Why Garth ?

In a recent interview with Walt Bettinger, CEO of Charles Schwab, Adam Bryant of The New York Times, said that Bettinger talked about one of the biggest career lessons he ever learned.  It was in a business strategy course his senior year of college, he tells Bryant.

Bettinger had maintained a 4.0 average all the way through and wanted to graduate with a perfect GPA. But it all came down to the final exam in that business course.

“I had spent many hours studying and memorizing formulas to do calculations for the case studies,” he recalls. “The teacher handed out the final exam, and it was on one piece of paper, which really surprised me because I figured it would be longer than that. Once everyone had their paper, he said, ‘Go ahead and turn it over.’ Both sides were blank.”

Next, the professor said: “I’ve taught you everything I can teach you about business in the last 10 weeks, but the most important message, the most important question, is this: What’s the name of the lady who cleans this building?”

“That had a powerful impact,” Bettinger tells Bryant. “It was the only test I ever failed, and I got the ‘B’ I deserved.

“Her name was Dottie, and I didn’t know Dottie. I’d seen her, but I’d never taken the time to ask her name. I’ve tried to know every Dottie I’ve worked with ever since.”

Bettinger says that experience was a great reminder of what really matters in life, “and that you should never lose sight of people who do the real work, people we take for granted.”

According to a recent informal poll of part-time philosophers, the most pondered question of the day is neither “Does God exist?” nor “Why are we here?”

It’s “Why Garth Brooks?”

Why is a pudgy, balding country singer the most popular musician in America today? How can an artist whose videos have never been seen on MTVand whose music rarely gets played on pop radio stations outsell Michael Jackson and Metallica and U2?

Even more to the point, what makes Garth Brooks so special? Is he that much better than fellow superstars Randy Travis, Clint Black and George Strait to double their combined sales over the last ten years?

Garth Brooks is the luckiest man on the face of the earth. He’s a very good singer with great taste, but if he was just some guy at a party, sitting on a couch singing his songs, you wouldn’t think, “One day this guy’s gonna knock Michael Jackson out of No. 1.”

Garth’s not the kind of artist who just jumps out and grabs you with his talent. The great thing about him is that he knows it. There’s a good chance his relentless humility (example: “George Strait is the king of country music, everyone knows that”) is real, which is one reason we love Garth Brooks. In his own words; “You know Nashville, there’s people that are ten times more talented than me, ten times better singer than me, song writer than me, but for some reason you get the ball.”

Some alleged experts will tell you that Brooks’ astonishing prosperity is because of a desire to return to old- fashioned values. Nice idea, but not 50 million albums’ worth.

Why Garth Brooks, then? According to Jimmy Bowen, president of Liberty Records (formerly Capitol-Nashville), the mystery is solved by attending a Garth Brooks concert.

“Once you’ve seen him live, all his success makes sense. “Who ever said country singers have to just stand there and sing?” Garth Brooks smashes guitars, sets off explosions, climbs ladders and moves fluidly around elaborate sets. He moves around so much he had to have a mike built into his cowboy hat.

On a personal note, the first time I saw Garth was in Central Park at his concert there that drew over a million people. His show made my top list of the best shows I have ever seen seen which included Elvis Presley in Denver in 1970 and the Who in the same city in 1969.

Garth Brooks is country music for people who hate country music. He’s also for those who love country. Put them all together and you have the kind of numbers that get Jimmy Bowen call mushy. “In all my years in country music, I’ve never seen anything like it,” Bowen says. “Everybody loves Garth, from the old-timers to the kids.”

Instead of bridging the gap between country and pop with his crossover appeal, Brooks seemingly has built a moat around Nashville. Music City USA has become his castle. If the music business were a sandlot football game, Nashville would be the kid who owns the ball and insists on favorable calls.

Meanwhile, Garth Brooks continues to spiral upward in defiance of the question “Why?”


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