The Thrill Is Gone
After tackling Ticketmaster and ticket scalpers, Garth Brooks is about to have the fight of his life, and nothing less than his own image is at stake. These days the superstar’s nickname, “GB,” more likely stands for “Garth-bashing”the most popular Music Row trend since ponytails on middle-aged men. It seems that, of late, people in the industry really don’t like him. Witness the lukewarm reception he received following his performance at the ACMs.
While the grumblings have circulated privately for several years, they’re beginning to surface publicly. Jimmy Bowen, former head of Liberty Records, has just released his book, Rough Mix, while Laurence Leamer is about to unveil Three Chords and the Truth. Bowen’s book portrays Brooks as an arrogant, power-hungry phony who blames everyone but himself for his drop in sales. Expect more of the same from Leamer’s volume.
“Garth never liked me from the start,” Bowen writes. “We were like two stallions in a pen. He didn’t like that, because once he got going, he had yes-people everywhere else in his life and absolute control over everything. He was always polite, cordialbut I felt it was phony.”
This bashing isn’t limited to authors peddling their books. Not only do people at competing labels dislike him, even people at Capitol Records, his own label, can’t stand the 62-million-pound gorilla. Many were early Garth fans who cheered on his efforts and his music as he took country to new heights. But lately their chants of “Go, Garth, go” have been replaced with “Just go.” When word leaked of the singer’s Aug. 7 HBO Central Park concert, one music insider mumbled, “God, I hope he doesn’t set any records.”
Now the curtain of everyman humility is being ripped away, revealing the Wizard of Oklahoma as an arrogant control freak. He’s not the first entertainer to be revealed as such, but he may the only one who connives behind a cover of “aw shucks” modesty.
Indeed, the most common complaint about Brooks is his insincerity. It’s hard to say when the cracks first started appearing in his armor of earnestness. Was it when he left his American Music Award for Hootie & the Blowfish, or when he outed his sister on Barbara Walters without her permission? It could have been when he announced his “retirement,” attacked used CD stores, or told a reporter that he cowrote most of his songs because he couldn’t find any others that were good enough. Maybe it was when he said that if his fans didn’t want any more of his music, he’d just stop making it.
While basking in the glory of his success, Brooks apparently refuses to accept any of the blame for his drop in sales. Those in the industry, as well as music critics and radio programmers, all point to the decreasing quality of his music. They say the songs simply are not as good as his early work, a notion the singer himself publicly refuses to consider.
Music Row magazine’s Row Fax just wrote an open letter to Brooks, congratulating him on the HBO concert. “I appreciate the pressure which you must feel,” writes Music Row publisher David Ross. “Your career was built upon strong songs such as ‘Unanswered Prayers,’ ‘If Tomorrow Never Comes,’ ‘The Dance,’ ‘The River,’ and ‘Friends in Low Places,’ and I’m certain that you want to make sure that your new LP Seven carries on that tradition.”
Bowen says Brooks blamed him for the drop in sales. “During several long meetings Garth seemed unwilling to hear that his music might be part of the problem,” Bowen writes. Of course, this mind-set isn’t unique to Brooks: “Most fading superstars can’t admit the music that made them stars has stopped working. They think the problem must be promotion or marketing,” explains Bowen, who believes that 90 percent of an album’s success is determined in the studio. “It’s safe not to take responsibility for the music.”
Recently, Brooks told Billboard that Capitol Nashville gave up too soon on pushing Fresh Horses, which sold 4 million copies. He told the publication, “When Fresh Horses was sitting at 2.3 million and my record label in Nashville wants me to move on to the next record, that’s what pisses me off. The record label in Nashville needs to go back through our history and understand that 80 percent of our records have been sold after the first year the record has been out.”
Brooks’ marketing is now handled by EMI’s New York offices because he believes they did a good job marketing his greatest hits and a collection of songs that was only available through McDonald’s. Perhaps what Brooks doesn’t realize is that a monkey could successfully market his greatest hits, and that, with an artist of his stature, every media outlet in the country is going to promote a new release. Every major spotlight in the country is shining on the project, so it’s up to the music alone to determine whether it will sell or whether it will flop.
Brooks has further alienated Music Row by refusing to play by the rulesregardless of the inconveniences he causes others. He ignores label deadlines and pushes Capitol staffers to the limit while squeezing every possible concession out of them. And in 1993, he threatened to leave the Super Bowl without singing the national anthem because NBC said it had not received his “We Shall Be Free” video in time to air it.
But Brooks should realize that he’s neither John Lennon nor John Wayne and that he’s become a man the 10-year-old Garth probably wouldn’t have liked. Certainly, his contributions are not to be overlooked. His music has touched millions and forever changed the face of country. But unless he refocuses on the music, he’s likely to be remembered in the industry not for his successes, but for his shortcomings.
Renegade Broadway tap dancer Savion Glover and several other cast members of Bring in Da Noize Bring in Da Funk are coming to town this weekend to appear in the upcoming ABC Monday Night Football opener with Hank Williams Jr. Nashville-based Deaton Flanigen Productions is once again filming the campaign. This is the firm’s fifth Monday Night Football opener, two of which have won national Emmys. “He attracts a younger demographic because he’s only 21 years old,” says Robert Deaton. “He’ll bring a whole new life to the campaign.”
The Bluebird Cafe has hired its first-ever publicist just in time to promote its 15th anniversary in June. Owner Amy Kurland has hired legendary PR guru Mike Hyland, who has worked with the likes of the Rascals, the Allman Brothers, and the Marshall Tucker Band. He was instrumental in helping a young Cameron Crowe (writer-director of Jerry McGuire) land his gig at Rolling Stone. “The way I see my job is to make people aware around the world that the Bluebird is on the same par as the Bottom Line in New York and the Troubadour in Los Angeles,” Hyland says. “It’s time everybody knows that. People know it, but it hasn’t been documented.”
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