Nashville, Tenn. When Garth Brooks says he's just about through, should his fans believe him?
Brooks just celebrated an amazing milestone: He has sold 100 million albums, certified by the Recording Industry Association of America.
He used the occasion to make a dramatic announcement, one he's been hinting at since 1995.
"I'm here to announce my retirement," he said, his voice quivering with emotion. He cited the need to be with his three daughters and to sort out his marriage, and worries that he might not be able to retain his massive popularity.
In the next breath, he seemed to contradict himself. He detailed plans for a new album next summer and mentioned a series of network TV specials to promote it. He also spoke of two projects that he'd like to do down the line a soundtrack album and a duets project with Trisha Yearwood.
Is the retirement announcement a ploy to hype the upcoming album? After all, Brooks is known for innovative marketing techniques, like dramatically cutting his CD prices and aggressively reselling his catalog through limited-edition packages, a box set and hits packages.
What better way to sell an album than by calling it a "farewell album"?
Brooks swears that's not what he's doing.
"(That's) the last thing that I really need from (the press), and I'm praying that you really hear me on this," Brooks said. "I don't want it to be called the last record, the farewell record.
"Could this possibly at this point be my last record? Yes, it could. But do I want to sell a record on the fact that it's the last record, or the farewell record? No."
There are those in Nashville who view such statements as pure media manipulation, planting an idea by bringing it up and then denying it. No one is lining up to say such things on the record, however.
Mike Dungan, who runs Capitol Records in Nashville, Brooks' record label, has every reason to want Brooks to continue making records.
"I have found him to be without a doubt ... one of the most charming and disarming, straightforward and straight-up honest men that I've ever worked with," Dungan said.
The one area where Brooks has boxed himself in is important: He won't tour anymore; at least not until his 4-year-old daughter Allie has started college.
"The stuff that I am pulling away from is the stuff that takes me away from home," Brooks said. "That mostly was the touring and recording.
"It takes six months to make a record. And you're in with guys that believe that if you're supposed to be in (the recording studio) until four in the morning, you will be. Because music comes first, at that time."