Garth Brooks returned to the record wars today (Oct. 9) with a mighty clash of symbols. Prior to the start of a carefully staged press conference at Nashville's Country Music Hall of Fame, a Marine color guard presented the flag, a class of first graders sang "God Bless America" and a crowd of fans was assembled to cheer Brooks' arrival.
The immediate business at hand was to release by satellite broadcast to radio stations "Wrapped Up in You," the first single from Brooks' new album, Scarecrow. The album, which Brooks still declines to call his final one in spite of his declaration of retirement last year, is due out Nov. 13. A "Countdown to Garth" clock prompted the crowd to chant out the final seconds before the single made its nationwide debut.
"Wrapped Up in You" was written by Wayne Kirkpatrick, a pivotal figure in Brooks' ill-fated In the Life of Chris Gaines. There was some speculation among reporters that the song might be a carryover from that album. But Brooks' producer, Allen Reynolds, told country.com that the song was freshly recorded for the new album.
Mike Dungan, president of Brooks' label, Capitol Records, announced that the singer had signed deals with America Online and Dr Pepper to help promote Scarecrow. (Brooks later explained that he chose the title Scarecrow because his daughters had reminded him that the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz was someone who thought with his heart.)
Notorious for his battles with his record label, Brooks mentioned during the press conference that music and business don't mix, although he acknowledged that business is essential in getting the music out to fans. A spokesman for Capitol later acknowledged that most of the people at the label still aren't familiar with Brooks' new album, an admission that suggests Brooks continues to call the shots.
As usual, Brooks was long on feelings and short on details, declining to specify precisely what he has planned to promote his first studio album in four years. He did indicate that he will be on television a lot during the next few months although not where or when. Asked if he will appear on the CMA Awards show Nov. 7, he commented only that the deadline for choosing acts was past. Ed Benson, executive director of the Country Music Association, said later that he still doesn't know if Brooks will be on the program.
Nor was Brooks any more forthcoming on his relationship with AOL. He did note, however, that it will enable him to make many media contacts without leaving his home in Keatonville, Okla. He has filmed a Dr Pepper commercial, which he said is designed to make people feel good about themselves. He explained that while he had been approached by both Coca Cola and Pepsi, he chose to go with Dr Pepper because that is the soft drink he drinks. Brooks did emphasize that he will not be touring or appearing on TV on a regular basis. Time and again he stressed that he is devoting himself to fatherhood and such paternal chores as driving his three daughters to school and soccer practice.
Brooks left little doubt, however, that he misses being on stage. "I am going to tell you right off the bat," he said, when he first addressed the fans who stood behind the press corps seated in front of the stage, "I miss the hell out of you guys."
The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were mentioned throughout Dungan's introductory remarks and Brooks' question-and-answer session. Brooks said he was in New York when the planes destroyed the World Trade Center towers and was scheduled to be in Washington, near where the Pentagon was hit, later that same day. A woman in the crowd was ushered to the stage to present Brooks a New York Fire Department cap, which he held reverently as he spoke of the tragedy. Twice during his remarks, he called for a return to prayer -- "or a moment of silence" -- in public schools, each time to considerable, but not universal, applause.
Asked to see the cover of the new album, Brooks gestured for it to be shown on the screen above him. "As much as we airbrushed it," he quipped, "I hope you're able to see it." The cover shows a brooding, cowboyish Brooks, leaning against a wooden fence and holding leather gloves. He said the denim jacket he is wearing is the same one he wore on the cover of his first album, Garth Brooks, in 1989. "My shoulders could still fit it," he observed dryly in one of his several references to having gained weight.
Brooks said he has not signed on for any of the impending superstar concerts to raise funds for the victims of terrorism because they conflict with his daughters' schedules.
While he did not offer a cut-by-cut assessment of Scarecrow, Brooks did comment enthusiastically on some tracks, notably his duets -- "Beer Run," with George Jones, and "Squeeze Me In," with Trisha Yearwood. He compared Jones' performance on "Beer Run" with his classic "White Lightning" of more than 40 years past. "He's the only guy in the studio who doesn't know he's George Jones," Brooks said, alluding to the Old Master's intimidating presence. Brooks vowed that Yearwood's sharp wit and humor shine through in their newest duet. He said it will be up to her to decide if the song is released as a single.
By Brooks' count, he screened more than 8,000 songs and Reynolds more than 10,000 to arrive at the ones they finally chose for Scarecrow. "I think I heard about 15 hits for Tim McGraw," he observed.
Brooks said he will appear on the Grand Ole Opry during the Christmas season and perform in a special at the Roy Acuff Theater in Nashville in December to raise awareness of cancer in women.