I don’t know if Garth Brooks has ever read How to Win Friends & Influence People, but the guy is a walking, breathing, denim-clad version of the Dale Carnegie book.
I’ll leave the debate over how journalists should behave around the star to others. What struck me was Brooks’ seemingly innate ability and need to connect with people.
Even reporters, whom celebrities often regard as second-class annoyances.
During his news conference Thursday, Brooks made a point of learning everyone’s name, sometimes repeating it to make sure he had it right. (“Janet, with a ’T,’” Kiss 98.5 morning host Janet Snyder told Brooks when he clarified whether her name was “Janice” or “Janet.”) He makes eye contact, asks you if he’s answering your question fully, and projects a general eagerness to please.
It’s impossible to overemphasize how rare that is for a celebrity, especially one who commands a Brooks-like ability to nearly fill six shows in four nights. I say that after spending two-plus decades covering big-league athletes and entertainers. Most are good people, but the greater their fame, the less they tend to connect.
Brooks, 53, is the exception.
When I asked him what this tour is like for him as a family man, with his wife Trisha Yearwood on the bill and his three daughters now grown, he posed a few questions to me before answering mine.
“Are you a dad, a father, as well?” Brooks asked me, standing on his news conference stage, wearing an understated black baseball cap and Oklahoma State hoodie.
I told him I am.
“How old are your babies?”
“They’re 20, 19, and 9,” I told him.
“OK, so same thing,” said Brooks, whose daughters are college age.
Then he answered, explaining when his girls were younger, attending shows or heading on tour with Dad “wasn’t their thing.” He once took his kids to a taping of “The Muppet Show” — they were excited about the Muppets, but soon realized “this is about Dad.”
In the early 2000s, Brooks left the road to raise his daughters. While answering my question, he brought up his ex-wife, Sandy Mahl, whom he divorced in 2001, by name.
“We didn’t have cell phones then, so I wasn’t much of a partner to her,” Brooks said, referring to how his touring in the '90s strained family relationships. “Three four days would go, we’d be playing at clubs, I wouldn’t call her, and that’s just not right.”
Two notable items: First, celebrities almost never bring up their exes unprompted, especially in news conferences. Nor do celebrities — or most people — so openly admit their personal wrongs.
Brooks explained how his daughters’ interaction with his career is so much better now.
“They’re off to college, they come to see shows if they want to,” he said. “They roll in and and it’s pretty cool. It’s like they’re babies again for me. Every chance I get to hold them, it’s something amazing to me.”
Brooks paused briefly, dipping his head downward, seeming to choke up. Then he looked back at me.
“Especially — and I’m sure you already know this — they’re gone,” he continued, “They’re just gone. And you never can get them back. They say they come back, but so far, I think, they’re just gone. But they’re exploring their own lives, and good for them. I pray to God for them every night.”
Before he finished, Brooks had one more inquiry for me. “Does that answer your question?” he asked.
More than a little, Garth.
Later, in one-to-one conversation with Brooks, I shaped a question around a teenager I know whose mother recently underwent brain surgery at Roswell Park Cancer Institute. The mom is an ardent Brooks fan; his music comforts, uplifts and inspires her.
How, I wondered, do you reconcile such a huge responsibility?
Brooks told me he was talking with some famous friends recently (he wouldn’t name them) about this topic.
“They said, ‘If you wake up everyday and you aren’t totally overwhelmed by the task in front of you, then you aren’t doing enough,’ ” he said. “We all need that theme to wake up to and go, ‘You know what? I’m pulling the sword today and I’m going to fight.' ”
Even Brooks himself has such a “theme” — the song “PrizeFighter,” which his wife and tourmate, Yearwood, recorded in 2014 with Kelly Clarkson.
“I listen to it every morning,” Brooks said of the song, which is filled with lyrics meaningful to anyone facing a challenge: “Come on, come on comeback kid, show ‘em how you never quit, you’re gonna rise from the pain, and like a hurricane…”
“It’s our life,” added.
Brooks also talked about some of his own “anthem” songs — “Do What You Gotta Do” and “Standing Outside the Fire.” Which prompted me to ask Brooks if his own music inspires him.
“That’s sweet,” he said. “Without sounding egotistical, yeah, it does.”
Not much danger of this particular guy sounding egotistical. It wouldn’t be the Dale Carnegie thing to do. Nor, apparently, is it the Garth Brooks Book of Life, either.