leaning on the counter of the local pub. The book gains in authenticity what it loses in perspective or analytical retrospective and that’s good, that’s exactly what was expected of it. Just as raw rock is expected from every AC/DC record.

Brian Johnson doesn’t really spare himself throughout the story, but he also has a knack for selecting memories that speak volumes about his humility. Witness this moment when, having just finished his first audition with AC / DC, at the Vanilla studio in London, happy but convinced that he will never be the chosen one, is hurrying back to Newcastle as his new custom car hood fitting business isn’t waiting! The more the author gets into the pangs of the erection of the mythical Back into the darkthe more the fever rises: fans will delight in learning how the first lines of the hits “Hell’s Bells” and “Back in Black” were found, what simple practical idea made it possible to achieve such a huge sound, the origins of the legendary bell of the group and its production or behind-the-scenes location of the album’s recording in the Bahamas.

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In the midst of the whirlwind of news, Brian never forgets the essentials: reminding us where he comes from, his intimate jungle of doubts and all the insults he has suffered, his way of social cross up to this phone call. of his entry into the wonderful position of the new lead singer of AC / DC. Jonah doesn’t believe it enough to ask his interlocutor to call him back ten minutes later to confirm the news, the time for him to get an electric shock. Touching. Definitely, Brian’s ways has everything to satiate the fans almost without jarring: emotion, humor, empty portrait of a rough but friable and therefore captivating artist… A frustration, which we repeat here: not reading more about the aftermath Back into the darkthe author deleting all years covering albums For those who are about to rock… We salute you (1981) a Rock or bust (2014). venial sin: Brian’s ways made us vibrate and Brian Johnson promises us, in conclusion, to fill in the blanks post-Back into the dark in a possible future volume. Dear Brian, those who will read to you say hello.

* Brian’s ways, by Brian Johnson (Talents editions). In the bookstore.

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