Garth Brooks, And Another Wonderful Thing That Happened In The 90s
The first song I remember hearing on the radio is “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen. The second is “Friends In Low Places.” The song was released by Garth Books in 1990. I was eight years old and sitting in the front seat of one of my babysitters’ trucks. Not a car. A truck.
My Kmart stonewashed jeans sat on leather seats that carried 2nd degree burn potential if one didn’t drive around with a towel or blanket on hand at all times. I was born and raised in Fort Worth, Texas where 90-degree weather was omnipresent, I needed a ladder to get into a vehicle, and fame wasn’t the stuff of Hollywood, but that of Nolan Ryan, Reba McEntire, and Garth Brooks.
During my childhood, my single mother attended several of Garth Brooks’ legendary arena shows, including the one where he actually made it rain on the audience during “The Thunder Rolls.” He’d never get away with that now, what with iPhones and all. She’d wear one of her leather outfits (she owned them in yellow, red, white, and black if memory serves), a skirt or tapered pants topped with a matching jacket with puffy sleeves. I’ll write about her hair some other time. One such leather jacket is mine now, it’s white and made of buttery soft leather. When I tried it on for the first time I found two poker chips from Vegas in the pocket. And how cool is your mom?
I remember her coming home, waking up from sleep for a few seconds to the sounds of her setting down her purse or locking the door the behind the babysitter. My mother played country music and only country music in the car, with brief breaks only for Motown, specifically The Supremes. Naturally, I hated country music growing up. You can’t like what your mom likes, come on!
Brooks & Dunn, Alabama, George Straight, Shania Twain, and (ironically) Trisha Yearwood. These are the sounds of the car rides of my childhood. And I didn’t like them. I wanted to listen to the Alternative Rock station where I’d have a chance to hear Pearl Jam or Alanis Morissette every fifteenth song and suffer through The Wallflowers in between. I never, ever, ever got to pick the radio station. But I didn’t mind Garth Brooks — ever.
Let’s get this out of the way: He has one of the most beautiful voices on the planet. It is perfect. Clear and strong, with something personal in it as if he’s singing directly to you. Couple that with more natural born proclivity to perform on a stage than I’ve ever seen live in my entire life (including Beyonce, yes I said it), and you’ve got Garth Brooks, in my opinion the greatest country music artist of my lifetime, maybe of all time. He might have had a decent career as a standup comedian too, if you want my honest opinion.
Speaking of honesty, I don’t think he’s bullshitting up there. His shows are meticulously planned, you can see that, but I truly believe he is as enthusiastic about his fans and like…life as he appears to be on stage. He’s so happy up there. He looks like he’s having fun, and radiates that fun outward with enough velocity to fill Yankee Stadium, even when he has to start a show at midnight due to a rain delay. (Insert obvious Thunder Rolls joke here.) What I’m saying is, if you want to stop worrying about being so damn cool and just unabashedly enjoy life for a couple hours, buy a ticket to see Garth Brooks.
I love anything that reminds me of the 90s. Anything that takes me out of the immutable irony of technological advancement irrevocably both screwing things up and making things better. There is nothing as transportive for me as the sound of Garth Brooks’ voice. Part of who we are is formed by memories from when we were young, of course. But I don’t really like that, because I don’t like all my memories. Anything I don’t want to remember, a divorce, a sudden move, a bully, anything painful, those memories are fuzzy by intention. I don’t want the bad things to define me. I’m sure on some subconscious level they do but my subconscious and I rarely have anything to say to each other. Call it a coping skill if you want, I just like to cut to the good stuff.
I don’t remember the songs I hate. I don’t remember the movies I hate. The art and entertainment poured into the cocktail shaker of my personality all taste good to me, only things I like went in there. So no matter what, when I hear certain sounds or movie lines I feel wonderful, even if the 90s weren’t always.
I romanticize the 90s a lot. As if it was this glorious time that I’m trying to get back to — I’m not. What I actually romanticize are truths, things that were true in the 90s that aren’t true anymore.
My parents met in the 90s. My mother, recently single from a breakup with a man I hope to never share breathable air with again, went to a “Country Western” night club (isn’t that a visual?) with a few girlfriends, intending to stick with them, no plans beyond ladies night. My stepfather, not knowing this, asked her to dance. They danced two dances, she thanked him and went off with her friends, and later he tracked her down and asked for a third. He is a very keen and dedicated businessman, my stepfather. I believe after their third dance he asked her to lunch for the next day. He asked her to marry him a year later. He had twin boys, aged four. We were 16 and 13, my brother and I. We’ve all been together 17 years now, exactly half my life.
The truth that I miss here is the dancing. My stepfather asked my mother to dance. There is nothing embarrassing about that sentence. Twenty minutes ago a guy in my phone asked me for nude photos of myself. I was on the toilet at the time. He is a stranger, he lives in New Jersey. This is all embarrassing. But the way my parents met is not.
You know how I know it’s not? They’re still dancing. They’re both amazing dancers. You’ve never seen a more seamless Two-Step. Can you imagine if after 17 years of marriage New Jersey was still asking me to send him nude photos while I pee? Should I just pay for the therapy in advance now?
My next love is most likely not going to ask me to dance. He’s going to say “hey” on some app I haven’t checked in weeks and I’ll have just a drop of energy left in this eight-year single woman dating toil I’ve undertaken and I’ll say “hey” back or something equally benign, and for some reason on that day plans will actually be made, instead of fizzling off into the deep end of a filthy rain puddle like most of them do.
And I’m not sure if it will be one of the good memories, the way we meet. I’m not sure I’ll want to remember that part. I’m not sure I’ll ever want to write it down and tell people about it, the way I love telling people how my parents met. Because they were far more likely to meet in a way that was worth repeating, and what I and those in my age bracket are left with isn’t nearly as romantic as the beginning of a partnership ought to be be. But I don’t need it to be a good story. I’ve got plenty of those, and I’m sure we’ll have more. I’ll have to leave the “how we met” stuff to my parents — it’s not the 90s anymore.
I don’t know what music they played that night at the Country Western club. My parents undoubtedly fielded each tune with deftness, gliding over a moderately sticky wood floor with grace and ease. I’m sure Alan Jackson and Faith Hill had their turns, maybe Pam Tillis joined in. But my 90s memory doesn’t hear them. It only hears Garth Brooks.
I don’t know if Garth Brooks and his music were there the night my parents met, but I like to think that he was. I like to think one covetable sound from my 90s childhood carried its way into the rest of our lives, by encouraging and providing the soundtrack for one monumentally important Two-Step. Even if it’s a memory fabricated, I’ll take it. Because as I navigate the modern dating landscape and sob over the respectable practices we’ve lost, as I slog through the better part of a decade with nothing more than experiences married people charmingly call “horror stories,” Garth Brooks is one thing I get to keep. An evening of dancing, manners, and music. That isn’t something I shove to the back of a mental dresser drawer. That sits right on top next to my straight As and summer camp. Thank you, Mr. Brooks, for ever making music, and for being one of the good memories, if not one of the best.