Twenty-two years ago this week, Garth Brooks' second album, No Fences entered the charts and made itself comfortable. It was a titanic, monumental record for country music, eventually going platinum 17 times over on its way to becoming a global smash.
No Fences is often credited with ushering in a new era of commercialized country with crossover appeal, and it played a major role in making Brooks virtually inescapable on the radio dial in Texas for years.
Until this week, I had never heard it.
In the small Texas towns in which I grew up, country music was practically a religion, and in the early '90s Garth Brooks was its pope. Any refusal to unabashedly love "Friends in Low Places" was seen by my classmates as a bizarre apostasy only slightly less insulting than spitting on the cross.
Brooks' dumb cowboy hat and super-duper popularity made him a convenient symbol of the white-trash conformity and shit-kicking ignorance that I perceived all around me, and I avoided his music like the wrong side of town. He was just so... not Metallica.
For a good while there, Garth was playing concerts in Central Park and hosting Saturday Night Live. I figured he'd be around forever. But then he was gone: Retired, I heard. I found new music to passionately hate without ever hearing it, and I forgot about No Fences until I read about this week's anniversary.
Suddenly, I was intrigued. What might a grown man with an open mind think about those songs my adolescent self rejected without consideration? What would No Fences sound like to country-virgin ears, decades after its release?
To find out, I'd have to locate a copy. I realized very quickly that No Fences was not available on any of my usual streaming services, including Spotify and YouTube. It wasn't up for download at the iTunes Store or Amazon, either. Calls placed to two large record stores, a Best Buy and even a Walmart proved fruitless. Shockingly, none of my friends owned up to owning a copy.
How could one of the biggest-selling albums of all time be so hard to get? Even the Beatles are on iTunes now! Hey, I've downloaded a torrent or two in my time, but Garth Brooks is the first artist that literally forced me to steal his music if I wanted to hear it.