Sometimes there are bits of bizarre pop culture that really stick with you. Maybe it’s Prince changing his name to a Wing Ding, maybe it’s Sinead O’Connor tearing up a photo of the Pope on live television. If you’re like me, it’s definitely when Garth Brooks turned into Chris Gaines.
What? Here we go.
If I had to break it down into math terms, which I don’t enjoy, I’d say Garth Brooks + Drug Store Boxed Hair Dye x Bad Decisions = Chris Gaines.
But First, a Confession.
I don’t like to admit it, and I’ll usually say “Weird Al” Yankovic’s Alapalooza was the first CD I owned, but really, Garth Brooks’ In Pieces was the first CD I ever owned. I’m not proud of it. I feel like we’re friends here, so I know you’re not going to go spread that around. Also something I’m not proud of: picking up a Garth Brooks concert T-Shirt at a flea market and wearing it to school in the fourth grade. I was weird enough and ostracized as it was, I sure didn’t need a Garth Brooks T-Shirt in the mix. My country music phase was a dark, dark time in my life.
In 1999, six years after my In Pieces purchase, Brooks turned into someone else– rock ‘n roll musician Chris Gaines.
In order to properly research this topic, I felt I needed to make a few more purchases. I’d just like to point out that these items are archived forever in my eBay feedback. The things I do for this website.
You’ll be happy to know that even though I spent money on a Chris Gaines press kit and a limited edition holographic version (600,000 printed) of his album, I didn’t buy this pillow:
…but I still might.
What’s the Deal With Chris Gaines?
Brooks and his production company were putting together a movie for ol’ Brooks to star in back in the late 90s. Arguably, Brooks went a little too far to promote the film (to be titled The Lamb). Brooks created an elaborate back story for his character (Chris Gaines), going so far as to appear as Gaines for the musical guest on SNL when Brooks hosted and starring as Gaines in a VH1 Behind the Life Of special.
Brooks was doing a lot of explaining and back story set-up in the spirit of making the audience care about Chris Gaines as a title character to a movie that wasn’t even written yet. I wanted to use the quote “If you’re explaining, you’re losing”, which is something my boss always says. When I googled it, it came up as a Ronald Reagan quote, and suddenly I have clarity about even more things in my life. Either way, it applies here.
Not a whole lot has surfaced about The Lamb, other than it would focus on the life of Chris Gaines. Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds was listed as an Executive Producer with the screenplay slated to be written by Jeb Stuart (of Die Hard and The Fugitive fame). Would Brooks have had to crawl through ceiling vents and jump from huge drains?
Oh, and he put out an album as Chris Gaines:
The hype around Chris Gaines was less hype and more ‘huh?”. Somehow, the album made it to #2 on the Pop charts and his single “Lost In You” made it to #5 on the Billboard Hot 100. To provide context, Destiny’s Child’s “Bills, Bills, Bills” was #9 and LFO’s “Summer Girls” was #3. Ya’ll, 1999 was a weird year.
The whole Chris Gaines thing did not go over well. I was out of the country music loop by 1999, but still held a soft spot for Brooks. Even still, I knew it was weird. Everyone knew it was weird.
Brooks’ people were trying really hard to get the media and the audience to equate him with Prince and other stars. I’m not sure there’s anything further from Prince than Chris Gaines.
“Finally, in the winter of 1996, Chris re-emerged into public view for the first time with Triangle. Chris was dubbed ‘The New Prince’ by the media because of his new look and the fact that his music showed a move toward R&B – a distinct change in musical style from his past.”
-Garth Brooks In… The Life of Chris Gaines (media release, Capitol Records).
“These include the music video, ‘Lost in You’, a romantic ballad and the first single from the new album that already has made the top-ten on the adult contemporary charts; ‘Way of the Girl’, described as a cross between Aerosmith and the Artist Formerly Known as Prince; ‘It Don’t Matter to the Sun’, a melancholy, soulful ballad; as well as other new songs: ‘Main Street’, ‘Snow in July’, ‘Unsigned Letter’ and ‘Right Now’.”
-Garth Brooks’ New Musical Special, “Garth Brooks… In The Life of Chris Gaines” to be Telecast Wednesday, September 29 (8-9 p.m.) on NBC (media release, NBC).
Chris Gaines in the Media
Around this time, Brooks appeared on Late Night with Conan O’Brien and had some fun talking about his alter-ego. I didn’t realize it because I don’t care, but Brooks lost some weight to portray Gaines and then gained it all back. I assume he’d have to re-lose it for the movie that never happened though, right?
Brooks and Conan go on to talk about the Chris Gaines movie that never came to be. What would life be like if it had happened? I could tell you: I’d have been the only one in the theatre watching it.
While the movie didn’t happen, the Chris Gaines schtick went pretty far. Entirely too far. As mentioned earlier, there was a fake VH1 Behind the Music on Chris Gaines, and thanks to the magic of YouTube, we can watch it. A warning: at only 14 seconds in, I’ve already thrown up in my mouth.
I don’t know where to begin here. Let’s just dig in:
How did they get Billy Joel to participate in this?
Chris Gaines’ face was “horribly disfigured in a spectacular car crash”. That’s not exactly how I’d describe Garth Brooks’ face. I’d have left out “spectacular”.
No matter how “rock ‘n roll” the song Gaines/Brooks sings, he still sounds like a country singer with that telling twangy-yodel. Gaines was born in Australia, grew up in California, accent courtesy Oklahoma.
But wait, there’s more.
It just keeps going. Like, I thought this was supposed to be rock ‘n roll? Is my perception of rock ‘n roll flawed? Is Garth Brooks flawed?
The way they talk about Chris Gaines having sex with women makes it sound like Brooks has never had sex with any woman ever. This manager thing also makes me question whether Brooks ever had a proper manager.
They titled the album Foruncopia? Can you make it just slightly less awkward and painful for everyone? Why are you doing this, Brooks?
And yet, even more, somehow:
Ew, dude, stop with the sex addiction talk.
Wow. Just that part was a journey. And there’s so much more left.
Here we get even more talk about Brooks trying to look skinny. Boy, get you to Sephora and get you contoured. Not fat shaming, I like ‘em chunky. Holla at me.
Brooks sounds so earnest when he talks about Gaines. It’s heartbreaking how cringey this whole thing is.
There’s two ways to do the mock musician thing. The right way (Spinal Tap, PopStar), or the Chris Gaines way. Spinal Tap was successful because it poked fun, while Brooks’ Gaines demanded to be taken seriously. Even while talking about his (cringe) sex addiction (nope).
Garth Brooks Stole a Man’s Identity?
There’s another weird layer to this: Brooks has been accused of stealing Keith Urban’s identity to create Chris Gaines.
According to this VH-1 article:
“Urban says there are just too many details of Gaines’ fictitious biography that accord with his own, according to TWEC.com. He says the singer was born in the same town as he was in the same year; both are signed to the same record label; and play the same music. Urban and Gaines even have identical soul patches.”
That’s a stretch. I have a different theory:
Chris Gaines… Online?
A fun thing about Chris Gaines is his timing—just at that sweet spot where no one had really figured out this Internet thing but everyone had a shitty website. Of course Gaines had his own website, separate from Brooks, as advertised on this postcard:
Speaking of “Weird Al”’s Alapalooza earlier, this postcard reminds me of something…
Unfortunately, ChrisGaines.com is no longer online:
The “Coming Soon” gives me hope! Thanks to the Internet Archive, we can see a glimpse of the 90s:
And it doesn’t look anything like the image from the postcard:
Wonder if it would look better in Netscape?
But What’s the Chris Gaines Album Really Like?
“Way of the Girl” seems offensive and just trails off in a way that reminds me of the “wall of text” ending of an SNL skit that no writer can be assed to write an ending to. Similarly, “Right Now” is that song you’re thinking of, but with the Gaines/Brooks “I don’t own a TV” attitude (you know what I’m talking about) serving as inspiration for additional lyrics.
Some of Gaines’ songs have a Bob Dylan/Tom Petty twang to them, and maybe that’s just Brooks’ natural country music voice coming out. This is especially prevalent in “Main Street”.
Overall, the album feels so much like someone far removed from rock ‘n roll music (i.e. Garth Brooks) read a book about music that wasn’t country music and decided he’d base the character and music on what he read without listening to music of any kind. The album covers, the back story, and the persona are all out-of-touch. Something just isn’t right. I think audiences sensed this and maybe that’s why no one really picked up on it. Or maybe we all recognized this as bat-shittery. Who knows.
Garth Brooks is back on the scene after retiring in 2000, shortly after the Gaines debacle. He’s on tour, he’s jamming with Jimmy Kimmel, and he has a music collection out at Target. Still no word on The Lamb.
Hilariously, Brooks made the weirdest, most 90s, most… I don’t even know, statement in a July 31, 1999 issue of Billboard in the article “Brooks’ Set As Fictitious Pop Star Due From Capitol” by Melinda Newman. When asked if we can expect more Gaines, Brooks replied:
“That’s really up to the people,” says Brooks. “Would you ever have seen the prequel to ‘Star Wars’ if the others hadn’t taken off?”
That settles it. Gaines is the Jar Jar Binks of the music world.
Reflecting on all that is Chris Gaines, I have to wonder: would Brooks fare better now as Chris Gaines, at a time when a music artist can change their appearance on a whim and cross genres so quickly that no one notices (I see you, T-Swift).
What if The Lamb movie was released first and then all the Chris Gaines music and weird TV appearances came out afterward to help promote it? Would it have made a difference?
What exactly is so uncomfortable about Chris Gaines? The eyeliner? The “we know you’re an old country singer trying to parade as a 90s mall goth”? Is it the un-rock-n-roll-ness of his music? Is it that he tried so hard to make us care about Chris Gaines that we all revolted in protest, vowing to mock him instead?
This was just… a lot. I think we need a palate cleanser:
I may have been hard on Brooks, but dang it, it doesn’t even matter that it was him. Gaines could have been anyone else and it would have been equally as painful. Besides, I just listened to In Pieces and I still fucking love it. Don’t tell anyone. It’ll hurt my street cred.
I’ll leave you with this thought:
What if it isn’t that Chris Gaines is Garth Brooks’ rock ‘n roll alter-ego—what if Garth Brooks is Chris Gaines’ country music alter-ego.