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Garth Brooks: Ropin’ the Whirlwind

Q&A with the country music star

Garth Brooks

American country musician Garth Brooks performs onstage, Chicago, Illinois, October 1st, 1993.

Paul Natkin/Getty

Garth Brooks is a regular at the Pancake Pantry on Twenty-first Avenue in Nashville. When he arrives for breakfast, the proprietor greets him at the door with a handshake, the waitress embraces him – “Ohhh, how are you, darlin’?” She takes an order from his guest but doesn’t require one from Garth. With a twinkle in her eye, she says, “I know what he wants.” And when Garth orders a second round of hot chocolate to accompany his meal, she suggests a pitcher. A pretty young woman, Tracie, comes over to ask for autographs for herself and her friend Kim, who writhes in shyness at a nearby table. “I guess I’m the one with all the nerve,” Tracie says, smiling. After she leaves, an acquaintance at a table behind Garth leans over and asks about Garth’s wife, Sandy, and their new daughter, Taylor Mayne Pearl, born last July.

Through it all, Garth is soft-spoken, polite – “Yes, ma’am,” “No, sir” – friendly and obliging. Beneath his modesty and rural reserve, however, the truth is, he’s loving it. Like all youngest children – and Garth, now thirty-one, is the youngest of six – he adores attention. He accepts affection with grace and a very genuine gratitude. At the same time, his need for it creates an appealing air of vulnerability.

All in all, Garth conveys neither the manner nor the emotional profile you’d expect of popular music’s preeminent superstar. Not many superstars joke about their bulging waistlines or thinning hair. But then again, when you’re in a position like Garth’s, you can afford to joke at your own expense.

The simple facts of his career are daunting and require little embellishment: Since the release of his debut album, Garth Brooks, in 1989, he has sold close to 30 million records. His second and third albums, No Fences (1990) and Ropin’ the Wind (1991), are each approaching 10 million in sales. His Christmas album, Beyond the Season, entered the Top Five in the first week of its release last summer.

Those numbers are awesome for pop or rock stars, placing Garth squarely in the stratospheric ranks of Elvis Presley, the Beatles and Michael Jackson. For a country artist, however, they are entirely unprecedented. Eclipsing trailblazers George Strait and Clint Black, Garth, who moved to Nashville from his native Oklahoma in 1987, has transformed country from a sleepy musical backwater into one of the most commercially vital sounds on the contemporary scene.

But if Garth’s sales have propelled country music into the American mainstream, he has achieved them by exploding country stereotypes. While his songs strive for the intimacy of feeling and literary finesse of singer-songwriters like James Taylor and Dan Fogelberg, his shows are raucous rock-outs, complete with dramatic smoke and lighting effects and bar-band covers of songs like Bob Seger’s “Night Moves” and the Georgia Satellites’ “Keep Your Hands to Yourself.”

Nor has Garth backed off from confrontations with the more conservative elements in the country community. After the Nashville Network said it would not air his 1991 video for “The Thunder Rolls,” in which a woman shoots her abusive, philandering husband, he refused to compromise and dilute its message. And the single “We Shall Be Free,” from The Chase (1992), was a response to the upheavals that occurred in L.A. after the acquittal of the police officers who assaulted Rodney King. The song also included lines in defense of gay rights: “When we’re free to love anyone we choose … then we shall be free.” The song met resistance at country radio and earned Garth some harsh responses.

“I feel bad any time somebody brings up the Christian aspect against ‘We Shall Be Free,’ ” Garth says, “because it was meant to be a gospel song. It was meant to be the truth as I saw it. And being called Brutus and Judas, all kinds of things, really hurts. I do believe that God exists. I do believe in the Bible. But I can’t see that loving somebody is a sin.”

Garth shook the music industry late last year, when at the pinnacle of his success, he talked about retiring. Sandy’s difficult pregnancy and the prospect of touring and having to spend extended periods of time away from his wife and new daughter darkened his mood. He was also bound up in painful, protracted negotiations with his record label. It seemed easier to walk away.

In Nashville shortly after the new year, however, that bleak mood had lifted. “I feel good, I’m back in the game,” Garth says. “My wife is over all the problems she had during her pregnancy. The child is perfectly healthy. I got my new deal with my company. That doom-gloom thing is gone. Everything is starting to sum up for me.”

So instead of retiring, Garth sang the national anthem at the Super Bowl, completed a video for “We Shall Be Free” and at two concerts at the Great Western Forum raised a million dollars for a charity in South Central Los Angeles. He hopes to have a new album out in September, to be followed by a world tour, and plans to begin working on an album of duets with Trisha Yearwood soon.

So things are looking up, and Garth is looking ahead. “In the next two years,” he says, “we have a goal: to make everything before this year look small. I gotta tell you, man, the light at the end of the tunnel, I’ve emerged into that light. And it’s the brightest damn light I’ve ever seen in my life.”

You’ve often credited your parents for your success. What values did you get from your father and your mother?

My mom gave me the limitless feeling of dreaming. Mom can be standing on a bridge that is burning like hell and she’ll say: “Well, this bridge’ll hold up. I’ll just walk right off here.” She had that never-dying hope and faith. My dad worked two jobs, had six kids and gave them all an opportunity to go to college – he gave me reality. Every time I go home, he pulls me over and says, “Garth, you know you’re not living in the real world, don’t you?” I say, “Yeah, Dad, I know.”

Dad also gave me the push for perfection. He’d play guitar, and you couldn’t hear Mom sing ’cause Dad would be going, “Shit, damn it, shit,” whenever he made mistakes. Mom gave me “Hey, imperfection’s okay if you tried your best.”

What’s unreal about your life as a musician?

You wake up at one or two in the afternoon, and you see a guy you’ve known since the second grade, and he says: “Hey, man, here’s your schedule. I’ve already called these people and set up everything. You wanna go get something to eat?” So we go, and if it’s a busy place, he runs in and gets it for me, and we sit and eat and talk.

Then the next guy comes looking for you, and it’s a guy you’ve known all your life – your brother. He says: “Okay, man, here’s the scoop for tonight. We’ve got this percentage here and this percentage here. We’ve come up short with this money and come up over with this money.” And then he goes, “There’s dinner, you wanna go eat?” So I go eat with him.

Then you get ready to go onstage. It’s a thing of ours, before we go onstage, all the band members get together, we hold hands and try and say something that’s funny or inspirational. But in that handshake, I look up, and there’s a woman that I’ve known all my life, my sister [bassist Betsy Smittle]. I look at a guy who was one of my college roommates, [guitarist] Ty England. And when we finish, my sister comes up, gives me a high-five, says: “Hey, man, I had a great time tonight. You wanna go eat?” I say, “Sure.” And I go back to sleep, and the next day it’s the same.

That is not real life. We’ve had construction at our house for a year now. Seeing those guys show up at 6:30 in the morning – that’s real life: going out and supporting the family ’cause you have to.

But aren’t you going out and supporting your family?

That was probably the biggest problem that I had with the retirement thing. Tons of Garth bashers are saying: “He makes $44 million a year. What’s his problem?” And I sit there and I go, “Cool.” If I was in that guy or girl’s seat, I’d probably say the same thing. But my thing is different from most people’s. Most people leave their home to go do their job to support their family. If you did not have to leave, would you? Would you go to work? I bet you ninety percent of people, they’d say: “Well, no. I’d rather stay home and spend that time with my child.”

I have more money than my child’s grandkids are going to be able to use, so I felt bad about leaving. My father, he helped a lot during that period. He said: “If you want this girl to respect you, you must have something to tell her, something to add to her life. If you revolve your whole life around her, twenty-four hours a day, by the time she gets old enough to start learning stuff, the two of you will still be on the same level.” So that’s what justified me going back out.

What’s some of the first music you heard as a kid?

The records I remember were Johnny Horton – Dad had his Greatest Hits – Merle Haggard’s Swinging Doors album; George Jones’s Best of George Jones.

But I had a weird situation: My mom was fourteen or fifteen when she had her first child, so there really wasn’t that much of a gap in my mind between her music and my older brothers’ music – my brothers were getting me into music, too. With that came a Sixties wave of singers: Peter, Paul and Mary, Tom Rush, Townes Van Zandt, Arlo Guthrie, Janis Joplin, Janis Ian, Rita Coolidge, that kind of music. It was very warm, but you had to step inside it to see what was going on. From that moment on, that’s the kind of music I was attracted to. Off that, I went to James Taylor, Dan Fogelberg, the more writer-type artists.

That’s an interesting mix of folk, country and rock & roll – one that’s obviously been important for your own music. What’s your idea about what country music is, and how is it distinct from those other kinds of music? Do you make those distinctions yourself?

No. I mean, there’s comparisons every day of what it is, and I think there’s a very good comparison between Nineties country and Seventies rock & roll. Like if the Eagles came out today with some of their early Seventies stuff – “Lyin’ Eyes,” “Take It Easy,” stuff like that – what format would they be in? I think it might be country. I’ll compare country radio today with Seventies rock & roll radio. Country radio is saying: “All those who want to play music, come to me, no matter what the music is, no matter what you look like. And we’ll play it. If people like it, we’ll keep it. If they don’t, it goes along the wayside.” I think that’s what brought in different groups in rock & roll. I mean, you had ELO and Kiss, and it was like “Wow, man, I can listen to both of these on the same station.” I think country music is doing that now. I think if we don’t cut ourselves up into progressive country, traditional country, new country, if we just play country music as a family, staying sincere and honest, I don’t see this ride ever ending.

How do you do that, though? Nobody goes into it wanting to lose their sincerity – it just happens.

Your question pretty much answers itself in that I don’t know if I am as sincere as I was. I’m hoping when I see myself in the mirror that I’m the same person I was. But what you see as an outsider might be different. Like you said, it goes without your knowing it.

But I can say this: No musician got into this for money, because everyone knows there’s no money in it when you start. There’s two points that are not about money: the beginning and the end. In the beginning there is no money, and if you make it to this outer end where I am now, money is so much now it doesn’t matter. It’s somewhere in the middle that you face money and decide whether you’re going to go where the money is or keep doing what you like and pray to God that the money takes care of itself.

Coming back to your childhood again, what was your relationship like with your brothers and sisters?

Well, you know, the older kids say, “Spoiled baby of the family,” and I say, “The one that got the most knocks.” I grew up with all boys and one sister who was tougher than any of the boys. The one word that I would use for my childhood was protected. I wasn’t allowed to go out of my yard unless I asked my mom and dad. And this went on for quite a while. I mean, not just when I was four or five, we’re talking twelve, thirteen. I didn’t date till I was sixteen.

Did you feel self-conscious about that?

No, man, because everything that was cool to me was going on inside my house. My sister was singing, my mom was singing, my dad was playing guitar. My dad was with us in the back yard every night teaching us about football, about baseball, more importantly, teaching us about being team players, finding that competition is great, but competition within yourself is the best thing. My dad taught me about competition and – a subject I don’t care for – being a good sport. I’ve let him down a hundred times on that because I’m so competitive.

You don’t like losing?

No, I really don’t like to lose, because most of the sports that you’re in at this age are about moral points, the things you feel are right, the things you feel you deserve. So you’re competitive for that.

Now my competitive spirit has turned to other things. I want to be competitive in being the best father that I can. That’s where my competitive spirit lies now.

But isn’t it difficult making that adjustment?

Joe Smith from Capitol was at my house a week ago. He pulled me and Sandy over, and he said, “You got all the money in the world, make some time for yourselves.” As soon as Sandy walked out of the room, I pulled Joe over. I said: “Joe, what do you do when you’ve lived your whole life with stomping the guy’s guts out who’s in competition with you, just try and knock the shit out of him, get Number One, do whatever it takes to stay Number One – what happens when you feel yourself falling from that because you have a child and a family? Where does the killer instinct go?”

And the statement he made, I didn’t know what hit me. He said, “There’s going to come a time when people love you more for what you’ve done than for what you do.” Right then, Dan Fogelberg flashed in my mind. I love all his older stuff, but I’m not buying his latest stuff. Then Bob Seger came to me, bam, and all these groups that are gone now, like Boston. I just recently picked up a CD of Kiss’s Destroyer and loved it just as much the second time – but I haven’t bought a Kiss album in twelve, thirteen years.

So that hit me. But it did just the reverse of what I thought it would: My shoulders kicked back, my chest stuck out, and I said, “Well, I’ll be damned if that’s going to happen to me for a while.”

The first time you tried to move to Nashville from Oklahoma, you went back home after just one day. What were you expecting to find, and what made you leave?

I guess being protected as a child, I was very naive. I thought this town was like Oz, and you came here and all your prayers were answered. I thought you’d come here, flip open your guitar case, play a song, and someone would hand you a million bucks, tell you, “Come into the studio right quick, son, we got ten songs we want you to cut,” you cut them that day, go back home, and people would be asking you for your autograph that night. And as much as it sounds like I’m exaggerating, I’m not. I really felt that way.

So I got here, I met a guy over at ASCAP, Merlin Littlefield. And the big turnaround was his phone rang, and the receptionist said, “There’s a guy in the lobby to see you.” I can’t remember his name, but he had written half of Kansas’s last album. Merlin said to me: “I’m gonna show you somebody here that’s trying to make a living doing this. This guy’s great – he’s one of the best writers around.” So the guy came in, and he said: “Merlin, I got trouble. I can’t leave town until I pay off this loan.” I thought to myself, “Oh, my God, this is cool.” Merlin says, “How much is it?” The guy says, “Five hundred bucks.” I said to myself, “That’s incredible.” I had five or six hundred dollars in my pocket that I had brought with me. And it was Merlin’s reaction that killed me. He went, “Whoooa.” And I’m like “Man, he’s not even gonna get that money.” And when the guy left, I told Merlin, “Man, that isn’t much money.” He said two things to me. One of them was “You got your choice: You either starve as a songwriter or get five people together and go out and starve as a band.” And when I told him that the money the guy was looking for I probably made in a week back home doing local gigs, he told me, “I’d advise you to go back home.” And I hated him, man. I hated his guts. The whole way home I cussed him. And every day since then I think, “Thank God, he was honest with me,” because I did need to go home.

Why?

When you move to a new place all by yourself, and it’s the first time you’ve ever been alone, it’s funny, but you start seeing how much of your dad’s in you, how much you’re made up of your mom, your girlfriend, your brothers. They constituted ninety-nine, if not a hundred, percent of me. And I had just left all of them, to get away. Those people were what I was and what I am. The people in Stillwater, Oklahoma, had passed the hat and got the money for me to come up here. I felt terrible. I was going to be their big hero. Now I had to go back.

What did people say when you got back?

Actually, I hid out at my folks’ house for two or three weeks, no communication.

So everybody thought you were still in Nashville.

Oh, sure. And then when I came back, man, I realized, for one thing, humility. Another thing I realized was lyin’ just ain’t gonna work. So I went and took care of business. I went back to my old landlord, saw my place was still up for rent. He didn’t give me any hassles. And I got my old daytime job. Then I went back to my old bosses at the clubs and said: “Look, will you let me come back and play? I need to start over again.” All of them said, “Sure.” None of them asked what happened. I don’t know if it was written all over my face that I didn’t want to talk about it, but they didn’t say anything. They were really cool.

You had met Sandy when you were both students at Oklahoma State University, so you were involved with her at that time, right?

Yeah.

Did you talk to her about it?

Well, yeah, that was another of the mistakes I made. Here I was leaving my parents. I was leaving my family. I was leaving her. And that’s the truth of that time: I don’t think I was coming back to her. I was gonna come up here and be this swinging bachelor in the big time, all the money. And I just never realized how much they were part of me.

I called Sandy from some little town in Arkansas. She said, “How is it up there?” I said: “I’m in Arkansas. I’m comin’ home.” She said, “Coming home?” She was bewildered, she didn’t know what the hell had happened, but she was happy. And I remember pulling up to my folks’ place. And it was okay. It was okay for me to be back. I was amazed, because looking back on it, I had burned all my bridges, saying, “Hey, I’m going to go be a star, I’ll deal with you guys when I have time.” And I came back a day later like a whipped pup. It would have been to everybody’s advantage to go, “Hey, star, over here.” And nobody treated me like that.

How did you meet Sandy?

I was just working as a bouncer in a club. I was a lot smaller than the other bouncers, so I handled the women, the girl stuff. There was a dispute in the ladies’ room, and there she was. She was all in black, she had a black hat on. She had taken a swing at this girl and missed her, and the stalls were so thin, her hand went right through the pressboard, and it really busted her hand up bad. She still has trouble with it. She was in a fight over her old boyfriend, I guess. I thought she was cute, and you know the stupid things you do, I immediately made a move on her. I said, “Look, you got to leave now, and since you’ve had something to drink, why don’t you let me make sure you get home safe?” Maybe because she lived in the dorm right across the parking lot from mine, she said, “Okay.” I parked in our parking lot and said: “My roommate, he’s gone home to Oklahoma City. Would you like to come up?” She told me to drop dead and just walked off. I thought, “Hey, this gal’s spunky.” So I started calling her. And a couple weeks later, she finally gave in, and we started just walking around campus, going to classes together and stuff. About a year later, we went to our first movie together. Got married to her two and a half years later.

The two of you went through a bad patch after you began to get popular. You were playing around, and it looked like you might break up. How does that period look to you now?

I see us both being very, very young. I think, with leaving Sandy to come to Nashville the first time, to be this hot thing and have all the gals, the immaturity of that I don’t think left me. So when I did get the actual record deal, I reverted back to that, and that was a big mistake. Apologies to both sides need to be made. Most of all to Sandy, because I was playing in a ballpark that I had no license to play in. But another thing was, I had some great friendships that I ruined because I pushed them over the line of friendship, and now, because of that, I don’t get to talk to those people anymore. And I learned a lot from those people as human beings because they were cool people. So apologies to both sides need to be made. I was fortunate enough to get a second chance.

Do you see it as a function of all that was happening in your career, being a musician, the road and all that?

Yeah, but I don’t see it as a necessity. Anybody starting out saying, “Man, it has to happen” – bullshit. It doesn’t. I’ll put it this way: If I was a lawyer, it would probably have happened the same way. I think it had more to do with a guy growing up and accepting the responsibilities of marriage than it had to do with somebody playing music.

Did you think you’d be this committed to being a father?

Man, that ten hours I spent in that delivery room, being there when that child’s first breath was taken – bam, I was hooked. I mean, I was pumped. I found myself wandering down the hall wanting to know if anybody else was going into delivery – I was ready.

Now that you’re so successful, everything seems as if it was perfectly planned. But it must have been pretty romantic when you and the band were out on the road, and things were just beginning to happen.

Oh, sure. It’s weird, man: Wherever you’re not is what you talk about. When we were starting out, we’d talk about. “Oh, man, the arenas, we could play for thousands of people, do our own show, have our own lights, have people come to see us. It’d be great.”

Now we say, “Man, it’d be great just to walk into the club, smell that old carpet and kick that old monitor that just works half the night and use a mike that someone had before that had bad breath.” You’d be hoping people would be knocking your bus as you’re pulling out and that there’d be people lined up for autographs – and now you’re there, and you start talking about the old days. I think a big part of the romanticism of starting out is, you didn’t have nothing to lose, and you were going for everything. Now every time you step out, it’s like you’ve got everything in the world to lose.

What about your sense of your audience at this point? Has that changed at all?

No, it hasn’t. This is even including Shotgun Sam’s Pizza Parlor at home and Wild Willie’s Saloon. It’s all about the same thing – it’s about having fun. It’s all about the listener having fun, and somewhere in between is a bridge that you’re building. It’s a bridge to walk out on and touch these people. And just because you don’t physically touch somebody doesn’t mean you haven’t knocked the shit outta them. When my people leave the auditorium, I want them crawling out. I want them so damn tired. I want their voices gone. I want them to be just like me, wringing wet, just dead, and the only thing I can think about is “God, just get me some sleep.” I want to wear my people out

And the greatest thing that I sense about Garth Brooks is, when it comes to the live show, Garth Brooks is a band. I told these guys, you go out there, and you play your ass off, and if you upstage me, it’s my job to find a way to upstage you next time.

That’s not a typical country attitude about performing. Were you ever afraid that country audiences would think, “That’s too rock & roll”?

No one could ever doubt that we did country music. One thing was who I surrounded myself with: two guys from Kansas, three from Oklahoma. Out in front you’ve got steel guitar, fiddle, you got hats, we’re all wearing Wranglers and Ropers. All our heroes were in the country field, and if we had our choice today, we probably wouldn’t play any of our tunes, we’d go play George Strait’s and George Jones’s tunes. So it never hit me that people are going to think it’s a rock & roll show.

Now if I had tons of hair, was built nice and wore my shirts open and did the music we do, ooh, then I gotta tell you, man, that’s getting close to rock & roll. But when you come see one of our shows, even though the show has the Seventies-arena-rock mentality to it, there’s no denying that these guys are just a bunch of country bumpkins that got lucky. And know that they got lucky.

We’re just a real dirty band. We’re raw, and we’re rough. None of us are top-scale, top-line musicians. But I tell you what, you get your top-line musicians and see if they can entertain like us. I got guys smashing guitars, I got guys doing leads while running across the stage. The Seventies-arena-rock thing, that’s what I remember most. When I went to see Kansas and Queen and Styx, I don’t even remember the music. But I know what I saw.

What did you see?

I saw … I saw lots of power. I mean lots of power. The chords, you could actually see the chords, they were so thick. And I saw this light show. I remember I saw Styx enter with this huge backdrop of the sky, and it looked like this guy was walking on air, it looked like he was walking on the clouds. And April Wine, they had this big song with fire in it, and they had this huge red fire-engine thing flashing, and it just painted the whole coliseum red. It was huge. Those things are what I remember. I tell my band and crew: “These people hear the music on CD every day. They hear it on radio. Don’t worry as much about the music as about what they’re going to take home, their vision.”

People do always say, “I went to see this band the other night,” not “I went to hear them.”

The more visuals the better. We’ve got a new tune we’re working on called “Standing Outside the Fire,” and if I get my way next year, the whole stage will be just in flames during the song. When we do “Shameless,” there’s a pose that G.B. does when he screams the line, “I’ve never been in love like this.” And it’s the warmest feeling, man, to start stretching out your hands, and all of a sudden it looks like fireworks flashing on the crowd, all the flashbulbs going ba-da-boom pop badaba boom, and you’re like “Yeah.” And when the elevator comes up at the start of the show, oh, man, that’s all you see is – poppoppoppoppoppoppop. That’s what a show is about.

I’m interested in when you say Garth Brooks or “G.B.,” who are you talking about at that point?

[Laughs] I don’t know, man. I don’t see the guy onstage in me here. I surely don’t. Before the show, we see all these radio people, and most of them say, “Garth, you’re a lot calmer than I thought you were gonna be.” But when the members of the band give one another that handshake, and the lights go out, and the crowd goes up, then you’re sliding into the elevator, man, your heart is just going bopbopbopbopbop. And then the big thing too is “Oh, shit, is the elevator gonna work tonight?” So you’re thinking about that, and the crowd’s going, and it’s like “Yeah, man, yeah, I can feel it, I can feel it, what if my wireless pack isn’t turned on and my vocal isn’t working?” And then I come out of the elevator, and all of a sudden all that chemistry just goes into this character. And this guy is just a total difference from me. He’s the little kid that when we had talent night at home, just tried to go as nuts as he could. It’s so much fun.

I’ve been to rock concerts, and the one thing that I always thought about … when I went to see Queen, I sat there and said: “Man, if one of them would just look at me for just a second, if it could be that rich for just a second. Man, I’m screaming out here, I love it.” We come out one night, and about seven people to the left of front-row center is this woman. She has her hands out on the stage, and she’s just bawling her eyes out. She’s screaming and crying, and I just come right out to her, reach down and just grab her hair as hard as I can and pull. I was trying to let her know, “Hey, thanks for this!”

Wild.

‘Cause it feels good to come out and see that. And it made me think, “She’s standing here watching me and feeling the way I would if I was watching George Jones. He walked out on the stage, they said, “Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. George Jones.” I was about a hundred feet away from him. He came out there and [singing softly], “He said I’ll love you till I die….” And, man, here they come, I couldn’t stop it. I was wiping my eyes through the whole thing. So when I saw that woman doing that, I was like “I know exactly where she’s coming from.”

You mentioned Garth bashers. Is there a certain kind of criticism you file under Garthbashing, as opposed to somebody just saying whatever they’re saying?

Well, yeah, you’re right: It’s somebody just saying what they’re saying – I just happen to be what they’re saying it about [laughs]. I got a lot of that last year. Looking back on it now, that’s cool. Every time you go through something for the first time, you take it harder than when you sit back and look at it and say, “Hey, this is part of the game.” What I found was everybody gets it. Everybody. I mean the shit about Michael Jackson that I hear – it’s like, man, how can anybody say anything about that guy, because who in the hell’s been in his place? Everybody that’s been in his place is dead, you know? Elvis is gone, and the Beatles are no more.

And he’s been dealing with it since he was eight.

Who’s ever been on his level to say, “Yeah, I’ve been there, and I’ll tell you, he’s screwing up”? Fuck, there ain’t nobody around that’s been on his level. The same way with Madonna. Madonna, admittedly, probably brings it on more ’cause she – I don’t know her, but it strikes me that she enjoys that kind of stuff. But Jackson, man, the bashing against him – it’s kinda hard for me to accept.

Well, you’re the one who’s come the closest to where he’s been. Given all that’s happened to you in such a short time, would you say that you’ve enjoyed the ride?

Oh, yeah, man. Yeah, I wouldn’t trade a thing. Even the troubles that I had. I have become the husband and mate to my wife that I have because of what I went through, including the bad times. I wouldn’t trade that. So I’m enjoying the ride a lot. And before, when I was talking about things people said about me, the Garth bashers, well, it sure beats the hell out of them not sayin’ nothin’ – even the people who called me Brutus or Judas because of “We Shall Be Free.” You learn a lot about who you are. I mean, I don’t want to be a beauty-pageant winner and say, “Oh, the world is so wonderful,” but I don’t have anything to complain about. It’s like what they say about sex and pizza – even when they’re bad, they’re still pretty good. It’s a cool ride, man, and as long as it lasts, I’ll keep riding.

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