As time marches on, a wholesale re-evaluation of the impact and music of Garth Brooks continues.
To the passive country music fan, the name Garth Brooks may be nothing more than a famous name from the past that they recognize or remember from his heyday. But to many dedicated traditionalist country fans, Garth Brooks symbolized the mass commercialization of country music with his flashy shows in sold-out stadiums, and his multi-platinum albums. Somewhere in the shuffle though, Garth’s sonic legacy got lost. And as the integrity of mainstream country continues to erode day by day, Garth continues to look more and more like a traditionalist country artist himself.
Garth Brooks was voted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 2012. As is to be expected, Brooks was humble in his acceptance. But what went unreported at the time is that Garth actually attempted to turn his induction down, feeling that there were others that were more worthy than him.
Garth Brooks was interviewed by Leslie Armstrong of Nashville Country Club in the Hall of Fame rotunda right after the inductee announcements on March 6th, 2012. When asked what Garth did when he first got the news of his induction, he said:
I know this is going to sound bad, but you asked, okay? So my first thing was is I called the guys up and I say, “Look, I don’t think I deserve this at this time, you know. Is it possible to turn this thing down and wait?” And they said, “No, it’s not possible to turn it down.” I said, “Well I tried, okay, we’re in!” I’m trying to enjoy the day. And at the same time, all you can think about are the people that need to be in here that aren’t in here yet. So now it’s every Hall of Fame member’s job to make sure that we push and push to make sure all those people get in here, and eventually they will. And they should have been here before Garth Brooks.
Who else should have been inducted before Garth? In both Garth’s initial speech at the announcement and in subsequent interviews that day, Garth said that Keith Whitley, Ricky Skaggs, and Randy Travis deserved to be inducted before him. As he told Inside Music Row:
I felt guilty and embarrassed and honored. Randy Travis cleared the whole way for the 80’s for guys like me and the class of ’89 to come through. He opened all those doors. My generation’s shot at Haggard and Jones was Keith Whitley. Keith needs to be in here. My God, Ricky Skaggs. None of us would be here if it wasn’t for Ricky Skaggs. He filled all the honky tonks and everything there. There’s a lot of catching up to do, and like everybody that goes in it, says it. And they’ll eventually get here. I just don’t think that I should have been here before them. But I feel very honored, and I’ll take it and feel very grateful for it.
Garth also explained that superstardom was not his original intention for coming to Nashville.
I wanted to be a songwriter when I came here. I came here with “Much Too Young to Feel This Damn Old” for George Strait. That was it. I didn’t have any dreams or aspirations after that. Never touring, never cutting records. I wanted to be a songwriter. It’s weird because I didn’t know then that the greatest honor in this town is being called a songwriter.
Of course it is the job for inductees to act humble and thank others when they are bestowed the Hall of Fame honor. But with Garth Brooks, he seemed to take it to another level, knowing his legacy was likely cemented and his place in the Hall of Fame assured, but worried about taking that honor away from someone who came before him and helped usher in his success.
Garth officially retired from music in 2001, though he’s made random appearances over the years and signed up for a Las Vegas residency in 2009. His primary reason for retiring was to spend more time with his kids until they completed high school, which will happen next year. Nobody knows, maybe not even Garth, what he might do in country music in the coming years. But whatever he does, Garth’s time off may have taught him an important lesson that kept his music from country’s more traditionally-oriented fans during his heyday: how to be humble.