NASHVILLE Garth Brooks returned to the record wars Tuesday (October 9) with a mighty clash of symbols.
Before beginning a carefully staged press conference at the 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 cheered Brooks' arrival.
The business at hand was to premiere "Wrapped Up in You," the first single from Brooks' new album, Scarecrow, to radio stations via satellite broadcast. The album which Brooks denies is his swan song despite last year's declaration of retirement is due out November 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 The Life of Chris Gaines. Brooks' producer, Allen Reynolds, attested that the song was freshly recorded for Scarecrow.
Mike Dungan, president of Brooks' label, Capitol Records, announced that the singer had signed deals with America Online and Dr. Pepper to promote Scarecrow. (Brooks chose the title, he said, because his daughters reminded him that the scarecrow in "The Wizard of Oz" thought with his heart.)
As usual, Brooks was long on feelings and short on details. He declined to specify how he would promote his first studio album in four years short of indicating he would be on television a lot during the next few months. Asked if he would appear on the November 7 CMA Awards show, he noted only that the deadline for choosing acts had passed. Ed Benson, executive director of the Country Music Association, said he doesn't know if Brooks will be on the program.
Brooks was no more forthcoming concerning his relationship with AOL. He observed that the service would enable him to make many media contacts without leaving his Keatonville, Oklahoma, home. Brooks has filmed a Dr. Pepper commercial he said is designed to make people feel good about themselves. He explained that while both Coca-Cola and Pepsi had approached him, he chose to go with Dr Pepper because he drinks it. Brooks emphasized that he would not tour or appear 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.
Nevertheless, Brooks left little doubt that he misses being onstage. "I am going to tell you right off the bat," he said, addressing the fans who stood behind the press corps, "I miss the hell out of you guys."
The September 11 terrorist attacks came up throughout Dungan's introductory remarks and Brooks' Q&A session. Brooks said he was in New York when the planes destroyed the World Trade Center towers and was scheduled to be in near the Pentagon later that day. A woman presented Brooks with 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 applause.
Scarecrow's cover depicts a brooding, cowboyish Brooks leaning against a wooden fence and holding leather gloves. He said the denim jacket he wears is the same one he wore on the cover of his 1989 debut, Garth Brooks. "My shoulders could still fit it," he observed dryly in one of several references to having gained weight.
Brooks said he has not signed on for any superstar concerts to raise funds for the victims of the September 11 attacks because they conflict with his daughters' schedules.
While he did not offer a cut-by-cut assessment of Scarecrow, Brooks enthused about his duets with George Jones ("Beer Run") and Trisha Yearwood ("Squeeze Me In"). He compared Jones' performance to the country legend's "White Lightning" of more than 40 years earlier. "He's the only guy in the studio who doesn't know he's George Jones," Brooks noted.
Brooks said he screened more than 8,000 songs to arrive at those that appear on Scarecrow. "I think I heard about 15 hits for Tim McGraw," he observed.
Brooks said he'll appear on the "Grand Ole Opry" during Christmas season and appear as part of a December benefit at the Roy Acuff Theater in Nashville to raise awareness of cancer in women.
(This story was updated at 6:49 p.m. ET Tuesday, October 9, 2001.)