Brooks' special testifies to crossover appeal


MARINA DEL REY, Calif. -- For a guy who one critic dismissed as "a thumb with a hat," country star Garth Brooks sure is all over the place these days.

Brooks just wound up a 2 1/2 -year tour in December that sought to satisfy fans who bought 16 million copies of his three albums. He has swept all the major country music awards. And now, he's getting his first network special.

"This Is Garth Brooks" (9 p.m. Friday, NBC, Channel 2) is a high-energy salute from an engagingly grateful Okie who grew up in tiny Yukon and still can't quite believe his luck.

"I gotta be honest, man, I'm having the time of my life. I dearly love my wife and the new child that's coming," Brooks said during a conversation with television critics.

"But when you stand up there next to the people you were in an old musty basement with, and just dreaming . . ., and then seeing it finally happen, there ain't no feeling better than that," Brooks said.

Brooks, who will turn 30 this year, has achieved a lot in three years. Part of his success is that he is a country artist who has also gone to the top of the pop charts, certifying his considerable crossover appeal.

"Those people who think that country music is about, you know, 'I Lost My Wife and My Dog Got Run Over at the Truck Stop Today' haven't heard country music in five or six years," Brooks said with a grin. "Country music is a lot more about everyday life now that it's centrally focused on love: good and bad. It's the 10 o'clock news set to music."

Brooks blames the country music industry itself for not getting the word out sooner.

"I'm not sure that country music didn't focus a little bit too much earlier on 'My Heart's Broke So I'm Gonna Drink a Lot and Stuff.' I'm not saying that was wrong for the time, but it was something that totally marked the music. Long after the music passed that stage, we were still living with that image."

Brooks prefers to think of what he does as "heart music."

"The one thing everybody in this world has in common is that they have a heart. They might not speak the same language and they might not like the same events but they all have hearts. And we try to do music that will touch them."

He won't be doing much touching until June, however. He and his band are taking six months off to get to know their families again before jumping in again.

"My guitar player called his daughter on her first birthday and we figured out that he'd seen her only 49 days during the first year of her life. That's when I said enough is enough. Family was here before all this happened and family will be the only thing left after all this happens. Let's take care of family know," Brooks said.

The rest gives him a chance to change his image a bit. He's growing a beard to "give my face a break after shaving every day for 2 1/2 years." He's also put his trademark big black Stetson on the shelf for a bit. Instead, he's pulled on a baseball cape with Mickey Mouse grinning out as his greeter.

That plus a nylon running suit, upscale sneakers and wire-rimmed glasses give Brooks an almost yuppie appearance. He's even thoughtful and scholarly in many of his answers rather than the boisterous good ol' boy from his rousing concerts and Friday's special, which was taped during his stop in Dallas in September.

Despite that crossover look and popularity, Brooks failed to get / /TC Grammy nomination last week for album of the year. He took it all in stride.

"I really think the album of the year deserves to be more pop-oriented. My music isn't pop. The award is more the Hammers, the Jacksons, the U2 stuff. And that's cool, you know. I'll sit on the sidelines with my record sales and just keep doing what I'm doing," he noted with a wicked grin.

Brooks' philosophy of performing is to give audiences "something that causes their blood to run a bit faster than it did when I walked in."

And the response he wants to get?

"If you're upset after you listen to a song, that's good. It's as good as crying. As long as it brings an emotion, then you know you're living."

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