Brian Johnson on Arnold, 'Idol' and AC/DC at 40
By Nicki Gostin Posted Jun 3rd 2011 11:55PM
It makes sense. AC/DC frontman Brian Johnson, the man who first growled "She was a fast machine, she kept her motor clean" 31 years ago, loves-loves-loves cars. Enough, in fact, to take time out from his duties in one of the most testosterone-fueled bands in rock history to write a book using his car memories to help tell his life story. 'Rockers and Rollers: A Full-Throttle Memoir' is a hilarious read and I told Johnson that right off the bat in a chat for PopEater. But after talking about his favorite cars and man's phallic fascination with them, the gravel-voiced charmer opened up about the future of AC/DC as they approach the big 4-0, reveals the story of his signature newsboy hat, and talks up his connection to Arnold Schwarzenegger, his distaste for religion and why he would never follow fellow Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame-er Steven Tyler to TV talent show stardom.
"I don't watch 'American Idol,'" he admits. "I don't like watching people getting humiliated. It hurts me. Some people are more nervous than others. I'm just terrified these shows might knock the stuffing out of a guy who is nervous. It's toe curling watching those people being told they're not good enough and the tears are mawkish, but it's making somebody a bloody fortune and it's certainly not the artists."
The book is hilarious.
Well thanks, me darling. That's really nice. I just set out to have a bit of fun while the boys were recording the backing tracks of the album, I had nothing else to do, I thought I just want to give it a shot and somebody published it. Miracles will never end.
What's your favorite car of all time?
It's the Bentley, 4 1/2 litre from 1928. It's the car I dreamt of having all my life and every other man in the world has. It's such a bugger to drive and so tough. It makes you feel like a man. I paid about $650,000 for it. You feel like you're a pilot from World War II going up in the air in your Spitfire downing some Germans. [I have] 11 cars but four of them are race cars which can't be used on the street, me race cars, I just love them so much.
What's the hardest car to shag in?
I would definitely say the mini but when you're younger as I say in the book you can do anything, any acrobatics if you're desperate enough. (Laughs)
Are men obsessed with cars because it's an extension of their penis?
Absolutely me darling. It's always been the case. Look at the Jaguar 8. It's the perfect example, it's got the longest hood. As soon as you're a young man even if you can't afford a nice big car you start tarting up the car you've got. It's like a peacock when it fans its' feathers to attract the female, you flash your car and you say, 'Hey baby, want to go for a ride?' My line was, 'Come on don't be shy, your mother wasn't.'
Did it get a laugh or were girls upset?
I used to say it in in a fun way although not all of them had a sense of humor which was was a shame. I would definitely say guys love their cars. When you were born with nothing or in the projects like we were, I think the dream grows bigger and stronger when you know you'll never be able to get one, that's why there's big photos on the wall of cars to dream of. 99.9% of people don't get to the car they want and if you come from where I came from, you appreciate it so much more than the other guys born with a silver spoon in their mouths who get a sports care when they turn 18. It's just one of those things and you just really, really appreciate it. I drive them all and I clean them all. I like to polish me cars as well.
Well me darling the first band I was in was called Geordie in the early 70's. We had about 3 or 4 hits and people just assumed you were an instant millionaire and it wasn't the case at all. We didn't make much money at all and when it all finished I was worse off then when I went in so I had to get a job quick so I took the first thing I could find as a windshield fitter on the freeway. I thought that's a good idea because nobody will see me but just in case I pinched me brother's sports car driving hat and I pulled it tight over me eyes so nobody would recognize me and say, 'Weren't you the lad that was on television?'
Did anyone recognize you?
Yeah it didn't frigging work. Me cheeks blushed it was just awful. The humiliation of it all and then I had a little band at night which were very popular, playing the pubs and I kept on wearing it because I'd come straight from work and run on the stage and it became a kind of trademark and it became me lucky hat. And then when I joined AC/DC I was going to lose the cap and Malcolm [Young, rhythm guitarist] said,'No mate that's got some style, it's really different, keep it on.' 'Alright me son,' I said, 'Thank you very much.' I remember once about 1985 I thought, bollocks to this, my hair was shaggy then, I went up the front and people started booing and I thought, fuck what have I done? And I ran back and Malcolm said, 'It's your friggin' hat mate,' and I ran back and got me hat and went back on stage and they went, 'Hooray!'
It's AC/DC 40th anniversary in two years. Do you have plans to tour or record an album?
I'm going to see the boys and we'll probably have a little pow wow and a chat to see how we're feeling. We never ever say 'we're going in the studio January next year,' if you do that me darl you're straight under pressure and we've never worked like that. We've always been very easy going. We're like migrating birds, we smell the air and scratch our arses and say, 'Hmm think it's time.'
Do you think you'll tour?
Well if an album comes out although I don't think I could do two years again, that was brutal but I'd sure hate to say that's the end of it. I think you need a full stop at the end of everything, a sentence, your life, or your car. There has to be a full stop and I don't think we've had one yet.
How long do you think it took for Bon Scott fans to accept you?
I'm sure there were a lot of people who thought it wouldn't work, the boys were fantastic. I remember that first gig in Belgium, they just said, 'Brian just go out there,' they could see I was as nervous as anything. We walk out on stage and there was a sea of placards saying Bon Scott R.I.P. but right in the middle of it was a big sign saying, 'Good Luck Brian,' and that touched me, it still does when I think about it. Basically that was it, it just took off from there. I sang the songs and slowly but surely during that first tour, 'Back in Black' became more popular and the cheers became louder and louder for those songs. It's been an exciting ride ever since. I'm proud to be a part of AC/DC and they're still going and have fans all over the world.
I just remember it was hilarious. He was a big muscle with a head on it. When he went into the caravan to change and came out dressed as Angus I thought, f**k, somebody left an airhose up Angus's arse while he was sleeping. As he got into the music he started changing, that Hollywood persona that he was so defensive with and he smiled and he started to enjoy himself and he turned out to be a really good guy. Not the most talkative chap, he kept to himself most of the time, let's put it that way.
Steven Tyler helped induct you into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Did you watch him on Idol?
No, I don't watch 'American Idol.' I don't like watching people getting humiliated. It hurts me. Some people are more nervous than others. When I was 16 and did me first gig I was so terrified, where other guys who maybe weren't as good as but had bags of confidence. Of course as the years went by I got more confident. I'm just terrified these shows might knock the stuffing out of a guy who is nervous. It's toe curling watching those people being told they're not good enough and the tears are mawkish, but it's making somebody a bloody fortune and it's certainly not the artists.
People might be surprised to know you sang in the church choir.
I did me darling and do you know why I did that? Was it religion? No, it was two shillings and sixpence a week!
You have a great line in the book about God.
Well I don't believe in religion let's put it that way. I believe all religions are bad. I think they're a waste of time. Jesus was a clever man. He wasn't the son of God. We all know that he was a very clever, wonderful man and he said, 'Church is in here meaning you are your own church.' If you're a good man you become contended, if you're a good person your dying breath is one of contentment that lasts for eternity and if you're a bad man and you've lived a bad life, you've done some wicked and evil things just for the heck of it, well that will hit you on your last breath of life, that's hell. Now, listen, this is the universe according to Brian and I'm probably as wrong as anybody but I'm as right as anybody else. All religions make money and cause troubles and war and death and I'm tired of it. Stop now! Enjoy your life!
Do you think a cup of tea would make everything better?
If some of those fanatics had a cup of tea and a talk instead of killing each other and beheading and chopping hands off and a couple of chocolate biscuits, what do you think?
You seemed surprised that fans are even showing up to book signings.
It's just I've never done this before and I'm still quite taken aback by the whole thing and it's all about me and I'm not used to that, I'm used to being with the boys. I didn't think it would ever come this far and now it's a proper book and things and I don't know what to say about it all, it's let me quite speechless you know?
It was so great speaking with you. I cannot tell me how much I enjoyed the book.
Thank you darling, that's awful nice to say. Me nipples are hard.
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