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Almost the retiring kind

'Full-time dad' Garth Brooks can't stay away from the spotlight -- or stop talking about the music.

January 20, 2008|Ann Powers | Times Staff Writer

FORT WORTH, TEXAS — Garth BROOKS doesn't own a BlackBerry. He's dismayed by musicians who use click-tracks to keep the beat and auto-tuning to stay on pitch. Until recently, he recorded his albums on analog tape. Still, the 45-year-old singer is a modern guy, sidestepping his publicist to set up his own interviews by e-mail. Given a choice, though, he'll reach out the semi-old fashioned way: via cellphone, better for cracking jokes and asking about a caller's kids.

"Technology scares me," Brooks said Tuesday during a lengthy chat in a cozy conference room at Texas Jet, an executive terminal in Meacham International Airport. His schedule that day was taking him to nearby Cook Children's Medical Center, where he and former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman would christen a high-tech play space cosponsored by their charities. Brooks laughed at his own comment, not quite believable given the jet-setting lifestyle he's maintained even in the midst of his much-publicized retirement.

"What scares me is when you go somewhere and people come up and go, 'Oh, my God, it's just you and a guitar!' " he said. "And you start thinking, how many successful acts can perform that way today? I don't like walls, but there are traditions that you try and keep alive."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, January 20, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 46 words Type of Material: Correction
Garth Brooks: A profile of Garth Brooks in today's Arts & Music section says his latest album, "The Ultimate Hits," was part of an exclusive distribution deal with Wal-Mart. Brooks' two-year exclusivity pact with the company ended in July, and his recordings are now distributed everywhere.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, January 27, 2008 Home Edition Sunday Calendar Part E Page 2 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 44 words Type of Material: Correction
Garth Brooks: A profile of Garth Brooks in last Sunday's Calendar said his latest album, "The Ultimate Hits," was part of an exclusive distribution deal with Wal-Mart. Brooks' two-year exclusivity pact with the company ended in July, and his recordings are now distributed everywhere.

Brooks might be the homiest forward-thinker in contemporary pop. He's not often cited as a revolutionary, partly because he's equally committed to being an Everyman.

To that end, he's resurfaced amid a retirement he says will not officially end for at least a decade. His drive to connect -- and set pop milestones -- vies with his oft-noted sense of contentment.

Billy Joel, KISS, Chris Gaines

Achieving superstardom in the 1990s by blending hard country with soft-rock sensitivity and hair-metal bravado, Brooks challenged Nashville to move toward the no-fences 21st century.

He covered Billy Joel, recorded with KISS and elevated the career of his hero, cowboy crooner Chris LeDoux.

He experimented with alternative rock (through his much-ridiculed alter ego Chris Gaines), played Central Park and broke virtually every sales record imaginable.

Then his popularity began to slip a notch; he went through a painful divorce and a shift in priorities. He retired to his native Oklahoma in 2001 to become a full-time parent to his three daughters. The youngest is now 11.

"I remember not knowing my children, and I never want to go back there," he said. "I want my kids to be raised the way I was raised. My parents were at every game, whether I played or not. You'd look over your shoulder and there they were." Brooks now lives near Tulsa with his second wife, singer Trisha Yearwood, and says other parents on the soccer field don't pay any special attention to him.

If Brooks is a PTA parent, though, he's the hyperactive type. He's not just a face for his Teammates for Kids foundation; he's an event organizer, an active fundraiser and occasional bureaucrat. High-profile charity events including Live Earth and the Grand Old Opry's 80th Birthday celebration have given him a semi-regular chance to perform.

Born at the tail end of the baby boom, Brooks shares certain traits with that generation. He's insistently youthful, yet haunted by thoughts of impending decline. He is redefining retirement as a reduction in work, not a cessation. And he's unwilling to gracefully enter the twilight of cultural irrelevance.

So he's recorded a handful of new songs, including his recent chart-topping single, "More Than a Memory," and his current duet with Huey Lewis on the bar-band king's old hit "Workin' for a Livin'."

"There are rules you set up when you retire," he said. "But I will step across the line. The duet with Huey, for example, was something I wanted to do in 1999, but Capitol [Brooks' label then] wasn't for it; they didn't want to see a crossing of the two artists. These things all have their reasons for being picked. They're dear to me."

Aikman, a friend as well as a partner in Brooks' children's charities, views Brooks' active retirement in connection with his lifelong passion for sports.

At Cook Medical Center, where he and Brooks spent a happy hour playing video games and cards with young patients, he reflected on the singer's drive to participate.

"Garth was an athlete as a kid," he said. "He played baseball, track. When that didn't work out, he was able to transfer that competitive sense and work ethic to music. He still brings that athlete's perspective to whatever he does."

Finding new challenges

Brooks does seem bent on creating new ways of competing with himself. Next weekend at Staples Center, he'll play five concerts in two days, hoping to raise $10 million to benefit victims of the California wildfires and fund future firefighting efforts. (The shows are cosponsored by The Times, AEG, American Express and the McCormick Tribune Foundation.)

The event grew out of another test of strength -- the nine-show marathon Brooks played at Kansas City, Mo.'s Sprint Center in November.

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