Sasko Lazarov
garth brooks

Does Garth Brooks really love us? An hour with the man shines a light on our mutual weirdness

Brooks is a consummate showman who has identified something that Ireland needs.

SO WHY DID Garth Brooks care so much about five cancelled gigs in GAA Headquarters?

Since his career kicked off in the late 1980s, Brooks has sold 157 million albums. He is the first and only artist in history to receive nine RIAA Diamond Awards. You can pick up a repetitive strain injury by scrolling the Wikipedia page detailing his various awards.

By rights, when his 2014 gigs were shut down, Brooks should not have been bothered. It shouldn’t have even registered with him. Yet, here he is, eight years later, still talking about it, and finally on the eve of exorcising that strange demon once and for all. 

On Thursday afternoon, Brooks made a final media appearance ahead of his five-gig slate at Croke Park, for which he has sold out 410,000 tickets with ease – a cumulative attendance that far outstrips the population of most Irish counties.

The atmosphere was unusual. Repeatedly Brooks was praised by reporters for how fit he looked. Many of his answers were greeted with applause. One young journalist was accompanied by his father and Brooks took care to shake both of their hands. His persona is the perfect inversion of the jaded rockstar stereotype. 

“If there’s one word in their minds after the show, I want it to be ‘love.’ I want people to feel like they’ve seen love up on that stage,” he said.

It is alluring to take him at face value, ignore the millions of dollars that are there to be made, and embrace him as a man who cares about nothing more than giving his fans precisely what they want.

To that effect, he railed against musicians who insist on playing their new music when fans want to hear the classics. He gave committed answers to questions like “What advice can you give to up-and-coming artists?” and “Can you give a special message to the fans who can’t be there?” He’s so unpretentious that it’s almost pretentious, chewing on the softest of questions as though he’d been given a chance to expound on his philosophy for life, the universe and everything. 

Throughout the press conference, which lasted over an hour, Brooks talked himself to the point of tears on several occasions and made repeated references to 2014, calling it “a debacle”, describing the Irish people as “victims” and ultimately putting the blame on “the powers that be”.

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While journalists seated in the aisles made comments about how they could faint from the heat, Brooks paced indefatigably before them, giving eulogies to the late concert promoter Jim Aiken, telling us that he loves his wife Trisha Yearwood so much that he’d happily have taken her last name, and expressing the view that “no mortal” should have been able to sell out five nights at Croke Park, twice, eight years apart. 

And let’s face it. Garth Brooks has immortalised himself.

Music firmly aside, Brooks has become an indelible fixture of modern Irish mythology. Even those who couldn’t hum a note of his work know well his significance. 

What draws us to Brooks?

There has to be a non-musical explanation for how this has come to pass. Of course there does. Twice now, the man has sold out five nights at one of the biggest stadiums in Europe. This is not something he has replicated, or even sought to replicate, in any other country besides his own — and that’s despite the inherent logistical difficulty in getting it done. No other artist has done it. No other artist has even tried. Surely, there is something at play here besides nearly half a million people just looking for a bop.

And yet, there are subtle giveaways that his investment in Ireland isn’t all that personal. When asked if he’d be staying in Kerry, he said that he simply didn’t know. He’s not capable of reproducing names like Mairéad and Aileen, even after a few attempts. When asked if he has plans to eat or drink anywhere special, he demurs. The lack of any specific sentiment gives him a vaguely fictional quality, like the figment of an American an Irish person would invent if trying to describe an American. 

But if we do accept that he is sincere, or at least concede that it doesn’t matter much whether he is or not, Brooks cuts a compelling figure. “I’ve been waiting for this my whole life, and I decided to stop waiting. Tomorrow night,” he says.

After all, when does anybody else take the time to seduce us like this? 

Brooks’ charisma and self-assuredness seems to put the Irish at ease with ourselves in a way that our own artists do not. In his rapt, hyper-eye-contact, televangelist sort of way, Brooks seems to have identified something in us that perhaps we are not aware of. A longing. 

If there is some psycho-social explanation for Ireland’s affinity with the Oklahoman, perhaps it is the lack of reciprocal love we share with our own superstars. After all, for well over a century now, some of our best known artists have been quick to leave our shores to pen their greatest works, make their magna opera and, in some cases, pay their income taxes. In turn, we tend to be a nation that snipes at our taller poppies, disliking them irrationally until they do something to vindicate us.

Brooks’ own legend has allowed him to create the opposite relationship. That he’s a man who’d rather walk away from an enormous payday than prioritise one night of ticket-holders over another. That he truly, deeply cares about his fans in a way that is almost selfless.

Whether or not he actually does care is oddly besides the point. This time, both he and his fans are going to get exactly what they want. 

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