Garth Brooks: He’s Back! But For How Long? (2001)

Ho! Ho! Ho!

Garth Brooks will be dropping by your living room this season to celebrate his biggest Christmas ever -- and his bag-o-gifts includes a hot new album, televised concerts, a holiday TV movie, splashy commercials and perhaps even more surprises. 

But don't expect annually recurring visits like the ones from jolly ol'  St. Nick. Garth has declared that his new CD, Scarecrow, will be his last album of new songs, and that he'll never tour again. When the hubbub surrounding the new record subsides, Garth plans to slowly slip away and make good on the "retirement" he first announced in 1999, maybe trying his hand at something completely different and behind the scenes, like movie screenwriting. 

But until then, he's finding new ways to keep his face in the public eye, including last month's trio of consecutive TV concerts on CBS. Fans had not seen Garth in a televised concert since the historic Central Park show from New York City in 1997.

"You're going to see us work in a different way than we've ever worked before," explains Garth. "We're going to try and get to people in their living rooms. We'll be touring in that way."    

Television will be his vehicle of choice. This month, Garth will be heard -- though not seen -- in the cable-TV movie Call Me Claus, starring Whoopi Goldberg. He wrote several songs for the movie's soundtrack, including the title cut, which he performs.

Garth certainly grabs the spotlight, though, in a series of snappy, picking-on-the-front-porch ads for Dr. Pepper -- the first product he's ever endorsed. Other companies have come calling before, but Garth opted for this endorsement because, he says, "It's something I actually have in my house."

With a self-effacing smile, Garth adds, "If I had to choose three products to endorse that I use the most, they'd probably be Dr. Pepper, M&M's and Taco Bell."  

And his fans have endorsed his new album. Scarecrow immediately topped Billboard's Top Country Album Chart and the Top 200 Album Chart. It marked the ninth time Garth has debuted at No. 1 on the country album chart and the seventh time on the pop chart -- more than any other artist.

As the new year unfolds, Garth will be unfettered from the demands of touring and making records. He declares he's dead serious about walking away from the music business, insisting that he'll exit smiling after enduring the rockiest time of his professional life. 

Earlier this year, Garth confessed that he'd been going through a "dark period." He told a convention of radio broadcasters that "everything I'm writing sounds like Edgar Allan Poe on downers. I should be drinking to write this kind of stuff. It's that dark." 

And there were reasons -- both personal and professional -- behind the darkness. His 14-year marriage to wife Sandy had recently split; his bold album project featuring the fictional pop alter ego Chris Gaines proved a critical flop; and his retirement announcement left many wondering if this was just another attention-grabbing ploy.

"That was a very hard day for me," recalls Garth, referring to the radio convention. "I felt lost. It got to where I was sleeping less and less each night. I remember writing something called 'If You Ever Wondered.' The lyrics were very dark. This was exactly who I wasn't and I vowed not to become that person." 

He made good on that promise. During the past year, Garth focused his attention on his three daughters: Taylor, 9; August, 7; and Allie, 5. He quit the road and moved to Oklahoma to be closer to his girls. His once frantic schedule of concert touring gave way to gigs of a different sort — soccer practices, swim meets and school cafeteria lunches with his kids.

"The retirement thing wasn't because it wasn't fun anymore," Garth maintains. "It was because of my children. That's what my life is now."

And it's certainly a sweet life. "The tradeoff that I've gotten by staying home is awesome!" he says with a wide smile. "When the girls and I are driving around town, I'm not known as 'Garth Brooks.' I'm Taylor and August and Allie's dad.

"I used to be a singer who had children," he adds. "Now, I'm a father who sings. It took me a while to get to that point, but I'm enjoying it."

Garth even credits the girls for inspiring the new album's title. He thinks back to his troubled days. "I hate to admit this, but I thought about quitting the album at least three times during the past year,” he admits. “Then I thought to myself, 'You've got to think with your heart on this.' I asked the girls what the phrase was for thinking with your heart." 

He pauses for a quivering deep breath and continues. "They said, 'Dad, the scarecrow [from The Wizard Of Oz] thought with his heart.' So, there it was -- that was the title."

From that moment, Garth was a changed man. He recorded an album void of any hints of darkness, sleepless nights or mid-life angst. 

"I made a very happy album," he declares. "I know that I listened to over 8,000 songs, and a lot of what we were hearing was somebody else's music. They were unbelievable songs, but they were not for me. I'm in a very good place right now and the songs needed to reflect that."

As Garth ponders his future, he insists that Scarecrow will be his swan song. But he stops cautiously short of calling it a "farewell" collection.   

"At first, I wanted it to be the be-all and end-all -- something that would wrap up everything about Garth Brooks," he says, then laughs. "It didn't take me long to abandon that idea. 

"Now I'm proud to say that we have ‛a Garth Brooks record' that hopefully will stand beside No Fences, Sevens and all the others. But I'm not calling it a 'farewell' or 'last' album. I don't want to sell a single record on a farewell thought." 

Yet, in the same breath, he speaks of finality. 

"I don't see myself walking into a studio again to record another album," he says flatly. 

That stems partly from family commitments -- and partly from insecurity. He wonders if the current, youth-oriented climate of country music will embrace a singer who's pushing 40 — much to his puzzlement.

"Country has gone to a place where I don't think I understand it anymore," says the 39-year-old four-time CMA Entertainer of the Year. "Country music is supposed to talk about sincerity and honesty, but I'd rather hear it from someone older, with a little more experience. No offense to anyone out there, but when you're 18 years old and you're telling me about love and commitment, it's a little hard for me to believe."  

But can we believe Garth? If he wonders about "fitting in" with today's country marketplace, he needs only look at the response to his TV concert last month in Los Angeles, which sold out in less than 30 minutes. And experts figure that Scarecrow will easily sell in the millions, perhaps ultimately becoming one of his best-selling albums ever.

And according to him, there's more music where Scarecrow came from. He acknowledges that there are up to 40 completed Garth Brooks songs that have never seen the light of day. "If my label wants to release those," says Garth, "then that's something we'll sit down and talk about." 

There is also his much-heralded -- but still unproduced -- movie project, The Lamb, which would star Garth as his fictional pop-star character Chris Gaines. "The movie studio, Paramount, is still interested in it," he explains.  "I'm kind of amazed that they are, but they just love the idea of the movie." 

So, with other worlds to conquer, could Garth change his mind and pull a comeback like basketball legend Michael Jordan? 

"At this point, I don't believe so," answers Garth. "I have a real hard gig for the next 13 years, and that's to see my youngest daughter Allie through high school. All my girls are going to need my attention from here on out."

Garth runs his hands through his close-cropped, graying hair and smiles contentedly. He seems at peace with his decision. 

"I feel lucky to be where I'm at," he says, "and where I've been. When I look in the mirror, I feel really good about the guy I see." 

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