Pity the poor pop star. Not only must he or she contend with hangers-on, fluctuating popularity, and concerns about whether that groupie’s had a blood test, but the star also never knows when a former insider — a financial manager, say, or a member of his or her first band — will decide to cash in with a spill-the-beans memoir. Such is the case with Matt O’Meilia’s look at one of Kiss’ most unlikely fans, Garth Brooks: The Road out of Santa Fe.
The fact that Garth Brooks grew up a Kiss aficionado (he even appeared on a recent tribute album to them) doesn’t come up in The Road out of Santa Fe, the story of his bar-playing days (1986-87), as written by the drummer in his first band, Santa Fe. (They were actually based in Oklahoma but, hey, Santa Fe sounded better.) Yet Brooks’ other musical influences provide a revealing moment in this amiable but slight chronicle. O’Meilia recounts that on stage the young Brooks stuck to the likes of James Taylor and Dan Fogelberg. But ”when someone suggested that he would get better overall crowd response by adding some country tunes to his repertoire, the next week he was doing George Strait and Merle Haggard songs as if he’d learned them in the crib.” Then and now, Brooks is one smooth operator.
Alas, such insights appear as often as Brooks’ infrequent bouts with self-doubt. O’Meilia admits he and Brooks ”never had a lot of in-depth conversations,” and it shows. The picture the author paints of the future arena twanger — as a ferocious careerist and born crowd-pleaser — isn’t surprising or revelatory. When O’Meilia recalls one of the band’s ”most memorable” weekends, a gig near the Mexican border, the tale begins promisingly. Santa Fe consider dropping by the hookers-and-booze villa of Juarez, and O’Meilia suggests Brooks is about to let down his own thinning hair. But no — Brooks, whose only addiction is Cap’n Crunch and Coke before bed, heads home with the band instead. Nice stories for the grandkids, but The Road out of Santa Fe would have made a more compelling read had Garth been affected less by Kiss’ music and more by their lifestyle. C