When Garth Brooks set out to make a music video for his ''The Thunder Rolls,'' a song about a cheating husband and a vengeful wife, he hoped to create a powerful piece that would stir debate about domestic violence. But when the video debuted in April, its themes of wife beating, child abuse, and murder quickly made it the most controversial clip in country music history. The Nashville Network banned the video because it was considered too violent, as did Country Music Television. But then came a backlash, as radio stations started ''Save the Video'' petitions and some women's shelters voiced support. Eventually, VH-1 aired the clip and the song became a No. 1 country hit.
Even though he hoped the video would shake up Nashville's barnwood-and-haystacks video mentality, Brooks was and is shocked by how the country-music world reacted. He says he got the idea for ''The Thunder Rolls'' from women who told him they identified with the title ''If Tomorrow Never Comes'' because they were routinely abused by their husbands. ''This is real life,'' Brooks says. ''Where I'm from, people aren't afraid to talk about it.''
The video sparked domestic unrest in Brooks' own home. His wife, Sandy, had approved of Brooks' decision to play the wife beater in a fake beard, wig, and glasses but she asked him not to include any love scenes or scenes suggesting that the man abused his daughter or to show the daughter witnessing her parents' fatal argument. All were in the final cut. ''We had a tremendous argument about the child watching and a pretty good-sized fight over the love scenes,'' says Sandy, who has watched the video only once. But, she adds, ''I came to his rescue once everybody ganged up on him.''
The clip has been nominated as Music Video of the Year in the Country Music Association Awards. ''I got a sense,'' says Bud Schaetzle, the video's director, ''that here's some grudging admission that Garth is plowing some new fields. And even though they'll admit that it's happening, I don't think a lot of them like it.''