It’s Not Easy Being Garth Brooks, But He’s Happy At Last (1996)
originally published July 2, 1996
At age 34, he became the top-selling solo artist in the history of music.
Not just country music.
But making a lot of money doesn't necessarily make you happy.
Garth Brooks knows that as well as anyone. He wasn't happy all that time, but finally, he says, he's found that inner peace.
Finally, Garth Brooks is happy.
``I am happy with who I am. I'm not satisfied. I'm just happy with who I am and realize that Garth Brooks is all I'm ever gonna be,'' he says.
Happy being Garth? A man with album sales over 60 million plus multimillions in dollars?
It sounds easy, but happiness has been a hard-won goal for the Oklahoman who's coped with marital problems and other emotional setbacks on the way to the very top of his profession.
He provides a glimpse of the inner struggles in a three-hour radio special, *The Garth Brooks Story*, to be aired on the July 4 weekend by the Westwood One network.
Other country artists talk about the superstar, but his own thoughts are the most revealing. Like the only time he broke down on stage -- a night in Cape Girardeau, Mo., when he was performing ``If Tomorrow Never Comes.''
``It was a song that was written not only for the songwriters' wives, but for the people they'd lost in the past,'' Garth says of his first No. 1 hit.
``My wife and I were having the toughest time in our marriage.
I just broke down, stopped the band. They tried to keep playing but didn't know what to do. They looked at me and I told 'em to stop.
``I explained to the crowd what was going on and asked for a second chance. It was an emotional moment for all of us, 'cause we're all married, and we all go through these things.
``But even though it might not be the biggest hit I've had, it's the most emotional song I'll ever do.''
That night, he says, was ``the first, last and only time I've ever broken down on stage.''
Heart-tugging thoughts of his wife Sandy have affected Garth in other ways, particularly in his songwriting. He reveals for the first time that she was the unwitting inspiration for the song ``Somewhere Other Than the Night.''
``She made a statement out of the blue one night that really killed me, and I never let her know about it,'' he explains. ``It was a
statement that, my God, we sometimes sit in the same room and feel so alone. And I realized my mind is so out there, and she can be talking to me and I can't even hear it.''
Garth's an emotional man who's not afraid to cry in public -- and even with his success, he's still too terrified to ever record with his two heroes, George Jones and George Strait.
``With George Jones, I could never do it,'' Garth admitted. ``Can't even be in the same room with the man, I'm so overpowered. The same with Strait, so I doubt I could ever do one with them.''
Jones has witnessed Garth's dilemma. ``He's a real shy type person,'' Jones says on the radio show, ``and the first time I met him, he shied away from me, kept walking by the curtains, hiding when I'd look over that way. I wanted to walk over and say hi to him, and eventually I did, and he's a really nice guy.''
Then there's Garth the artist -- a perfectionist who can't be happy with anything less than magical. That's why country fans will have to wait even longer for the Garth duet with Trisha Yearwood that's been rumored for two years.
It's not enough that they've sung harmonies on each other's albums, including a No. 4 single, ``Like We Never Had a Broken Heart.''
``We cut four songs, listened to them and called each other up and said, `Are you missing something here?' `Me, too,' '' Garth explained. ``The magic was there on each other's albums, but on a duet, we're gonna have to plan harder than just showing up and singing together. So we're gonna go back on the mountain, just me and her, and work on it and see if it's there.''
Controversy has also dogged Garth -- like the backlash from his performance on a tribute album for KISS, the rockers who've long been his idols.
``I didn't know what I was getting into, and we caught some flak for doing it,'' Garth says.
``Got a lot of bad letters saying, `Where are you going?' I'm not going anywhere -- just working with some good guys I've admired.
``People said I sounded like Rod Stewart with pneumonia. It was fun for me and it was my tribute to say thanks for the influence.''
The controversy over ``The Thunder Rolls'' video being banned from TNN, although the song became a No. 1 radio hit, was more serious.
Later, a video with the same theme, spousal abuse, *was* played on TV, causing Garth to comment on this weekend's radio special: ``Probably the greatest award I'll ever have is one you'll never see -- and that's the fact that Martina McBride's `Independence Day' was played on TV. Because I didn't see much difference between the two, but just the whole ugliness of what happened the first time.''
Garth says he's proud to think the storm caused by `The Thunder Rolls' helped get an audience for Martina.
``What Martina was saying needs to be heard,'' he adds, ``so hats off to the same network that didn't play `The Thunder Rolls' but played Martina McBride.''
Garth's a man who cares -- his compassion showed after the terrorist bombing in his hometown of Oklahoma City.
Searching for material for his *Fresh Horses* album, Garth came across ``The Change.'' ``As soon as I heard the first notes of the song, I mean it just fit so well. So, I guess that's why it got
real close to me.''
Using news footage of the tragedy in the song's video, Garth premiered it on the American Music Awards. Ronnie Dunn, who was also raised in Oklahoma, was in the audience. ``It was very powerful -- I couldn't even look. I just looked down,'' Ronnie said. ``The second it started, I looked at the ground.''
Written and produced by George Achaves, the radio portrait of America's music superstar contains many more revealing comments and observations from Garth, a man who can finally say:
``The biggest growth area is growing up to realize that I'm only gonna be who I am. I can't be somebody else -- and that's a good thing to relax and realize.''
The Making Of a Star
During the July 4 radio special, Garth takes a look back at the times he was still trying to make it in the Nashville music business. While working at a boot store at a Nashville mall, Garth met young Ken Mellons, also trying to make it in country music.
``I collect cowboy boots and I went over there one day and got to talking to him,'' Ken recalled. ``He was saying, `Yeah, I'm trying to get somethin' going, I'm from Oklahoma and I'm a singer and songwriter.'
``I ended up buying a pair of cowboy boots and Garth gave me his business card. I still have it today. I thought that was pretty neat. A few months later I was driving down the road and heard him on the radio. And now he's one of the biggest things that's ever happened to country music.''
Country superstar Reba McEntire also met Garth on his way up.
He opened her show in 1990 -- and this was the outspoken redhead's immediate reaction: ``He was so outlandish, so far beyond anything anybody did on stage. I thought it was weird, but I thought, `It's classy, different, unique and he's going to be a big star. This is what people want.' ''
The Making Of a Hit
Garth reveals in his radio interview the twists and turns that accompany the songwriting process, noting that ``The Beaches of Cheyenne'' went through a complete change in mood and theme.
``It was supposed to be real funny, like cowboys on the beach, swinging kind of thing.
``Then it went to a guy on the beach who came from a suit-and-tie job and didn't have any cowboy talents but always wanted to be one.
so he goes home, slips off his shoes and goes out on the beach and dreams of Wyoming.
``Just as a fluke, I went: `Tonight she walks the beaches of Cheyenne' and realized that this ain't gonna be a funny song, guys.'' The song, Garth's latest No. 1 hit, tells the story of a woman whose bronc-riding husband is killed in a rodeo ring in Cheyenne, Wyoming.